The Entwives are the lost wives of the Ents.
Almost nothing is known of the early history of the Ents. After the Dwarves were put to sleep by Eru to await the coming of the Elves, Aulë told his wife Yavanna, "the lover of all things that grow in the earth," of the Dwarves. She replied, "They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed. Many a tree shall feel the bite of their iron without pity." She went to Manwë and appealed to him to protect the trees, and they realized that Ents, too, were part of the Song of Creation. Yavanna then warned Aulë, "Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril."
The Ents are called "the Shepherds of the Trees". Treebeard tells of a time when much of Eriador was forested and part of his domain, but these immense forests dwindled over time. Treebeard's statement is corroborated by Elrond: "Time was when a squirrel could go from tree to tree from what is now the Shire to Dunland west of Isengard." Of this vast forest, according to Treebeard, Fangorn forest was "just the East End".
Treebeard says that the Entwives began to move farther away from the Ents because they liked to plant and control things, while the Ents liked to let things take their natural course, so they moved away to the region that would later become the Brown Lands across the Great River Anduin, although the male Ents still visited them. The Entwives, unlike the Ents, interacted with the race of Men and taught them much about the art of agriculture.
The Entwives lived in peace until their gardens were destroyed by Sauron (most likely during the War of the Last Alliance), and they themselves disappeared. The Ents looked for them but never found them. It was sung by the Elves (Ents were content to simply "chant their beautiful names") that one day the Ents and Entwives would find each other. Indeed, in The Return of the King, Treebeard implored the Hobbits not to forget to send word to him if they "hear any news" of the Entwives "in your land".
They have not been spotted for ages (not even by the male Ents), except for some random stories by drunken hobbits who've claimed to have seen trees walking around the Shire. Tolkien himself considered them to have become extinct (but he never considered himself the final authority on which way his creation would evolve).
You can find glimpses of the Entwives in the Old Forest.
- Rhosthorn's Flower
- Neldorlas' Flower
- Dorollin's Flower
- Cordofoneth's Flower
- Lenhwest's Flower
- Silloth's Flower
- Braiglad's Flower
- Merillif's Flower
One of the primary comments on the survival of the Entwives is found in Letter 144 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien:
- "I think that in fact the Entwives had disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age 3429 – 3441) when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin..."
And later in Letter 338, answering the direct question: Did the Ents ever find the Entwives?
- "As for the Entwives: I do not know. I have written nothing beyond the first few years of the Fourth Age. . . . But I think in Vol. II pp. 80-811 it is plain that there would be for Ents no re-union in 'history' — but Ents and their wives being rational creatures would find some 'earthly paradise' until the end of this world: beyond which the wisdom neither of Elves nor Ents could see. Though maybe they shared the hope of Aragorn that they were 'not bound for ever to the circles of the world and beyond them is more than memory.'...."
J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954)
A fascinating Theory
The Entwives, having ample knowledge of the evil growing in Mordor, could have left the area before damage was inflicted. Evidence would suggest that Entwives from the Brown Lands would have split into two groups, one that went north back to the old kingdom of Eriador, and the other South to Ithilien. Based on what Treebeard tells, Entwives like lands in the sunshine, with open fields growing as many small plants as possible (Lord 476). Both groups of Entwives find what they seek and begin their gardens respectively.
The group going north would have eventually found the forests above the shire and joined the other Ents left in those woods. Their going north to the Shire area can also easily be validated. Treebeard told Merry and Pippin that the Entwives “would love their country” as they were describing it on their first meeting (Lord 472). The Entwives would have taken root long before the Hobbits ever showed up which may be why the area was so fertile upon their arrival. However, they would most likely have moved a bit further north than the Shire’s bounds when the Hobbits arrived. This is further supported when Sam Gamgee’s cousin Halfast had seen a tree-man near the North Moors in the Northfarthing that looked like an elm tree walking (Lord 44-45).
