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Monday, May 23, 2005

Frodo, Ged and Hazel: Flowers and Plants

As mentioned in previous posts, The Ring trilogy by Tolkien, the Earthsea books by Le Guin, and Watership Down by Richard Adams are my favorite works of fantastic literature. I pointed out that all three authors present amazing details in their sub-creations. In this post, I discuss some of what they do with flowering plants.

Tolkien wrote this, probably his most flower-strewn passage (but not the only one):

When his eyes were in turn uncovered, Frodo looked up and caught his breath. They were standing in an open space. To the left stood a great mound, covered with a sward of grass as green as Spring-time in the Elder days. Upon it, as a double crown, grew two circles of trees: the outer had bark of snowy white, and were leafless but beautiful in their shapely nakedness; the inner were mallorn-trees of great height, still arrayed in pale gold. . . . At the feet of the trees, and all about the green hillsides the grass was studded with small golden flowers shaped like stars. Among them, nodding on slender stalks, were other flowers, white and palest green: they glimmered as a mist amid the rich hue of the grass. Over all the sky was blue, and the sun of afternoon glowed upon the hill and cast long green shadows beneath the trees.

'Behold! You are come to Cerin Amroth,' said Haldir, 'For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days his high house was built. Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow elanor, and the pale niphredil. - J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, pp. 364-5. The remaining eight members of the Fellowship have come to the realm of Galadriel, after the fall of Gandalf in Moria, and are being escorted by Haldir, an elf in her service.

In case anyone needs reminding, grass and most trees are flowering plants.

Adams can be flowery, too. Here's an example:

June was moving toward July and high summer. Hedgerows and verges were at their rankest and thickest. The rabbits sheltered in dim green sun-flecked caves of grass, flowering marjoram and cow parsley; peered round spotted hairy-stemmed clumps of viper's bugloss, blooming red and bllue above their heads; pushed between towering stalks of yellow mullein. Sometimes they scuttled along open turf, colored like a tapestry meadow with self-heal, centaury and tormentil. . . .

Some time before ni-Frith, in the heat of the day, Silver paused in a little patch of thorn. There was no breeze and the air was full of the sweet, chrysanthemum-like smell of the flowering composite of dry uplands--corn chamomile, yarrow and tansy. -Richard Adams, Watership Down. New York: Avon Books, 1972. p. 273.

Le Guin's prose is less flowery, in the usual sense of that word, but she does, indeed, pay attention to plants:

He came to the path that led to the Immanent Grove, a path that led always straight and direct no matter how time and the world bent awry about it, and following it came soon into the shadow of the trees.

The trunks of some of these were vast. Seeing them one could believe at last that the Grove never moved; they were like immemorial towers grey with years; their roots were like the roots of mountains. Yet these, the most ancient, were some of them thin of leaf, with branches that had died. They were not immortal. Among the giants grew sapling trees, tall and vigorous with bright crowns of foliage, and seedlings, slight leafy wands no taller than a girl.

The ground beneath the trees was soft, rich with the rotten leaves of all the years. Ferns and small woodland plants grew in it, but there was no kind of tree but the one, which had no name in the Hardic tongue of Earthsea. Under the branches the air smelled earthy and fresh, and had a taste in the mouth like live spring water.

In a glade which had been made years before by the falling of an enormous tree, Ged met the Master Patterner, who lived within the Grove and seldom or never came forth from it. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore, New York: Bantam Books, 1972, p. 10.

At the edge of the Grove, where the leaves of the great trees reached out over ordinary ground, he sat with his back against a mighty root, his staff across his knees. He shut his eyes as if resting, and sent a sending of his spirit over the hills and fields of Roke, northward, to the sea-assaulted cape where the Isolate Tower stands.

"Kurremkarmerruk," he said in spirit, and the Master Namer looked up from the thick book of names of roots and herbs and leaves and seeds and petals that he was reading to his pupils and said, "I am here, my lord."

Then he listened, a big thin old man, white-haired under his dark hood; and the students at their writing-tables in the tower room looked up at him and glanced at one another.

"I will come," Kurremkarmerruk said, and bent his head to his book again, saying, "Now the petal of the flower of moly hath a name, which is iebera, and so also the sepal, which is partonath; and the stem and leaf and root hath each his name . . ."

But under his tree the Archmage Ged, who knew all the names of moly, withdrew his sending and, stretching out his legs more comfortably and keeping his eyes shut, presently fell asleep in the leaf-spotted sunlight. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore, New York: Bantam Books, 1972, p. 12.

Tolkien and Le Guin not only mention flowering plants, but each makes a specific area, remarkable for its plants, to be in some sense the center of their fantastic sub-creation. The hill of Cerin Amroth is the heart of elvendom. It was there that Aragorn first saw Arwen. It will be there that Arwen lies down alone when Aragorn has passed away. The Immanent Grove is the center of Roke Island, which is, in turn, the center of meaning of Earthsea.

Previous posts in this series were on April 11th and 18th, 2005, and also on May 2nd.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Jennifer Dutschke said...

I have enjoyed reading your BLog postings and musings! I too am a contented reader of Tolkien and Le Guin. I have been told that reading such fantasy is escapism on my part, but now that I am older and wiser I understand that I am not so much escaping as I am instead allowing myself to explore all the possibilities.

I do believe that you would also enjoy the series of books by Tad Williams. The first book in the threesome is called The Dragonbone Chair. Mr. Williams writes with a fluid grace that is uncanny ... escapism at it's best!

Enjoy your summer!