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continuity errors in the books?

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  • Freeman Ng
    I just finished rereading the trilogy, and once again stumbled over a couple of puzzles or possible inconsistencies in the narrative that I d like to run by
    Message 1 of 9 , Dec 13, 2009
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      I just finished rereading the trilogy, and once again stumbled over a couple of puzzles or possible inconsistencies in the narrative that I'd like to run by folks here.

      The first occurs in the The Two Towers after Gandalf awakens Théoden. He takes him outside and speaks to him privately:

      >>>>>
      "There is no time to tell all that you should hear," said Gandalf. "Yet if my hope is not cheated, a time will come ere long when I can speak more fully. Behold! you are come into a peril greater even than the wit of Wormtongue could weave into your dreams. But see! you dream no longer. You live. Gondor and Rohan do not stand alone. The enemy is strong beyond our reckoning, yet we have a hope at which he has not guessed."

      Quickly now Gandalf spoke. His voice was low and secret, and none save the king heard what he said. But ever as he spoke the light shone brighter in Théoden's eye, and at the last he rose from his seat to his full height, and Gandalf beside him, and together they looked out from the high place towards the East.

      "Verily," said Gandalf, now in a loud voice, keen and clear,"that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope there is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while."
      <<<<<

      My question is: what did Gandalf tell Théoden? I've always assumed it was news of Frodo's quest, but later in the chapter, just before they ride for Helm's Deep, Gandalf says to the king, "If Éomer had not defied Wormtongue's voice speaking with your mouth, those Orcs would have reached Isengard by now, bearing a great prize. Not indeed that prize which Saruman desires above all else, but at the least two members of my Company, sharers of a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly."

      He's clearly referring to the Ring, but if that's the case, what did he tell Theoden in the first scene? What was the "thread" upon which "doom" hung, as distinct from the "secret hope"?

      *

      The second mystery concerns "Sharkey." Early in the chapter on the Scouring of the Shire, this exchange takes place:

      >>>>
      The ruffian laughed. "Lotho! He knows all right. Don't you worry. He'll do what Sharkey says. Because if a Boss gives trouble, we can change him. See? And if little folks try to push in where they're not wanted, we can put them out of mischief. See?"

      "Yes, I see," said Frodo. "For one thing, I see that you're behind the times and the news here. Much has happened since you left the South. Your day is over, and all other ruffians'. The Dark Tower has fallen, and there is a King in Gondor. And Isengard has been destroyed, and your precious master is a beggar in the wilderness."
      <<<<<

      Doesn't it seem obvious that Frodo already understands that "Sharkey" is Saruman? If not, then why does he ignore the mention of Sharkey by the ruffian (the very first mention of the name that the hobbits have heard) and then mention Saruman out of the blue? (It's possible, but it wouldn't be the best writing.) However, at the end of the chapter when Saruman finally makes his appearance, Frodo seems to make the connection for the first time:

      >>>>>
      There standing at the door was Saruman himself, looking well-fed and well-pleased; his eyes gleamed with malice and amusement.

      A sudden light broke on Frodo. "Sharkey!" he cried.
      <<<<<

      This scene has the feel of Frodo realizing that Saruman was behind everything all along, but of course, that contradicts the earlier scene, as well as a few others. What's the dramatic thrust supposed to be, then? That though he always knew that Saruman was big boss behind it all, he only just now realizes that this "Sharkey" that he had previously assumed was just a flunky of Saruman's was actually Saruman? If so, what's the big deal about that?

      *

      I've tried in the past to reconcile these apparent contradictions, but never to my satisfaction, and I've finally decided to that these are simple errors in plotting. As a writer myself, I know first hand how easy it is to make this kind of mistake, especially in a long story where you're constantly adjusting the plot. Sometimes you make a change, then forget to reconcile all the other related scenes.

      In these two cases, my guess is that Tolkien originally omitted the first revelation to Theoden, then later decided to add it to punch up that scene but forgot to adjust the later one, and that he originally (*very* early in this case) had Frodo discovering Saruman's involvement for the first time in the second scene, then slowly changed earlier scenes based on Frodo being more aware of the possibility the whole time. (Either sequence could be reversed, though.)

