The best-equipped and strongest armies throughout the novel are also those who cause the most destruction to the natural world. Mordor’s atmosphere is one of the clearest examples of this. Smog, filth, and stench cover Mordor and obscure the sky as a result of Sauron’s constant production of troops, armor, and weapons. Sauron’s success in war is built upon the destruction of the land around him, to the point where no living thing can survive in parts of that country. When the hobbits return home to the Shire, they find a similar scene developing. Saruman’s puppet, Lotho, has been encouraged in his greed to build huge, ugly houses and a belching, calamitous mill, and the ruffians serving him have cut down all the trees in order to build their lodgings. However, natural beauty seems to transcend this destruction. Even in Mordor, Sam looks up to see a bright star shining through the cloud. And though the ruffians, led by Saruman, tore down trees and polluted the river of the Shire, the hobbits are able to recover and preserve their country’s beauty. In fact, Sam, aided by Galadriel’s gift of Elvish dust, cultivates beautiful trees where the previous ones were cut down, including a mallorn, a tree never before seen outside of the Elvish lands. Tolkien suggests that nature, even when obscured or destroyed, finds a way to spring back anew, always stronger than the engines of war and greed.
War, Greed, and Nature ThemeTracker
War, Greed, and Nature Quotes in The Return of the King
“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”
He sat for a moment half dreaming, listening to the noise of water, the whisper of dark trees, the crack of stone, and the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound. He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.
The world was darkling. The very air seemed brown, and all things about were black and grey and shadowless; there was a great stillness. No shape of cloud could be seen, unless it were far away westward, where the furthest groping fingers of gloom still crawled onwards and a little light leaked through them. Overhead there hung a heavy roof, sombre and featureless, and light seemed rather to be failing than growing.
All about the streets and lanes behind the Gate it tumbled down, small round shot that did not burn. But when men ran to learn what it might be, they cried aloud or wept. For the enemy was firing into the City all the heads of those who had fallen fighting at Osgiliath, or on the Rammas, or in the fields. They were grim to look on; […] many had features that could be told, and it seemed that they had died in pain; and all were branded with the foul token of the Lidless Eye. But marred and dishonoured as they were, it often chanced that thus a man would see again the face of someone that he had known, who had walked proudly once in arms, or tilled the fields, or ridden upon a holiday from the green vales in the hills.
His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.
In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need a due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.
Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
Sam guessed that among all their pains he bore the worst, the growing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and a torment to his mind. Anxiously Sam had noted how his master’s left hand would often be raised as if to ward off a blow, or to screen his shrinking eyes from a dreadful Eye that sought to look in them. And sometimes his right hand would creep to his breast, clutching, and then slowly, as the will recovered mastery, it would be withdrawn.
“Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,” said Merry. “We have left all the rest behind, one after another. It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.”
“Not to me,” said Frodo. “To me it feels more like falling asleep again.”
This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world. Many of the houses that they had known were missing. Some seemed to have been burned down. The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little gardens that used to run down bright to the water’s edge were rank with weeds. Worse, there was a whole line of ugly new houses all along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton Road ran close to the bank. An avenue of trees had stood there. They were all gone. And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air.
“Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam,” said Frodo, “and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.”
So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each.