The complex, never quite complete tales of the couple, Beren and Lúthien, date to 1917 and the earliest writing of the author JRR Tolkien, and were undoubtedly of great importance to him. In some ways he envisioned the love affair between Beren, a mortal man, and Lúthien, an Elvish princess, in terms of his own relationship with Edith Bratt, an illegitimate orphan three years his senior who he married in 1916. Tolkien later claimed that the inspiration for the initial meeting of the two characters in the fictional kingdom of Doriath came from a walk through some woods at Roos, a village in the north of England, in the summer of 1917. Resting in a clearing filled with hemlcoks, his twenty-eight year old wife danced and sang for the then officer in the wartime British Army. Michael Flowers recently revisited the supposed site of Tolkien’s account, Dents Garth, and makes some interesting observations in a nice bit of literary and environmental research.
Dents Garth and Roos churchyard contain Beech, Lime (referred to poetically as the Linden-tree by Tolkien), Horse Chestnut, and all the other tree and plant species mentioned in the various versions of the encounter between Beren and Lúthien. The only exception is a mature Elm tree – Beren leans on a young Elm in the earliest surviving version of the text, but mature examples of this species were probably lost in the devastating effects of the Dutch Elm disease of the 1970s and 80s.
Several young Elm trees still appear to be thriving in the grounds of the nearby former Roos castle. How long they will survive is debatable.
The nearest tree to the south-west corner of the church, between the church and the entrance in the southern exterior churchyard wall is rather striking: it has three trunks. In the earliest-surviving version of Tolkien’s story, Lúthien is imprisoned by her father Tinwelint (later Thingol) in Hírilorn, a mighty Beech tree: “so deeply cloven was her bole that it seemed as if three shafts sprang from the ground together and they were of like size, round and straight, and their grey rind was smooth as silk, unbroken by branch or twig for a very great height above men’s heads.”