      What do you all think? Do you have any better explanations? Or even better, does anyone know of anything Tolkien might have said about these scenes? (I've read the books through twenty-plus times, but have read very little "Tolkienalia".)

      Freeman

      Pearl Cards
      a creative, collaborative storytelling game
      http://www.PearlCards.com

    • Brian D Sheehan
      I don t have any answers, but I applaud your keen reading skills in noticing those inconsistencies. The second one involving Frodo s reference to Saruman and
      Message 2 of 9 , Dec 14, 2009
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        I don't have any answers, but I applaud your keen reading skills in noticing those inconsistencies. The second one involving Frodo's reference to Saruman and subsequent surprise at seeing him seems to be a clear writing error.

        Great work picking up on these! I agree with your conclusion that these must be writing errors as there is no way to reconcile Frodo's words. The first instance regarding Gandalf/Theoden is a bit hard to pin-down as we do not know what Gandalf confided to him. The implications, though, smack of another contradiction.

        For my perspective, I certainly cannot blame Tolkien. The task of writing LOTR was quite a monumental one that spanned many years. He was, afterall, human and we should not expect perfection. Given the eloquence of his work and sheer magnitude of his legendarium, however, it is perhaps easy to assume the author had certain divine qualities...

        Great post, Freeman!


        Brian -

        ***

        Freeman Ng wrote:
         

        I just finished rereading the trilogy, and once again stumbled over a couple of puzzles or possible inconsistencies in the narrative that I'd like to run by folks here.

        The first occurs in the The Two Towers after Gandalf awakens Théoden. He takes him outside and speaks to him privately:

        >>>>>
        "There is no time to tell all that you should hear," said Gandalf. "Yet if my hope is not cheated, a time will come ere long when I can speak more fully. Behold! you are come into a peril greater even than the wit of Wormtongue could weave into your dreams. But see! you dream no longer. You live. Gondor and Rohan do not stand alone. The enemy is strong beyond our reckoning, yet we have a hope at which he has not guessed."

        Quickly now Gandalf spoke. His voice was low and secret, and none save the king heard what he said. But ever as he spoke the light shone brighter in Théoden's eye, and at the last he rose from his seat to his full height, and Gandalf beside him, and together they looked out from the high place towards the East.

        "Verily," said Gandalf, now in a loud voice, keen and clear,"that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope there is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while."
        <<<<<

        My question is: what did Gandalf tell Théoden? I've always assumed it was news of Frodo's quest, but later in the chapter, just before they ride for Helm's Deep, Gandalf says to the king, "If Éomer had not defied Wormtongue's voice speaking with your mouth, those Orcs would have reached Isengard by now, bearing a great prize. Not indeed that prize which Saruman desires above all else, but at the least two members of my Company, sharers of a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly."

        He's clearly referring to the Ring, but if that's the case, what did he tell Theoden in the first scene? What was the "thread" upon which "doom" hung, as distinct from the "secret hope"?

        *

        The second mystery concerns "Sharkey." Early in the chapter on the Scouring of the Shire, this exchange takes place:

        >>>>
        The ruffian laughed. "Lotho! He knows all right. Don't you worry. He'll do what Sharkey says. Because if a Boss gives trouble, we can change him. See? And if little folks try to push in where they're not wanted, we can put them out of mischief. See?"

        "Yes, I see," said Frodo. "For one thing, I see that you're behind the times and the news here. Much has happened since you left the South. Your day is over, and all other ruffians'. The Dark Tower has fallen, and there is a King in Gondor. And Isengard has been destroyed, and your precious master is a beggar in the wilderness."
        <<<<<

        Doesn't it seem obvious that Frodo already understands that "Sharkey" is Saruman? If not, then why does he ignore the mention of Sharkey by the ruffian (the very first mention of the name that the hobbits have heard) and then mention Saruman out of the blue? (It's possible, but it wouldn't be the best writing.) However, at the end of the chapter when Saruman finally makes his appearance, Frodo seems to make the connection for the first time:

        >>>>>
        There standing at the door was Saruman himself, looking well-fed and well-pleased; his eyes gleamed with malice and amusement.

