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November/December 2013
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The Word of Teregor, by Guy Ridley (1914)

J.R.R. Tolkien is renowned for his creation of tree creatures, such as Old Man Willow in the Old Forest near the Shire, as well as the Huorns of Fangorn Forest and, most famously, the Ents, the tree shepherds who gather together in moots. These all appeared in The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), but they may have an antecedent in an obscure short novel published (while Tolkien was an undergraduate) by a recent Oxford graduate.

The Word of Teregor is the only published book by Guy Ridley (1885-1947), a barrister who was on the far fringe of the Bloomsbury literary group, and who was a participant in the famous 1910 Dreadnought Hoax where Virginia Woolf and other friends pretended to be a party of Abyssinian royals, and were treated to a privileged tour of the H.M.S. Dreadnought, the flagship of the Royal Navy. The resultant publicity caused great embarrassment for the British Navy.

Basically, The Word of Teregor is a kind of mythic pre-history of a Forest, ruled over at first by the great oak Teregor, and afterward by Forgar the King. The various types of trees have individualities, like the ash-tree Anith the Beautiful, Sork the Yew-tree, and Rak the horned oak (a sinister menace on the order of Tolkien's Old Man Willow). One tree is even called Enteth, and the trees move about mysteriously and gather together in Moots. There is no evidence that Tolkien knew this short novel, but the similarities are intriguing.

—Douglas A. Anderson

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