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NF-Lee's 3/4 Frodo sketch

Tolkien's Landscapes 1: 'The Tree of Amalion' ~ pictures by Tolkien, poem by jan-u-wine.

Posted on 2013.06.21 at 11:40
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Tree of Amalion-ICON

~ Detail from 'The Tree of Amalion', August 1928, by J. R. R. Tolkien

A year and a half ago I conceived of doing a series of postings of paintings and drawings, mostly from J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (Hammond and Scull), concentrating on his love of trees, hoping that jan-u-wine might write pieces prompted by them. Happily, she wrote several, but I never got around to writing the posts to present them.

Originally the series was to be called "Tolkien's Trees", but, in the meantime, the Tolkien Society designated its theme for this year's Reading Day as "Tolkien's Landscapes". That's better still, since the paintings chosen depict more than trees. But to start, we shall look at the Tree of trees.

Tolkien's drawing "The Tree of Amalion" is recognizable as a tree, but more an expression of human imagination than realistic rendering. Looking closely one can see that its fruit and flowers are different to each other, impossible in nature, yet it looks like a living tree. Tolkien often doodled trees, imaginative, lush and various, with curling leaves and branches, "more suitable," he said, "for embroidery than printing".

Some scholars let "The Tree of Amalion" go uninterpreted because Tolkien never said anything specific to it in his writings. But it is easy for me to see in this picture Tolkien's notion of the Tree of Tales, mentioned in his essay On Fairy-Stories. There is one great tree of human imagining, its roots in the far past, and our legends, myths and stories are the branches and leaves and fruit, ever growing. Tolkien applied it to his own writing, comparing his work to the Tree (writing to his publisher Unwin), bearing various shapes of leaves and many flowers, small and large, which signified the poems and legends in his overall ongoing creation.

John R. Holmes wrote about The Tree of Amalion in his entry on Tolkien's art and illustrations for J.R.R.Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. His final paragraph sums up well for me:

The Tree of Amalion does, in Morris's language, point to something beyond itself, but not in the natural world. Perhaps the image abided with Tolkien so tenaciously because, like Niggle's tree in his short story, it expressed his entire artistic life. As in "Leaf by Niggle," Tolkien the notorious allegorophobe had no qualms about attributing large allegories to The Tree of Amalion. The tree as a whole is an expression of an abstraction, the very idea of variety. Tolkien's readers have had no difficulty associating Niggle's tree with Tolkien's entire literary output; the variety in the blossoms on The Tree of Amalion similarly points to the literary works of Middle-earth. "The tree," Tolkien told Unwin, "bears besides various shapes of leaves and many flowers small and large signifying poems and major legends." Amalion, then, might be a fit emblem for all of Tolkien's work, literary and visual, and of the interrelation between the two.

Jan-u-wine's poem for the picture picks up the notion of the Tree of Tales and twines it deftly with the related notion of the Great Tale, the greater, overarching and ongoing story of which our own stories, and the stories of Tolkien's characters, are merely part.


Tree of Amalion-RED

The Tree of Amalion

In the garden of the World
it was sown,

in the Other-When,
in the


All that is,
all that

may be,

all that magically


grows here,
upon its slender frame,

a storied proof and promise
of love.

And how the years go by,
the Ages

the pages turning,

the players,
great and small,

entering and

the Grand Stage.

Yet not a leaf
falls from the Tree,

not for a rest'd

does the music of it

but blossoms,

with the singular songs
of those whose lives
it has entwined,

those whose hearts
have ever dwelt

within the tender

of its joyous


Trees 2-B-RED

~ Another 'Tree of Amalion' picture, undated, from Pictures by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Previous entry:

Shores of Faerie-ICON ~ "Upon the Tol" by jan-u-wine with art by Tolkien, for March 25.

