Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Birds, Beasts, and Bears: A Brief History


The Ancient Realm

 Have you ever looked up at a brilliantly blue sky, or a turbulent storm, and wished to be in it? Or, have you gazed at a wild beast crossing a great plain, or climbing rigid mountain slopes, and longed to walk a mile with him?

   I am almost certain every child, at some point or another, during the fancies of youth, has the mind to wonder and the heart to wish they could fly like a bird, or run like a horse, or climb like a lynx! How limitless would the world seem if we could bound over any barrier like a deer on the run, or escape in flight all that troubles us on this lowly earth?
   Here's a wonder, the more we observe in the majesty and magnificence of nature, the more we want to be a part of it. But, as youth gives way to the sage years, we experience the fading away of childish dreams and begin to realize that there is a real danger hidden beneath all that mystical beauty. There is a power in nature that is always moving and never seen...  Nature then, is a thing to be feared or shunned, and even in its smallest forms it begins to annoy and hinder our ways.
  Yet, for all the efforts of men to shun it and cast it off, this is the one truth Nature knows best - it can exist anywhere, even right among us... and we might never know.
Long ago, before the settlement of men in the land of Eriador, forests covered the western lands. Everything between the Misty Mountains in the east, to the great western Blue Mountains and beyond, was an untamed woodland, and the ancient home of the old beasts of Middle Earth.
   It is said that the trees themselves walked like men in those days, and the animals were far more peaceable and communicative than they are today. But, that was before the coming of shadow and men into these northern lands to build their ships, during an age they called prosperity.  During this time, the beasts were driven and hunted, scattered to the four corners of the realm, all while mankind expanded their territory and fought their great wars. 
  The forest was cut down, by acres and by miles, until only a minuscule fraction remained. Now only small scattered groves are left of what once was a massive woodland. The largest patches of which today are so insignificant that only two this side of the Misty Mountains are named; Eryn Vorn, and what is called by the smaller folk, the Old Forest.
  Of course it was not the desire of either side, man or beast, that they should become enemies and desolate one another, but as the woes of man suddenly befell them, it would seem they became blind and deaf to the woes of other forces in the land. While evil sent its ambassadors into the woodland, nature became confused with the enemy, some parts even giving in to it.
   As time passed, man was consumed by his own affairs and disputations, he was wrapped up in his own fears and passions. Evil brewed in secret, and while messages were sent in the forms of the birds and the beasts of prey, not many were heeded. Some creatures, such as the White Stag, brought tidings of great good to the eyes and ears of men, which were seldom disregarded. Others, however, came only as heralds of great evil, and were written into history as the ill omens that precede woe and misfortune throughout all of legend.
The truth remained that the beasts were succumbing to the influence of darkness. The animals began to prey on the children of men, and all innocence was smitten in the battle between the forces of good and evil.
The untamed wilderness became a savage, merciless land filled with cruel inhabitants; A realm where none could walk safely.
The Tree Herders themselves had been scattered with the destruction of their realm, and the animals relinquished their allegiance to the peoples of Middle Earth. Displaced in the land, they fought against one another. The need for fear and for food drove all, and the weak became the prey of the mighty, while those with greater strength entered in with evil to kill for killing's sake...


A More Recent History

Now, surely that is not the end of the tale, for not all creatures fell away and became the servants of evil. History, as we have seen, oft finds the tales of beasts entwined in the stories of men; Such as in the relations of Erebor, where the Dwarves knew the allegiance of the Ravens under Carc, the Raven King. And, before the Great Worm, even Smaug the Terrible, came from the mountains and desolated the lands surrounding the Dwarven kingdom, taking their palaces to be his own, the Thrushes of the woodland had already taught their speech to the Men of that land.
 So we see that the small beasts of the realm have had a great impact on the stories which are told of great evil being overthrown. It was so with Smaug when the Thrush knocked and the least suspected creature of all came walking unseen into his fortress: The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, was in the end the one who discovered the weakness in the dragon's armor, and by him was it made known to the Thrush, who in turn brought word to the arrow of Bard - and in fiery ruin the terrible worm was felled!
But Bilbo and the Dwarves of Thorin Oakenshield's company were often aided by such unusual means, and they would not likely have accomplished their quest if not for the help that came at the most needed time and from the most unlikely places - Unlikely it was indeed in the Great Beorn's time, that he would house thirteen dwarfs, one hobbit, and a wizard all in the same evening!
   Though Radagast the Brown was known to Beorn, and was friend to his house, it was the wizard Gandalf, then called the Grey, that led Oakenshield's company to the Great Hall to take refuge there. And, when the tale was cleverly unfolded, and later proved, the dwarves of Erebor knew the friendship of Beorn the Great for as long as he lived.
   Often in the succeeding years the dwarves of that company returned to Beorn's house again, and, even before in the Battle of Five Armies, did he play a significant part.  

Beorn later became a great chief of his people. Revered by all, and respected for generations of his line - many of whom inherited his valor, yet none were ever so great as he on the plain of battle. And, I shall be glad that it is of Beorn the Great Chief that I shall hereafter tell, for I am descended of him, and have walked in his hall when his son Grimborn the Old was chief of my kin!
  Though I shall not tell how bears and men came to walk together, for that is a tale to be sung of in the Hall of Beorn alone. Yet it was at the time of the great destruction and mustering of the shadows that my ancestors came over to inherit the white peaks in the eastern mountains, where there they dwelt for years unnumbered in the mountain country and no stories are had in the languages of men as to how their generations fared. But, after a time, the giants came to the mountains, and then came also the orcs and the goblins... thus it is. However, I shall not relate that tale, as the story of the great battles that were fought and the carnage reaped need not be spoken here - let it only be said that everlasting hatred was kindled at that time between my folk and the goblins of the Misty Mountains.


From the Past to the Present

Many things which Beorn lived and learned were passed on to his posterity. He taught his children how to plow fields, to reap the fruit of the trees, and of the earth. He taught them to craft weapons and to care for the animals of the land.  His people never knew fear in his days, and they grew numerous in the Vale of Anduin wherein his Hall was situated. They became a great people of the Vale, opening trade with their eastern neighbors, claiming the High Pass of the Misty Mountains and that of the Ford of Carrock, for the safe passage of the Free Peoples.

Beorn's line continued to grow through much of the latter Third Age. They settled in lands both near and far, making their homes abroad as well as in their age old homelands. Some returned to the mountains from whence we came, and others joined with the men in the lands of Dale, while others yet remained to inherit the Vale and aid in the reclamation of the Wood of Greenleaves, also called today Eryn Lasgalen by the elves of that realm.

 Thus the children of Beorn have grown great and numerous, having adapted to different ways. But whether they have returned to their origin in the wilderness, or have chosen to live amongst man, the presence of Beorn's children will always be felt, in whichever place they reside. And, perhaps, if you look very closely, you might even come to recognize them - be it in the forests and mountains, or the lively markets and homes of men.