The dawn sunlight shone above the moorland below, the clear, sharp colours in the sky contrasting with the blanket of greyness at ground level. There was a moment’s temptation to stop the car and just to ponder the expanse of mist and silhouette. If J.R.R. Tolkien had not found inspiration in the Norse and the Welsh sagas, standing on a Somerset hilltop looking into the sea of mist that covered the Levels might have prompted thoughts of mythical creatures.
Tolkien writes of Huorns and Ents, trees that are sentient, trees that have the capacity for thought and speech and movement and action. After the destruction brought to their lands by the wizard Saruman and his armies, there is a sense of ecological justice in the revenge the trees wrought upon their erstwhile destroyers. In The Lord of the Rings, the coup de grace at the Battle of Helm’s deep is administered by the huorns :
Where before the green dale had lain, its grassy slopes lapping the ever-mounting hills, there now a forest loomed. Great trees, bare and silent, stood, rank on rank, with tangled bough and hoary head; their twisted roots were buried in the long green grass. Darkness was under them. Between the Dike and the eaves of that nameless wood only two open furlongs lay. There now cowered the proud hosts of Saruman, in terror of the king and in terror of the trees. …
The Orcs reeled and screamed … Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.
The Two Towers, Chapter 7, Helm’s Deep
There were moments more mysterious, strange trees moving through a countryside, eliminating all trace of the evil that had been among them:
… in the middle night men heard a great noise, as a wind in the valley, and the ground trembled…. But in the morning … the slain Orcs were gone, and the trees also. Far down into the valley … the grass was crushed and trampled brown … but a mile below the Dike a huge pit had been delved in the earth, and over it stones were piled into a hill. Men believed that the Orcs whom they had slain were buried there; but whether those who had fled into the wood were with them, none could say…. The Death Down it was afterwards called, and no grass would grow there. But the strange trees were never seen in Deeping-coomb again; they had returned at night…. Thus they were revenged upon the Orcs.
The Two Towers, Chapter 8, The Road to Isengard
Watching the black shapes that loomed and disappeared as I drove through the fog, it would not have been hard to believe in battling trees.