Other Links:
Nan's Reunion-ICON ~ All entries featuring jan-u-wine's poems.


shirebound at 2013-06-21 19:02 (UTC) (Link)
all that magically
grows here

How I love this! I can imagine this gentle poem being read to children before bed so they can dream sweet, magical dreams.
jan_u_wine at 2013-06-21 19:29 (UTC) (Link)
so glad you like, SB! Heavens, i adore the tree illos! (and....i love your icon. I want one!)
shirebound at 2013-06-21 19:33 (UTC) (Link)
Some of my favorite icons are from mucun, who generously posted her art and lets anyone make icons from it.
jan_u_wine at 2013-06-21 20:03 (UTC) (Link)
mechtild at 2013-06-21 19:58 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Shirebound! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the poem. :)
ambree40 at 2013-06-22 19:37 (UTC) (Link)
It's a beautiful poem, Jan. Nostalgic and joyous at the same time. Thank you.

The "Tree of Amalion" pictures are lovely. I wonder if Tolkien used real flowers as an inspiration. I do recognize a Fuchsia flower. We have the book and it would be great fun to try and identify as many as possible.

I've always felt that "Tree by Niggle" was Tolkien's way of accepting life's limitations. A very simplistic notion but that's what resonates with me.

Thank you both for a lovely post.
mechtild at 2013-06-22 20:11 (UTC) (Link)
I'm happy you enjoyed the post, Ambree.

I wonder if Tolkien used real flowers as an inspiration.

I am sure Tolkien would have been working (if only in his mind) from real flowers. He knew and loved flowers and plants and often drew and painted from nature. He had an eye that drawing and painting only sharpened when he came to write descriptive passages in his books.

"Leaf by Niggle" is one of my favourite things Tolkien wrote, one full of 'applicability' for me, which touches upon what you are saying. :)

Edited at 2013-06-22 09:59 pm (UTC)
jan_u_wine at 2013-06-24 12:47 (UTC) (Link)
thank *you*, Ambree! so glad you enjoy the post. It's a lovely one, I think. it....res(i)onates.....

Tree by Niggle......it feels almost like a diary entry to me....a very long diary entry, to be sure. Things that JRR could not, perhaps, say as himself, things too......niggling to put down in his own journal, but things that nipped at his heels nonetheless.

It also has a triumphant feel to it. And a comfort, like a warm fire on a rainy day, and a journey ending in Home.

How lovely the Prof. is.
antane at 2013-06-23 01:55 (UTC) (Link)
I love On Fairy-stories. It is my favorite essay of the Professor and I have read it several times. It does not cease to be a delight each time. This poem is a great tribute to the Tree of Tales, dear jan!

Namarie, God bless, Antsne :)
mechtild at 2013-06-23 03:07 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Antane! Thanks for stopping and commenting so graciously. :)
jan_u_wine at 2013-06-24 12:49 (UTC) (Link)
thank you, Antane! isn't it wonderful that we are all a part of that Tree, whether we actively tell tales or are simply a part of the Grand one.....

so glad you enjoyed the post! I think Mechtild outdid herself. I loved her intro and the secondary Tree image was new to me!
pearlette at 2013-06-24 13:37 (UTC) (Link)
Great post, Mechtild.

This raises in my mind the big questions about art. What is art and what does it do? It's primarily self-expression ... and all humans have a story to tell. But it can be so much more than that, too. One of the many things I love about Tolkien's writing is his vision of something much larger than himself. Probably all true and great artistic endeavours - including genres and styles vastly different from Tolkien's own speciality - point us in that direction anyway. Take Beethoven's majestic symphonies: the music seems to be larger than its creator, somehow, stirring something very deep within our hearts and souls in response. Bach's music is pure, undiluted worship, as well as forming the most marvellous musical architecture. I find Renaissance art (and not just the religious variety) so incredibly beautiful and sublime that looking at it is, itself, a religious experience.

(That's not to say I think art always has to be beautiful and sublime. Not at all. Art can, and often should be, dark, disturbing provocative and shocking.)

Returning to Tolkien's own concept of the Story Tree, of course he was influenced by other, older, incredibly rich sources and put his own uniquely wonderful spin on them, creating his own imaginary world and characters in the process. Surely all writers do.

mechtild at 2013-06-25 01:49 (UTC) (Link)
What a splendid comment, Pearl. Yes, art, and artists when they're making it, participates in something greater than itself. Tolkien would warm to that idea, as he would to this one....

