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Hobbit Sense
What can we learn about land stewardship from The Lord of the Rings?
By John Amodeo, ASLA

Build me an army worthy of Mordor,” commands Sauron in The Fellowship of the Ring. With a maniacal greed for power, the easily corrupted Saruman turns his cavernous lair beneath Isengard into a frenzied factory of orcs and armor, fueled by burning the region’s trees, which he clear-cuts with reckless abandon. When an orc reports to Saruman, “The trees are strong, my lord; their roots grow deep,” Saruman barks, “Take them all down,” and down they come.

Thus J. R. R. Tolkien draws the lines of evil in his wondrous tale, The Lord of the Rings. Since the trilogy’s initial publication in 1954, many have analyzed, debated, and deconstructed Tolkien on the topics of linguistics, history, anthropology, sociology, mythology, and war, but rare is the discussion on Tolkien’s environmental commentary, though all the signs are there. Although Tolkien, who died in 1973, vehemently discouraged using his books as an allegory for real events, he favored use of them in ways that are applicable to readers’ own thoughts and experiences. Looking beneath the fun, the action, and the mysticism of Tolkien’s fantastic creation, landscape architects need only observe the ways in which the forces of good and evil treat Mother Earth to discover that Tolkien wove a conservationist morality tale within its pages (evident in the films as well) that resonates strongly in the society in which we practice.

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