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In the book The Two Towers, Treebeard refers to Gandalf as "the only wizard that really cares about trees". But in Fellowship of the Ring, we met the wizard Radagast the Brown, whose special focus is on animals, especially birds.

Of course, animals aren't trees, but it is difficult to imagine a person loving animals without also caring deeply about trees - especially when that person loves birds most of all, and so many birds are so dependent upon trees for their survival. More generally, Radagast seems like an all-around nature lover, and this too suggests that he "really cares about trees".

This leads me to imagine several possibilities:

  1. Treebeard doesn't know Radagast (this seems unlikely - they have both been around for thousands of years, so surely they have bumped into each other at some point)

  2. Treebeard forgot about Radagast, possibly because he was annoyed at Saruman and a bit angry at the time

  3. Radagast actually doesn't care about trees

Is there some other alternative I have overlooked, or is one of the options I mentioned correct? Or does Tolkien never address this apparent problem?

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    One demonstrates care via one’s actions. What did Radagast ever do for the trees? – Paul D. Waite May 12 '15 at 9:09
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    There is so little detail about Radagast in the books, I don't see how anyone could make a call on things he did or didn't care about. Maybe Radagast went through a "tree phase" and spent 1000 years planting and nurturing trees when he bumped into Fangorn – Mikey Mouse May 12 '15 at 9:54
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    Animals eat trees. There's a natural conflict of interest there! – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 12 '15 at 15:15
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    @DVK - most animals don't eat trees, even if they eat fruit from trees. And trees eat us after we're dead, so it all balances out. – Wad Cheber May 12 '15 at 17:23
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    @PaulD.Waite - what did Gandalf ever do for the trees? – Wad Cheber May 12 '15 at 17:25
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One answer is that Tolkien was a philologist/linguist, not an ecologist, and the importance of habitat preservation—say, of the specific habitats of arboreal birds—may not have landed strongly with him. (In fact, his goofs in another area of science, geology, led to a Russian paleontologist deducing that if the map were true, then some important aspects of Tolkien's narrative in Lord of the Rings must be false, and so he wrote a sequel with a very different interpretation of the conflict between Gondor and Mordor.)

Another answer may be that for Radagast the well-being of trees was merely instrumental to the lives of the animals he loved, but that Treebeard, in the same section you quote, laments that no-one cares about trees for their own sake. (Remember that not even the Entwives really care about trees as much as the Ents.)

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    There's nothing wrong with Tolkien's geology. Some people erroneously and bizarrely assumed that Middle Earth was the only continent, which isn't true. – Shamshiel May 11 '15 at 23:38
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    +1 for the answer - very well said - but as for the specific point regarding Tolkien's area of expertise, you don't have to be John Audubon to know that most birds live in trees. You just need to know what a bird is, and/or see a nest at some point. – Wad Cheber May 12 '15 at 0:21
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    And even to a non-ecologist, in a time when habitat preservation wasn't well understood or in the consciousness of the average person, "Radagast loves nature but doesn't care about trees" is still a contradiction in terms, and a really weird idea. I'm inclined to think that your first suggestion is closer to the mark, and Radagast slipped the mind of either Treebeard, Tolkien, or both. – Wad Cheber May 12 '15 at 0:28
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    @Shamshiel You are misrepresenting Yeskov's critique, which is based on water impoundment, irrigation potential, soil salinization and Mordor's need to feed hundreds of thousands, not on the number of continents. – Lexible May 12 '15 at 0:47
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    @DVK - pigeons are in the 1%. They are also called Rock Doves, because they usually live on cliff faces, which is why they are so at home on the window ledges of tall buildings. – Wad Cheber May 12 '15 at 17:28
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In The Two Towers chapter IV "Treebeard" Treebead tells how the Ents and Entwives separated, the Ents wandering deep forests, and the Entwives preferring to live in farm-like communities, way back in the Eldar days.

So the Entwives made gardens to live in. But we Ents kept on wandering, and we only came to their gardens now and then. Then when the Darkness came in the North, the Entwives crossed the Great River, and made new gardens, and tilled new fields, and we saw them more seldom.

Thousands of years later, Treebeard went to see his beloved Fimbrethil again, after years, decades, or perhaps even centuries, and found that the land of the Entwives had been devastated.

I remember it was long ago - in the time of the war between Sauron and the Men of the Sea - desire came on me to see Fimbrethil again.

The war may have been in Second Age 1700 when King Tar-Minastir of Numenor sent a great fleet and army to help the Elves fight Sauron. Or it may have been in Second Age 3261 when King Ar-Pharazon of Numenor sent a great fleet and army to Middle-earth and Sauron surrendered to him. Or it could have been the war in Second Age 3429 to 3441 when The Last Alliance of Elves and Men fought Sauron.

We crossed over Anduin and came to their land; but we found a desert: it was all burned and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there. Long we called, and long we searched, and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone....But nowhere that we went could we find them. Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called and we returned to it. For many many years we used to go out now and again to look for the Entwives, walking far and wide and calling them by their beautiful names. But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far. And now the Entwives are only a memory for us and our beards are long and grey.

And in The Return of the King "Many Partings" Aragorn suggests to Treebeard that the Ents could search or the Entwives better now that Sauron has been overthrown.

'Yet maybe there is now more hope in your search.' said Aragon 'Lands will lie open to you eastward that have long been closed.' But Treebeard shook his head and said: 'It is too far to go. And there are too many Men there in these days.'

Clearly Treebeard became less and less of a traveler during the Third Age, and more and more self confined to Fangorn Forest.

And what about the wizards? The Return of the King Appendix B "Tale of the Years: Chronology of the Westlands" The introduction to the Third Age section says:

When maybe a thousand years had passed, and the first shadow had fallen upon Greenwood the Great, the Istari or wizards appeared in Middle-earth.

So the question now is how often and how far Treebeard might still wander from Fangorn after about Third Age 1000, and also how far and in what directions Radagast wandered before and after making his settled home at Rhosgobel over a hundred miles from Fangorn Forest.

Treebeard and Radagast could have met often, and Treebeard might have a well informed opinion about Radagast. Or Treebeard might never have met Radagast and only heard of his reputation. (Celeborn and Galdriel lived closer to Treebeard than Radagast did, and they probably hadn't seen Treebeard since long before Radagast came to Middle-earth.) Or Treebeard might never have heard of Radagast at all - which would make him only slightly more ignorant of Radagast than readers of Tolkien are.

A well informed answer about what Treebeard might have thought about Radagast seems impossible to give since we don't know if Treebeard was well acquainted with Radagast or never even heard of him, and we know too little about Radagast to guess what impression he might have made on Treebeard.

  • Great answer. +1 and thank you. – Wad Cheber Jun 28 '15 at 5:06
  • This is more or less how I always imagined it, too. But it does seem odd to say “The only wizard that…” in that case, because if Treebeard never knew Radagast, it's unlikely he never knew of any other wizards than Gandalf and Saruman, the two wizards being talked about in the scene under discussion here. At least, given the extremely limited mention of Alatar and Pallando anywhere, it seems unlikely that Treebeard should know (even of) them, but not (of) Radagast. “The only wizard that…” seems an odd phrasing if there are only two in total. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 28 '15 at 14:31

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