The group that went south would have loved the land of Ithilien. “South and west it looked towards the warm lower vales of the Anduin, shielded from the east by the Ephel Duath and yet not under the mountain-shadow, protected from the north by the Emyn Muil, open to the southern airs and moist winds from the Sea far away” (Lord 650). This would have been a perfect land for the Entwives to thrive. Being the end of the Second Age, there were another 3000 years or so until Frodo and Sam would stumble upon the land. In turn, it would provide time for the Kingdom of Gondor as well as the gardens in Ithilien to grow. Men of Gondor came, in the meantime, to these gardens and loved the herbs they found, and collected wood they knew existed only in that area. The strong wood was from “the fair tree lebethron, beloved of the woodwrights of Gondor, and [had been set with a virtue] of finding and returning” (Lord 694). The men, however, never saw the Entwives. Maybe it was because the Entwives were “bent and browned by their labor” and the men couldn’t see their eyes or else the Entwives could have grown more “treeish,” like some of the Ents in Fangorn Forest.
Before they even reached the gardens, the Hobbits were refreshed by air that was fresh and fragrant, which reminded them of the uplands in the Northfarthing. When Frodo and Sam do finally arrive in these same gardens on the brink of war with Mordor, they see no Entwives either. But the chapter is written from their point of view, and because they’ve never heard of “tree-men,” they don’t know what to look for. What is most important when analyzing what Tolkien means at this event, is defining each word he uses. In his descriptions of the possible Entwives, he tells of trees “planted long ago, falling into an untended age amid a riot of careless descendants” (Lord 650). This suggests that something was “placed” to stay at the will of another, like the Entwives preferred to do in their gardens. Also, using the word “descendants” implies a familial bond usually related to parenting and raising the young like plants. And “careless” supports the Entwives having gone more treeish, letting the land grow wild, living in a “land that had only been for a few years under the dominion of the Dark Lord and was not yet fallen wholly into decay” (Lord 649).
Frodo and Sam saw “small woods of resinous trees [of] fir and cedar and cypress, and other kinds unknown in the Shire,” very spaced out to allow room for the “sweet-smelling herbs and shrubs” to grow “everywhere” around them (Lord 650). They saw so many different types of leaves and spices, “and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam” (Lord 650). Tolkien goes further to remark that “Ithilien, the garden of Gondor [was] now desolate kept still [with] a disheveled dryad loveliness” (Lord 650). Aside from calling it a garden, Tolkien also refers to it as currently uninhabitable, and kept in it’s pristine growing condition of old, by a wood nymph or spirit, in disarray or disorder. The Entwives may have become treeish and bedraggled as of more recently and no longer walk around in Ithilien due to the growing shadow over Mordor, but their gardens continue to prosper from the spirits that still embody them.
Lastly, the factor that most Tolkien fans can’t seem to connect is the wood lebethron that the wood workers of Gondor so greatly coveted. It had the virtue of finding and returning, which relates to the Ents finding the Entwives, or the Entwives returning to the Ents. Secondly, this wood was only found in Ithilien, meaning it comes from a rare style tree that exists in a place where the Entwives would have loved and are believed to be, that has the most amazing natural gardens of herbs and other horticulture.
Tolkien, as a cunning linguist, put a lot of thought into the names of each of his characters, places, and objects. Lebethron is no different. While the exact definition is unknown (as per Tolkien’s wishes to create this mystery), one could collect the meaning from old Elvish words. The word “lebet” in Quenya, means “finger.” In addition, the part “thron” could be from the Elvish word “doron” which means oak, creating a “Fingered Oak,” and personifying the tree. Now to shine on Tolkien’s comedy, alternatively the term “leb” in Elf speak, means “stay, tarry, or remain,” which is exactly what the Entwives wanted to do by planting gardens as opposed to roaming the forests endlessly (History 394, 410
A paper apparently written for High School (or maybe a Freshman lit class) by a writer posting as "GremlinAbuse" from Maryland on the Minas Tirith website in 2008. The particular thread is long and this post is on Page 22!