Many, many years ago - back in late 2003 - someone by the name Teleporno posted on the Minas Tirith forum, in a thread titled "I Found the Entwives!". He later made several comments on the Land of Rohan forum, all of which are collected on the Barrow-Downs. Taken from excerpts of his posts (out of order), here's what he said:
I found the Entwives!
At least I think so. In my nineteenth rereading of the The Two Towers, I found 'em, right there. ...they're in the second half of The Two Towers.
Now I understand why he was so cagey in his letters about them. He wanted readers to discover the answer to his riddle.
Of course my "evidence" is subjective. Tolkien does not say "here are the Entwives." But he does, I think, make a very deliberate joke.
It's a joke I'm sure some of Tolkien's cronies got, especially his cloistered academic friends parodied (and ennobled) by the Ents. Think of British women in the early 20th century...Suffragists...women who wouldn't put up with foolish, boorish men...
It's an elaborate inside joke as much as a riddle, just as the Ents can be taken as a broad spoof of haughty English academics (specifically Treebeard is JRRT's rendering of C.S. Lewis) the Entwives are the middle-class British women who don't tolerate the foolish behavior of men -- like the suffragists. I know it's an extremely obscure thing to find and you have to do a lot of homework to understand my explanation of the riddle. Reading such as Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography (yeah, I know it's very flawed and omits a lot) and the Letters of JRRT. The letters where he answers readers questions about the Entwives are deliberately cagey for exactly this reason -- he wants YOU to find them.
Read The Two Towers and closely note clusters of words. ... Keep an eye on the clustering of certain types of words.
I'm now doubly worried about the Nazgūl finding the remaining Entwives and scorching them.
The Entwives are alive and living in The Lord of the Rings but you must look closely to find and decipher the riddle.
A lot of the responses assume Teleporno is lying, but let's assume he's telling the truth - he honestly believes he found a riddling reference to the Entwives in Book 4 of The Two Towers, and that they can be found by looking for clusters of certain types of words. They are a reference to middle-class British suffragists, and are in potential danger from the Nazgul scorching them. Whether or not he was right (he probably wasn't; Tolkien was pretty clear that the Entwives weren't in the books)... can we find what he was thinking of?
Throughout the threads on Minas Tirith and the Barrow-Downs, people make various suggestions as to what Teleporno could have been looking at. Here I will analyse each suggestion in the order they appear in the book, to see which most fits his words.
The Taming of Smeagol - upon the Emyn Muil
The cleft was longer and deeper than it seemed. Some way down they found a few gnarled and stunted trees, the first they had seen for days: twisted birch for the most part, with here and there a fir-tree. Many were dead and gaunt, bitten to the core by the eastern winds. Once in milder days there must have been a fair thicket in the ravine, but now, after some fifty yards, the trees came to an end, though old broken stumps straggled on almost to the cliff's brink. [...]
"Noodles! My beautiful rope! There it is tied to a stump, and we're at the bottom." [...]
To the complete surprise of both the hobbits [the rope] came loose. Sam fell over, and the long grey coils slithered silently down on top of him.
Could these gnarled and stunted trees by the Entwives, still clinging on at the edge of their old territory? The Emyn Muil lies directly south of the Brown Lands, so it is certainly concievable as a last refuge. (Though it does lie directly towards Sauron's lands... perhaps time to revisit the Breadbasket of Sauron theory?) The 'clustering of words' is also good here - Treebeard is initially described as looking like a stump, the fir and birch are mentioned together at the Entmoot ("some the fir (the tallest Ents), and others the birch"), and the description of the trees as 'gnarled and stunted' calls to mind Treebeard's description of Fimbrethil as 'bent and browned by [her] labour'. They're even in danger from the Nazgul - a Ringwraith flies right overhead during this sequence.
Furthermore, there is a hint of intelligence here: if we assume that Sam's rope did not magically come back to him, then someone would have needed to untie it. Who better than the stump-like Entwife he had accidentally tied it to? It's certainly a possible.
But are they a suffragist reference? Unfortunately, none of the relevant keywords (suffrage, feminist, women's rights/votes/anything) turn up in the indexes of either the Carpenter biography, or Letters, so we're reduced to guessing. If Tolkien ever made comments about how suffragists would be willing to throw themselves off a cliff to escape 'boorish men', then absolutely! If not... it's a stretch, but possible.
The other problem? Most of them are dead. Teleporno specifically said the Entwives were alive.
Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit - the gardens of Ithilien
Beyond [the road] were slopes covered with sombre trees like dark clouds, but all about them lay a tumbled heathland, grown with ling and broom and cornel, and other shrubs that they did not know. Here and there they saw knots of tall pine-trees. The hearts of the hobbits rose again a little in spite of weariness: the air was fresh and fragrant, and it reminded them of the uplands of the Northfarthing far away. [...]
All about them were small woods of resinous trees, fir and cedar and cypress. and other kinds unknown in the Shire, with wide glades among them; and everywhere there was a wealth of sweet-smelling herbs and shrubs. The long journey from Rivendell had brought them far south of their own land, but not until now in this more sheltered region had the hobbits felt the change of clime. Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness. [...]
Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants...
It is beyond doubt that Ithilien is a lovely realm, exactly the kind of place the Entwives would have liked: the Garden of Gondor, filled with the herbs and smaller trees that they were fond of. The comparison to the Northfarthing is also interesting: Treebeard specifically mentions that the Entwives would like the Shire, and Sam's tall tale from The Shadow of the Past ("But what about these Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back.") is set in the Northfarthing.