        A sudden light broke on Frodo. "Sharkey!" he cried.
        <<<<<

        This scene has the feel of Frodo realizing that Saruman was behind everything all along, but of course, that contradicts the earlier scene, as well as a few others. What's the dramatic thrust supposed to be, then? That though he always knew that Saruman was big boss behind it all, he only just now realizes that this "Sharkey" that he had previously assumed was just a flunky of Saruman's was actually Saruman? If so, what's the big deal about that?

        *

        I've tried in the past to reconcile these apparent contradictions, but never to my satisfaction, and I've finally decided to that these are simple errors in plotting. As a writer myself, I know first hand how easy it is to make this kind of mistake, especially in a long story where you're constantly adjusting the plot. Sometimes you make a change, then forget to reconcile all the other related scenes.

        In these two cases, my guess is that Tolkien originally omitted the first revelation to Theoden, then later decided to add it to punch up that scene but forgot to adjust the later one, and that he originally (*very* early in this case) had Frodo discovering Saruman's involvement for the first time in the second scene, then slowly changed earlier scenes based on Frodo being more aware of the possibility the whole time. (Either sequence could be reversed, though.)

        What do you all think? Do you have any better explanations? Or even better, does anyone know of anything Tolkien might have said about these scenes? (I've read the books through twenty-plus times, but have read very little "Tolkienalia".)

        Freeman

        Pearl Cards
        a creative, collaborative storytelling game
        http://www.PearlCar ds.com

      • Freeman Ng
        ... Oh, I agree. If anything, it s the remarkable self-consistency of his created world that makes little slips like these more noticeable. Freeman
        Message 3 of 9 , Dec 14, 2009
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          > For my perspective, I certainly cannot blame Tolkien.

          Oh, I agree. If anything, it's the remarkable self-consistency of his created world that makes little slips like these more noticeable.

          Freeman
          http://www.FreemanNg.net


          On Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 12:18 AM, Brian D Sheehan <briansheehan@...> wrote:
           

          I don't have any answers, but I applaud your keen reading skills in noticing those inconsistencies. The second one involving Frodo's reference to Saruman and subsequent surprise at seeing him seems to be a clear writing error.

          Great work picking up on these! I agree with your conclusion that these must be writing errors as there is no way to reconcile Frodo's words. The first instance regarding Gandalf/Theoden is a bit hard to pin-down as we do not know what Gandalf confided to him. The implications, though, smack of another contradiction.

          For my perspective, I certainly cannot blame Tolkien. The task of writing LOTR was quite a monumental one that spanned many years. He was, afterall, human and we should not expect perfection. Given the eloquence of his work and sheer magnitude of his legendarium, however, it is perhaps easy to assume the author had certain divine qualities...

          Great post, Freeman!


          Brian -


        • Bruce Alan Wilson
          I don t think there is an error. Gandalf told Theoden about Frodo and the Ring, and then later alluded to what he may not speak of openly --he didn t tell
          Message 4 of 9 , Dec 14, 2009
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            I don't think there is an error.
             
            Gandalf told Theoden about Frodo and the Ring, and then later alluded to what he "may not speak of openly"--he didn't tell Theoden about it "openly", but "privately."
             
            In the case of the Scouring, it seems to me that Frodo guessed that Saruman was behind the goings on in the Shire--after all, Merry & Pippin would have told him about finding pipe-weed from the Southfarthing in Isengard--but only when he actually saw Saruman did he realize that "Sharkey" was Saruman himself.
             
             
             

            The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man.  Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish.  Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.  ~Iris Murdoch, The Red and the Green
          • scott
            For the first: Gandalf s words don t rule out his telling Theoden about Frodo and the Ring, just that there s too much happening to explain in a short time.
            Message 5 of 9 , Dec 14, 2009
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              For the first: Gandalf's words don't rule out his telling Theoden about Frodo and the Ring, just that there's too much happening to explain in a short time.

              For the second: From The Scouring of the Shire "...Men lounging against the inn wall; they were squint-eyed and sallow faced. 'Like that friend of Bill Ferney's at Bree,' said Sam. 'Like many I saw at Isengard,' muttered Merry." They had already known there was a connection between Isengard and the Shire (Longbottom Leaf). This just confirmed it.

