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Not a Tolkien quote: "Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works I take the part of trees against all their enemies."

If there is one thing a lot of people (seem to) know about Tolkien it is his love of trees, represented possibly most famously in his creation of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings.

It is no wonder such a thing came to exist.

“Every tree has its enemy…”

Where do I start? Maybe with the photo itself.

It is one of those photos so famously taken by Lord Snowdon in May 1971. (Opens in a new window)

If you are interested in reading about a truly interesting life even the most minimal description with Wikipedia (Opens in a new window) will offer you a fun read on the first Earl of Snowdon, or rather Antony Armstrong-Jones, one of Britain’s most renowned photographers.

I love this quote from Snowdon: A Photographic Autobiography (Times Books, 1979):

“When I arrived at Tolkien’s house I found it curiously characterless. Before I met him, I had spent hours near his home looking for places that might reflect The Lord of the Rings, but had found nothing. When we went for a walk before lunch, we came upon this bit of wood about 500 yards from his house. It's one of the few occasions when I've used a wide-angle lens for people, as I don't like the way it distorts. But in this case it helps; the wood becomes flattened out and makes him become part of his surroundings in the mood of his work. [Snowdon, p. 76-77]

You can find this quote in part with this excellent post on How J. R. R. Tolkien escaped unwanted fame on the Bournemouth coast (Opens in a new window), including the almost legendary bungalow fireplace sale.

Oh, and by the way - in the book the quote beside the photograph is subtitled "J.R.R. Tolkien, aged 80, 1972.” As the photo session took place on May 25, 1971 this obviously is in error (see Hammond & Scull’s Chronology, p. 791, for more about this) but given the fact that a number of photos appeared in the January 2, 1972, edition of the Sunday Times Magazine I am sure that is what the editor of the book had in mind.

I also like this quote by Snowdon:

"Unfortunately, one tends to lead a butterfly life - you're doing one, perhaps two assignments a day. Over the years you find that you have photographed a great number of people, but you haven't really got to know them well. One of the sadnesses about being a photographer is that you meet so many people you long to see more of, but seldom see again." [Snowdon, p. 72]

Well, the whole session has been making Tolkien title pages possible for quite some time, particularly with the photo as seen at the beginning of this post.

One of my all-time favourite photos - not the least because of the content involved - is this one:

When did it first appear?

As with most more recent fake quotes/ memes it is rather difficult to determine the terminus post quem. However, I believe in this case we might be lucky.

The first usage of this fake quote with this photo I can find is with reddit’s r/lotr on August 21, 2019 (Opens in a new window) and the reason for this were the Amazon rainforest wildfires (Opens in a new window) raging at the time.

Now, that would be it - for the meme.

However, the quote itself was used way earlier than that.

In 2014 I noted on my blog that Tolkien’s ‘favourite tree’, the magnificent Pinus Nigra at the OXBGA, had to be cut down (Opens in a new window). I am still emberrassed for some of the so-called Tolkien fans’ behaviour at the time - mentioned here (Opens in a new window) -, and one the things that really did not help were online petitions to not cut the tree down.

Again, it was reddit’s r/lotr using the quote above on August 4, 2014 (Opens in a new window). And even earlier than that was a post on the website titled Tolkien and the Environment (Opens in a new window).

The Internet Archive has as its earliest capture of this particular page June 5, 2013. But Google even goes back to 2004 for this, July 31, to be exact, and I was inclined to believe this to be true. The reason being that the index to the Articles on Tolkien has said article already in an IA capture from March 26, 2012 (Opens in a new window), so more than a year earlier than mentioned before.

I dug a little deeper and true enough - I was able to find the abovementioned article in an Internet Archive capture from October 10, 2004 (Opens in a new window). That is, the Google timing for July 31, 2004 is with the highest of probalities true.

So, the Council of Elrond website seems to be responsible for creating and sharing this fake quote.

[It is always my guess that things like this originated with the supplemental material of the extended editions of the LotR film trilogy but I am not going to watch ALL OF THAT to figure out whether I am right or not! 😅]

So, what’s wrong with the quote?

Well, both lines were said and/or written by Tolkien. But not together.

Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate is from Letter 241 (Opens in a new window); In all my works I take the part of trees against all their enemies is from Letter 339 (Opens in a new window).

The first part has to be put into context with Leaf by Niggle.

There was a great tree – a huge poplar with vast limbs – visible through my window even as I lay in bed. I loved it, and was anxious about it. It had been savagely mutilated some years before, but had gallantly grown new limbs – though of course not with the unblemished grace of its former natural self; and now a foolish neighbour was agitating to have it felled. Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. [my emphasis]

The second part belong to a letter JRRT sent to the editor of the Daily Telegraph:

[In a leader in the Daily Telegraph of 29 June 1972, entitled 'Forestry and Us', there occurred this passage: 'Sheepwalks where you could once ramble for miles are transformed into a kind of Tolkien gloom, where no bird sings...' Tolkien's letter was published, with a slight alteration to the opening sentence, in the issue of 4 July.]

30 June 1972 Merton College, Oxford

Dear Sir,

With reference to the Daily Telegraph of June 29th, page 18, I feel that it is unfair to use my name as an adjective qualifying 'gloom', especially in a context dealing with trees. In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. [my emphasis]

So basically someone who looked for “trees” in Humphrey Carpenter’s edition of Letters mashed up those two. And here we are.

A h/t to the most excellent Alan Reynolds who mentioning this in a group on Facebook reminded me I needed to write this.

This post was published with a two-week’s early access for my members to Elvish and Arda standards.

As people have mentioned to me they would like to know how much time I spend on writing blog posts with the Tolkienist or with Steady: this post has taken me ~ five hours.

Topic Tolkien's Works


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