Writing: Plot and Pacing

squire: Today we turn to some questions about the chapter as a whole.


What is the chapter for?


squire: At the beginning of the week, I said nothing really happens in this chapter.

A.      Do you agree? How many things typically “happen” in an LotR chapter?

drogo_drogo: Narrative structure Tolkien's style seems to be alternating periods of forward motion with periods of rest, mimicking the rhythm of a journey.  This actually is a chapter where something "happens" in the sense that they do encounter Faramir, an unexpected "ally" on their journey (another commonplace in Tolkien's writing), but they are relegated to observers once again.  The main impetus of the chapter is to get them from the Morannon to Ithilien, and thus it fits in with the ebb and flow of other chapters.  "Window on the West" is a quintessential resting chapter in which they have an opportunity to reflect upon their journey and place in ME history/lore as in the Mirror of Galadriel sequence or during their breaks from the quest in Rivendell and Tom Bombadil's house.  Far more "happens" in Book V when the journey is over--for the Minas Tirith-bound part of the Fellowship--and the action starts.  Book VI has the familiar pacing, but with no more periods of rest until after the bitter end.

Lúthien_Rising: the fullness of plot holes (too suggestive a subject title for the post, really)

I think there's a lot of variety in this aspect, actually; sometimes a chapter is more wandering than anything else, sometimes a lot of action, sometimes a lot of conversation and background-filling. This chapter re-bridges Frodo's journey and the Gondor story - a bridging that could have been lost with Boromir. It also provides some much-needed comic/light relief in the midst of a very, very dark half-book.


squire: B. How does this chapter fit into Book IV – and into The Lord of the Rings as a whole? Are there structural similarities with other chapters or sections of the book?

drogo_drogo: As I indicated earlier, this is the start of the periods of rest such as Bombadil's house, Rivendell, and Lothlorien.  There is a moment of danger and tension first, though this one is lower-key than the previous (Old Man Willow, the Riders at the Ford, Moria)


squire: C. What do you think is the “central” episode of the chapter: the Rabbits, or the Battle, or the Landscape? Or something else?

Lúthien_Rising: Hmm. Oddly enough, I think it's the rabbits. But I'm not sure why I think that (perhaps just its vividness?), or what it means that it feels that way.

Penthe: Rabbits for me, too. So much so that I actually forget that all the rest (oliphaunts, big Men, battles) happen in this chapter. I always think this is just the rabbits, and then a rest.


“That is hidden”


squire: D. Why is the Ring never mentioned in this chapter of all of Book IV?

Lúthien_Rising: This chapter begins a section that is all about not mentioning the Ring, yet which is entirely guided by it. This is a very powerful hole, this not-mentioning is.


The Road Goes Ever On and Off (reprise)


In a little while Gollum led them down on to the southward road; and after that they went on more quickly, though the danger was greater.

squire: Ah, hobbits and a guide, on the Road again, for the first time since when!

E. How does this Road work in the story, compared to other roads? Does this Road fit into Bilbo’s poem about going ever on and on?

                *faint echo*


 Their ears were strained for the sound of hoof or foot on the road ahead, or following them from behind; but the night passed, and they heard no sound of walker or rider.

squire: In my March 2005 discussion, “A Shortcut to Mushrooms” (see question 4), we discussed Tolkien’s repeated use of the suspense device of walkers on a road hearing the approaching “sound of hoof or foot”. Here we are about three yards from Mordor itself, and Tolkien prepares us for another good and scary one, and then tosses it away, unused.

F. Why? And are there any other “Tolkienian” plot devices or mechanisms you’ve noticed in this chapter?

Owlyross: Reversal of Tolkien's motifs One thing that we have discussed a lot recently is Tolkien's personification of inanimate landscapes. Giving human qualities to the Emyn Muil and the Dead Marshes to make them more of a threat rather than a hindrance. The only instances I can find in this chapter are the "green fingered" trees and the "stony lip" by the lake. The descriptions are far more evocative of the style of writing when they are still in the Shire. This shows to me at least, that the Hobbits are on familiar ground, and this is borne out by Sam's comfort in being able to sit back and cook a rabbit stew, despite being in 'occupied territory'.

Although, with the Oliphaunt, he reverses the personification, and uses specifically inanimate objects to describe the beast.


bigger than a house, it looked to him, a grey-clad moving hill.


his great legs like trees, enormous sail-like ears


Giving the impression of the size of the beast, but also giving it another sense. Is it such a threat to them? The only threatening description is the trunk "like a serpent" but otherwise, it's more of a viewing of some monster, rather than one which poses a threat to them.

squire: Nice observation which may tie a little bit into my question of why Sam is not stricken by terror at the oncoming beast.

The inanimate descriptions emphasize the 'unreality' of the oliphaunt, tying it into the poem, and making Sam feel like an observer, not a participant.


 Meanwhile, in another part of the epic


‘Seven companions we had: one we lost at Moria, the others we left at Parth Galen above Rauros: two of my kin; a Dwarf there was also, and an Elf, and two Men. They were Aragorn; and Boromir, who said that he came out of Minas Tirith, a city in the South.’

squire: G. Had you forgotten the others when Frodo says this?

Lúthien_Rising: As I recall from more continuous readings, yes, I have - this is far enough into this half that I am immersed in Frodo's large/small word. And I will forget them again. This is a moment of connection, but only a moment.


squire: Here is a grid of various ‘chronologies’ that Tolkien prepared for himself while writing the book, and of course the final one that appears in the Appendices in the Tale of Years.

H. What is happening elsewhere in the plot? Do those events have any relationship to what Frodo and Sam are going through now? Does Tolkien make any connection between Books IV and III-V in our chapter?

            *cellphone rings in purse*


squire: I. Did you notice while reading the chapter that that “inserted” extra travel day and night is rather eventless? How does the sudden addition of an extra 20-25 miles of distance from the Morannon affect where the campsite, battle, and eventually Henneth Annun all were ‘meant’ to be on the map?

             *pencil being sharpened*


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