              Sir Question of the Mark

              --- On Sun, 12/13/09, Freeman Ng <freeman.ng@...> wrote:

              From: Freeman Ng <freeman.ng@...>
              Subject: [TolkienDiscussions] continuity errors in the books?
              To: TolkienDiscussions@yahoogroups.com
              Date: Sunday, December 13, 2009, 9:01 PM

               

              I just finished rereading the trilogy, and once again stumbled over a couple of puzzles or possible inconsistencies in the narrative that I'd like to run by folks here.

              The first occurs in the The Two Towers after Gandalf awakens Théoden. He takes him outside and speaks to him privately:

              >>>>>
              "There is no time to tell all that you should hear," said Gandalf. "Yet if my hope is not cheated, a time will come ere long when I can speak more fully. Behold! you are come into a peril greater even than the wit of Wormtongue could weave into your dreams. But see! you dream no longer. You live. Gondor and Rohan do not stand alone. The enemy is strong beyond our reckoning, yet we have a hope at which he has not guessed."

              Quickly now Gandalf spoke. His voice was low and secret, and none save the king heard what he said. But ever as he spoke the light shone brighter in Théoden's eye, and at the last he rose from his seat to his full height, and Gandalf beside him, and together they looked out from the high place towards the East.

              "Verily," said Gandalf, now in a loud voice, keen and clear,"that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope there is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while."
              <<<<<

              My question is: what did Gandalf tell Théoden? I've always assumed it was news of Frodo's quest, but later in the chapter, just before they ride for Helm's Deep, Gandalf says to the king, "If Éomer had not defied Wormtongue's voice speaking with your mouth, those Orcs would have reached Isengard by now, bearing a great prize. Not indeed that prize which Saruman desires above all else, but at the least two members of my Company, sharers of a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly."

              He's clearly referring to the Ring, but if that's the case, what did he tell Theoden in the first scene? What was the "thread" upon which "doom" hung, as distinct from the "secret hope"?

              *

              The second mystery concerns "Sharkey." Early in the chapter on the Scouring of the Shire, this exchange takes place:

              >>>>
              The ruffian laughed. "Lotho! He knows all right. Don't you worry. He'll do what Sharkey says. Because if a Boss gives trouble, we can change him. See? And if little folks try to push in where they're not wanted, we can put them out of mischief. See?"

              "Yes, I see," said Frodo. "For one thing, I see that you're behind the times and the news here. Much has happened since you left the South. Your day is over, and all other ruffians'. The Dark Tower has fallen, and there is a King in Gondor. And Isengard has been destroyed, and your precious master is a beggar in the wilderness."
              <<<<<

              Doesn't it seem obvious that Frodo already understands that "Sharkey" is Saruman? If not, then why does he ignore the mention of Sharkey by the ruffian (the very first mention of the name that the hobbits have heard) and then mention Saruman out of the blue? (It's possible, but it wouldn't be the best writing.) However, at the end of the chapter when Saruman finally makes his appearance, Frodo seems to make the connection for the first time:

              >>>>>
              There standing at the door was Saruman himself, looking well-fed and well-pleased; his eyes gleamed with malice and amusement.

              A sudden light broke on Frodo. "Sharkey!" he cried.
              <<<<<

              This scene has the feel of Frodo realizing that Saruman was behind everything all along, but of course, that contradicts the earlier scene, as well as a few others. What's the dramatic thrust supposed to be, then? That though he always knew that Saruman was big boss behind it all, he only just now realizes that this "Sharkey" that he had previously assumed was just a flunky of Saruman's was actually Saruman? If so, what's the big deal about that?

              *

              I've tried in the past to reconcile these apparent contradictions, but never to my satisfaction, and I've finally decided to that these are simple errors in plotting. As a writer myself, I know first hand how easy it is to make this kind of mistake, especially in a long story where you're constantly adjusting the plot. Sometimes you make a change, then forget to reconcile all the other related scenes.

              In these two cases, my guess is that Tolkien originally omitted the first revelation to Theoden, then later decided to add it to punch up that scene but forgot to adjust the later one, and that he originally (*very* early in this case) had Frodo discovering Saruman's involvement for the first time in the second scene, then slowly changed earlier scenes based on Frodo being more aware of the possibility the whole time. (Either sequence could be reversed, though.)

