Man and the Natural World

Man vs. Orc or Good vs. Evil may be the central conflict of The Two Towers, but right by its side we have another battle, one of the powers of industrialization and the natural world. Maybe this theme should be Wizards and the Natural World, because it's Saruman who's causing all the ruckus with his massive forges, which churn day and night fueled by the fresh corpses of huorns as they create swords and spears and axes.

These cold, lifeless works of iron meant only to kill, are made in exchange for the thriving forest of Fangorn, where the ents much watch their brethren burn. This is a classic battle of modernization, where the demands of war have forced new technologies at the expense of the natural world. But as the angry Angren River pours in when released by the ents, we see that Saruman's scheming was but a scratch in the old, might land of Middle-earth.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Why is all the imagery of industry contained to Saruman and the orcs? Are men not also burning wood for fuel and forging weapons for war?
  2. Compare Saruman to Gandalf. What does Gandalf gain from remaining connected to the natural world? What has Saruman lost for abandoning it?
  3. What kind of world would we live in if mother nature had means of protecting itself from human destruction? A world of harmony? Or a world in a constant war for resources?

Chew on This

Saruman's exploitation of the natural world is an allegory for the industrialization demanded by the First World War. Tolkien is using the "bad guys" as industrialists to argue against this kind of destruction for the purpose of war.

In contrast to the orcs, who consume the nature around them (like the barren plains of Mordor), the elves are shown living in great harmony with the natural world. Men are somewhere in between, building large cities and fortresses, but leaving their land still intact.

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