The language used by Tolkien also anthropomorphises the foliage of Ithilien - the use of 'dryad' is particularly telling. So is this Teleporno's discovery? It seems unlikely. There is no hint that there is anyone tending the gardens, so claiming to have found the Entwives alive would be a stretch (particularly given the specific use of 'untended age'). And there is no obvious joke linking the trees of Ithilien to suffragists.
Journey to the Cross-roads - (1) in Gondorian crafts
"[The staves given by Faramir to Frodo and Sam] are made of the fair tree lebethron, beloved of the woodwrights of Gondor, and a virtue has been set upon them of finding and returning."
Lebethron is a Sindarin word, indicating a specific Gondorian hardwood. Discussion on the Minas Tirith forum notes that 'lebet' is Quenya for 'finger', while 'leb' means 'tarry'. The original name was lebethorn, with 'orn' meaning 'tree'; it transformed into -ron by association with 'run', polish. Tolkien even suggested the Quenya name lepetta, indicating leaves shaped like fingered hands.
Certainly, Lebethron would be a perfect name for an Entwife - it could translate as 'polished fingers' or 'fingertree' (and idiomatically as something more poetic - Smoothhand, Treetouch). And the association with returning or staying is a good one. But this theory would imply that the Entwives were being chopped up and used for walking sticks, which is exceptionally dark for a 'joke'! It also fails to meet most of the other requirements, such as clusters of certain types of words, or any connection to suffragists.
Journey to the Cross-roads - (2) a day shy of the cross-roads (noted by vladimir of the Barrow-Downs)
For the most part it was covered with a thick growth of gorse and whortleberry, and low tough thorns, though here and there clearings opened, the scars of recent fires. The gorse-bushes became more frequent as they got nearer the top; very old and tall they were, gaunt and leggy below but thick above, and already putting out yellow flowers that glimmered in the gloom and gave a faint sweet scent. So tall were the spiny thickets that the hobbits could walk upright under them, passing through long dry aisles carpeted with a deep prickly mould.
On the further edge of this broad hill-back they stayed their march and crawled for hiding underneath a tangled knot of thorns. Their twisted boughs, stooping to the ground, were overridden by a clambering maze of old briars. Deep inside there was a hollow hall, raftered with dead branch and bramble, and roofed with the first leaves and shoots of spring. There they lay for a while, too tired yet to eat; and peering out through the holes in the covert they watched for the slow growth of day.
But no day came, only a dead brown twilight.
The gorse-bushes here are a good possibility for Entwives. According to the discoverer: "They are leggy below; ents have legs yet can be mistaken for trees. ... Like most gorse they have yellow flowers. Treebeard says the Entwives' hair was parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn. ... Treebeard also says Entwives were bent and browned, with cheeks like red apples. Large varieties of gorse are like small trees that are often bent, and their brown bark is sometimes splotched with red. Larger varieties of gorse grow to around 7-10 feet in height. That seems to fit."
I would also add that some of the words in the passage ('hollow hall', 'twisted boughs, stooping to the ground', and especially 'dead brown') evoke the language around the Entwives and Ents, and could fit the 'clusters of words' described by Teleporno. Vladimir further notes that the landscape immediately before the gorse-thicket appears matches the general feel of the Entwives' preferences.
So is this the Entwives? It certainly sounds like it could be them (and the 'scars of recent fires' suggest a threat from the Nazgul'). The one big clue left over is the Suffragist reference... and you know what, these particular trees are noted for their pricklishness. It doesn't seem beyond possibility that Tolkien could have used words like 'prickly' to describe women's activists in the early 20th century.
Journey to the Cross-roads - (3) at the cross-roads
Presently, not far ahead, looming up like a black wall, they saw a belt of trees. As they drew nearer they became aware that these were of vast size, very ancient it seemed, and still towering high, though their tops were gaunt and broken, as if tempest and lightning-blast had swept across them, but had failed to kill them or to shake their fathomless roots.
'The Cross-roads, yes,' whispered Gollum, the first words that had been spoken since they left their hiding-place. 'We must go that way.' Turning eastward now, he led them up the slope; and then suddenly there it was before them: the Southward Road, winding its way about the outer feet of the mountains, until presently it plunged into the great ring of trees.[...]
At length they reached the trees, and found that they stood in a great roofless ring, open in the middle to the sombre sky; and the spaces between their immense boles were like the great dark arches of some ruined hall.[...]
Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king's head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. `Look, Sam!' he cried, startled into speech. `Look! The king has got a crown again!'
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
'They cannot conquer for ever!' said Frodo.
These are living, ancient trees, shown in a group. They are associated with a gardening-type 'miracle'. They are standing in a circle, which could easily be a reference to some habit of the suffragists or other such groups. They are in immediate threat from the Nazgul, and in fact have been 'blasted' already, evoking Teleporno's 'scorching'. There's even a hint at their state in Teleporno's word choice: 'The Entwives are alive and living' sounds like an edit from 'alive and well'; these trees are certainly alive, but definitely not well.
The big problem? Well, there's no obvious 'clusters of words' pointing at this reference - but more significantly, they're too big! Neither Ents nor Entwives were towering trees with 'fathomless roots'. If these are the Entwives, they have changed considerably.
So what was Teleporno pointing at? My initial response was to accept the trees of the Emyn Muil as most likely, but Vladimir's discovery of the gorse has left me unsure. Ultimately, I think the second Crossroads incident - particularly coupled with the general fact that the Entwives would love Ithilien - is the strongest possibility here. Prickly, gnarled, but standing watch between Ithilien and the Morgul Vale, the Entwives are (at least in Teleporno's head) alive and living in Middle-earth.