              What do you all think? Do you have any better explanations? Or even better, does anyone know of anything Tolkien might have said about these scenes? (I've read the books through twenty-plus times, but have read very little "Tolkienalia".)

              Freeman

              Pearl Cards
              a creative, collaborative storytelling game
              http://www.PearlCar ds.com


            • Freeman Ng
              But what Gandalf said exactly to Theoden on that later occasion was a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly. even to you and
              Message 6 of 9 , Dec 14, 2009
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                But what Gandalf said exactly to Theoden on that later occasion was "a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly."

                "even to you" and "yet" suggest that he had not and would not tell Theoden about the Ring at that time, whether or not anyone else was present.

                As for the Scouring, I agree that this is a possible reading of the scenes, but if it is, then I would assert that Tolkien could have structured that chapter better in this respect. An account in which Frodo doesn't discover Saruman's involvement until he shows up at the end would be an effective one. On the other hand, a version where Frodo sees through his machinations early on, as a testament to his savvy about such things, would be equally effective. (So that when the ruffian says "Sharkey", but then Frodo answers by referring to Saruman, you can imagine the ruffian being surprised that Frodo has guessed who Sharkey really is.) To try to do a little bit of both, however, weakens the total effect, in my opinion. (Which is why I actually prefer to think of it as a simple error.)

                It's like another scene that I used to think was a continuity error as well. When the Ents first arrive at Isengard as the orc army is marching out, some of the Huorns follow the orcs. Later, when Gandalf arrives needing help for Helm's Deep, more Huorns go off with him. I used to think this was a similar case of Tolkien making a plot change concerning exactly when he wanted the Huorns to make their move, but failing to reconcile all the related scenes, then noticed that he was careful to say, "that Huorns began to move south" in the first scene (and not "that *the* Huorns began to move south") and that "hundreds *more* of the Huorns" go with Gandalf later. So Tolkien clearly intended that two groups of Huorns leave at different times to go after the orcs.

                It seems to me that it would have been better to do one or the other. The idea of the Huorns going off on their own to deal with the orcs is a good one that also allows us to forgive Treebeard for not stopping those orcs from going to the destruction of the Rohirrim right then and there, and so is the idea that Gandalf finds the help he is seeking in this unexpected and unexpectedly potent form when he arrives later. But once again, it's not, in my opinion, nearly as effective to try to do both at the same time.

                Freeman

                Pearl Cards
                a creative collaborative storytelling game
                http://www.PearlCards.com


                On Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 6:01 PM, Bruce Alan Wilson <bruce_alan_wilson@...> wrote:
                 

                I don't think there is an error.
                 
                Gandalf told Theoden about Frodo and the Ring, and then later alluded to what he "may not speak of openly"--he didn't tell Theoden about it "openly", but "privately."
                 
                In the case of the Scouring, it seems to me that Frodo guessed that Saruman was behind the goings on in the Shire--after all, Merry & Pippin would have told him about finding pipe-weed from the Southfarthing in Isengard--but only when he actually saw Saruman did he realize that "Sharkey" was Saruman himself.
                 


              • scott
                You raise some valid points from the perspective of the writer. What I find more interesting is to assume that JRRT was a perfectly factual historian. Then the
                Message 7 of 9 , Dec 15, 2009
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                  You raise some valid points from the perspective of the writer. What I find more interesting is to assume that JRRT was a perfectly factual historian. Then the game becomes trying to reconcile the occasional statements that don't quite add up. Sometimes swallowing camels and straining at gnats are useful skills. :-)

                  Sir Q of the M

                  --- On Mon, 12/14/09, Freeman Ng <freeman.ng@...> wrote:

                  From: Freeman Ng <freeman.ng@...>
                  Subject: Re: [TolkienDiscussions] Re: continuity errors in the books?
                  To: TolkienDiscussions@yahoogroups.com
                  Date: Monday, December 14, 2009, 9:11 PM

                   

                  But what Gandalf said exactly to Theoden on that later occasion was "a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly."

                  "even to you" and "yet" suggest that he had not and would not tell Theoden about the Ring at that time, whether or not anyone else was present.