Returning to Tolkien's own concept of the Story Tree, of course he was influenced by other, older, incredibly rich sources and put his own uniquely wonderful spin on them, creating his own imaginary world and characters in the process. Surely all writers do.

Yes, surely they do, and Tolkien would be the first to say so.

(P.S. Love your icon - you showed me where to get one for my own use -- I love using it, it's so beautiful.)
Lavender Took
lavendertook at 2013-06-29 00:54 (UTC) (Link)
Those are so beautiful--especially the bottom tree with the beautiful pastel background--gorgeous! It reminds me especially of Armenian illuminations. And makes me think of the hybrid underpinnings of Tolkien's history of the West, always already mixed. And you just made me think that there is the connection between my 2 literary idols--Tolkien and Margaret Cavendish who wrote fantasy and natural philosophy: "variety." There it is--they both lauded variety of forms in writing. Hmmmm, maybe I can weave them together in a dissertation through that term . . . (-:

I love Jan's term "swifting." It gets not just the sense of passing years, but how they speed up as they progress--wonderful! And I love the "Other-When" and "Other-Where."
jan_u_wine at 2013-06-29 11:30 (UTC) (Link)
i LOVE that you are talking dissertation, LT! You GO, Girrrrrrllll!

i love that secondary tree, too. It is quite Armenian looking. It reminds me a great deal of illos from the Rubyiat that my dear aunty gave me.

i don't know if i invented those words, but I like them, too. It's nice to have .....playthings (words) that are virtually free, and can be reshaped, reused, reloved in endless rotation. I'm a lucky person!
mechtild at 2013-06-29 18:28 (UTC) (Link)
You're writing a dissertation? Go, Lavender! You are a better woman than I, lol. It took me five years to complete a one hundred page masters thesis way back when, maybe longer. When I finally showed up to defend it I think my committee members were so thrilled I finally finished they didn't care WHAT I'd written. Your idea sounds very interesting -- may it carry you through. :)

Edited at 2013-06-29 06:29 pm (UTC)
diem_kieu94 at 2013-07-11 13:46 (UTC) (Link)

Lovely, as usual!

Tolkien's drawings are just lovely! These two for some reason remind me of something that would appear in a Renaissance costume or in Versailles. Gorgeous!
mechtild at 2013-07-12 01:35 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Lovely, as usual!

That's very astute, Diem Kieu. If you noted it, above, Tolkien said pictures he did like this were "more suitable for embroidery than for printing". That implies fabrics, certainly tapestries, of which Tolkien was very appreciative.
diem_kieu94 at 2013-07-12 05:37 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Lovely, as usual!

Indeed, they are! I've always loved fabrics and costumes, especially period gowns In fact, my mother makes them for us to wear to the Renaissance Faire each year! (That is SO much fun!) Also, my sketchbooks are usually filled to the brim with sketches of gowns and textiles... And I digress. The point is... Tolkien had a hand that was as skilled as an elf's!
mechtild at 2013-07-12 18:15 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Lovely, as usual!

You design costumes? That sounds like such fun. I designed myself, way back when, when I thought I might like to be a costumer. However, while I loved making the plates, designing, drawing and painting them, I hated sewing -- NOT the career for me, lol. I'm happy you and your mother enjoy both the designing and the making.

Tolkien had a hand that was as skilled as an elf's!

I should think even better, since he invented the Elves, and their skills. *wink*
diem_kieu94 at 2013-07-13 05:39 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Lovely, as usual!

Very true! ;)
netclari7 at 2014-08-24 05:12 (UTC) (Link)
Found this post when Googling the tree, and just wanted to say (though who knows if anyone will see it!) that I've been toying with the idea of getting the Tree of Amalion as a tattoo, and this post/poem have totally solidified it for me! There are always such amazing stories behind all of Tolkien's work.
mechtild at 2014-08-24 21:17 (UTC) (Link)
That's going to be an ambitious tattoo! May the procedure go well for you, netclari7. :)
netclari7 at 2014-08-24 22:20 (UTC) (Link)
ha, tell me about it! :) thank you!
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