                  As for the Scouring, I agree that this is a possible reading of the scenes, but if it is, then I would assert that Tolkien could have structured that chapter better in this respect. An account in which Frodo doesn't discover Saruman's involvement until he shows up at the end would be an effective one. On the other hand, a version where Frodo sees through his machinations early on, as a testament to his savvy about such things, would be equally effective. (So that when the ruffian says "Sharkey", but then Frodo answers by referring to Saruman, you can imagine the ruffian being surprised that Frodo has guessed who Sharkey really is.) To try to do a little bit of both, however, weakens the total effect, in my opinion. (Which is why I actually prefer to think of it as a simple error.)

                  It's like another scene that I used to think was a continuity error as well. When the Ents first arrive at Isengard as the orc army is marching out, some of the Huorns follow the orcs. Later, when Gandalf arrives needing help for Helm's Deep, more Huorns go off with him. I used to think this was a similar case of Tolkien making a plot change concerning exactly when he wanted the Huorns to make their move, but failing to reconcile all the related scenes, then noticed that he was careful to say, "that Huorns began to move south" in the first scene (and not "that *the* Huorns began to move south") and that "hundreds *more* of the Huorns" go with Gandalf later. So Tolkien clearly intended that two groups of Huorns leave at different times to go after the orcs.

                  It seems to me that it would have been better to do one or the other. The idea of the Huorns going off on their own to deal with the orcs is a good one that also allows us to forgive Treebeard for not stopping those orcs from going to the destruction of the Rohirrim right then and there, and so is the idea that Gandalf finds the help he is seeking in this unexpected and unexpectedly potent form when he arrives later. But once again, it's not, in my opinion, nearly as effective to try to do both at the same time.

                  Freeman

                  Pearl Cards
                  a creative collaborative storytelling game
                  http://www.PearlCar ds.com


                  On Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 6:01 PM, Bruce Alan Wilson <bruce_alan_wilson@ verizon.net> wrote:
                   

                  I don't think there is an error.
                   
                  Gandalf told Theoden about Frodo and the Ring, and then later alluded to what he "may not speak of openly"--he didn't tell Theoden about it "openly", but "privately."
                   
                  In the case of the Scouring, it seems to me that Frodo guessed that Saruman was behind the goings on in the Shire--after all, Merry & Pippin would have told him about finding pipe-weed from the Southfarthing in Isengard--but only when he actually saw Saruman did he realize that "Sharkey" was Saruman himself.
                   



                • Freeman Ng
                  Yes, it s a very different matter to treat stories as if they were actual history. If the author is merely reporting what he saw (which, ironically, is
                  Message 8 of 9 , Dec 15, 2009
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                    Yes, it's a very different matter to treat stories as if they were actual history. If the author is merely reporting what he saw (which, ironically, is something that Tolkien once claimed about certain scenes in the books) then there's much more room for explanations of apparent inconsistencies since, in life, anything might happen. But in fiction (especially in some genres vs. others) the expectation is that every detail has a purpose, and the author can't just go telegraphing contradictory impressions. (Unless that's what the particular genre of fiction demands.)

                    Freeman
                    http://www.FreemanNg.net


                    On Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 5:00 AM, scott <tripleleome@...> wrote:
                     

                    You raise some valid points from the perspective of the writer. What I find more interesting is to assume that JRRT was a perfectly factual historian. Then the game becomes trying to reconcile the occasional statements that don't quite add up. Sometimes swallowing camels and straining at gnats are useful skills. :-)

                    Sir Q of the M

                  • Jack
                    Tolkien wrote and rewrote his books many times over a 50 year period Sometimes he screwed up You found some examples... This may be why he didn’t publish
                    Message 9 of 9 , Dec 15, 2009
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                      Tolkien wrote and rewrote his books many times over a 50 year period

                       

                      Sometimes he screwed up

                       

                      You found some examples...

                       

                      This may be why he didn’t publish much in his lifetime!

                       

                      :o)

                      Jack

                       

                      From: TolkienDiscussions@yahoogroups.com [mailto:TolkienDiscussions@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Freeman Ng
                      Sent: 14 December 2009 04:02
                      To: TolkienDiscussions@yahoogroups.com
                      Subject: [TolkienDiscussions] continuity errors in the books?

                       



                      I just finished rereading the trilogy, and once again stumbled over a couple of puzzles or possible inconsistencies in the narrative that I'd like to run by folks here.

                      The first occurs in the The Two Towers after Gandalf awakens Théoden. He takes him outside and speaks to him privately:

                      >>>>>
                      "There is no time to tell all that you should hear," said Gandalf. "Yet if my hope is not cheated, a time will come ere long when I can speak more fully. Behold! you are come into a peril greater even than the wit of Wormtongue could weave into your dreams. But see! you dream no longer. You live. Gondor and Rohan do not stand alone. The enemy is strong beyond our reckoning, yet we have a hope at which he has not guessed."

                      Quickly now Gandalf spoke. His voice was low and secret, and none save the king heard what he said. But ever as he spoke the light shone brighter in Théoden's eye, and at the last he rose from his seat to his full height, and Gandalf beside him, and together they looked out from the high place towards the East.

                      "Verily," said Gandalf, now in a loud voice, keen and clear,"that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope there is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while."
                      <<<<<

                      My question is: what did Gandalf tell Théoden? I've always assumed it was news of Frodo's quest, but later in the chapter, just before they ride for Helm's Deep, Gandalf says to the king, "If Éomer had not defied Wormtongue's voice speaking with your mouth, those Orcs would have reached Isengard by now, bearing a great prize. Not indeed that prize which Saruman desires above all else, but at the least two members of my Company, sharers of a secret hope, of which even to you, lord, I cannot yet speak openly."

                      He's clearly referring to the Ring, but if that's the case, what did he tell Theoden in the first scene? What was the "thread" upon which "doom" hung, as distinct from the "secret hope"?

                      *


                      The second mystery concerns "Sharkey." Early in the chapter on the Scouring of the Shire, this exchange takes place:

                      >>>>
                      The ruffian laughed. "Lotho! He knows all right. Don't you worry. He'll do what Sharkey says. Because if a Boss gives trouble, we can change him. See? And if little folks try to push in where they're not wanted, we can put them out of mischief. See?"

                      "Yes, I see," said Frodo. "For one thing, I see that you're behind the times and the news here. Much has happened since you left the South. Your day is over, and all other ruffians'. The Dark Tower has fallen, and there is a King in Gondor. And Isengard has been destroyed, and your precious master is a beggar in the wilderness."
                      <<<<<

                      Doesn't it seem obvious that Frodo already understands that "Sharkey" is Saruman? If not, then why does he ignore the mention of Sharkey by the ruffian (the very first mention of the name that the hobbits have heard) and then mention Saruman out of the blue? (It's possible, but it wouldn't be the best writing.) However, at the end of the chapter when Saruman finally makes his appearance, Frodo seems to make the connection for the first time:

                      >>>>>
                      There standing at the door was Saruman himself, looking well-fed and well-pleased; his eyes gleamed with malice and amusement.

                      A sudden light broke on Frodo. "Sharkey!" he cried.
                      <<<<<

                      This scene has the feel of Frodo realizing that Saruman was behind everything all along, but of course, that contradicts the earlier scene, as well as a few others. What's the dramatic thrust supposed to be, then? That though he always knew that Saruman was big boss behind it all, he only just now realizes that this "Sharkey" that he had previously assumed was just a flunky of Saruman's was actually Saruman? If so, what's the big deal about that?

                      *


                      I've tried in the past to reconcile these apparent contradictions, but never to my satisfaction, and I've finally decided to that these are simple errors in plotting. As a writer myself, I know first hand how easy it is to make this kind of mistake, especially in a long story where you're constantly adjusting the plot. Sometimes you make a change, then forget to reconcile all the other related scenes.

                      In these two cases, my guess is that Tolkien originally omitted the first revelation to Theoden, then later decided to add it to punch up that scene but forgot to adjust the later one, and that he originally (*very* early in this case) had Frodo discovering Saruman's involvement for the first time in the second scene, then slowly changed earlier scenes based on Frodo being more aware of the possibility the whole time. (Either sequence could be reversed, though.)

                      What do you all think? Do you have any better explanations? Or even better, does anyone know of anything Tolkien might have said about these scenes? (I've read the books through twenty-plus times, but have read very little "Tolkienalia".)

                      Freeman

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