Dec 7 2012, 10:54am
You're quite right, Elizabeth! Given that Sauron "can afford to lose a host better than we to lose a company" (Faramir, debating Gondorian tactics), its very odd that Sauron doesn't post checkpoints and fortifications around Mount Doom, just in case. He should still have more troops than he can physically get through the Black Gate for the battle. As it is, we just have an effort "track down the spy" which CuriousG mentions (and which fails at the pinch, again from orcish indiscipline).
Ah, I should have said "no Evil Overlord mistakes except the ones I didn't think of"...
This discussion is causing me to notice a theme - JRRT seems explicitly to address these issues: usually a character voices the reader's objection, and gets some kind of an answer from another. I'm thinking of dialogue in the Council of Elrond chapter, the debate the Fellowship has before going into Moria and the tactical discussions Aragorn and his captains have in The Last Debate chapter. What do you think - is it a good idea for JRRT to get his own "plotholing" in first like this, or better to do what a lot of authors do not mention it?
What I don't see JRRT using in these circumstances is "science stuff"
A digression - Do you know what I mean about "science stuff"? (Wikipedia used to have a great article on "Science stuff" and one on its relation "Wantum physics" - but they seem to have been taken down. Boo. So I probably should explain.) "Science stuff" is when a gobledegook sciency-sounding phrase is used to shut down an objection or to open up a new possibility for the characters - for example:
"Why can't we just go back in time and change it back?"
"We can't do that Captain. Our quantum states will be come so mutually tangled that we'd risk uncoupling the entire Heisenburg equilibrium!"
"Wait, you guys! I've just realized that we can cross-polarize the matrix and reverse the Gaussian streams! That would defragment the interface, replicate the genome, delete the cookie and we'd be free"
Someone told me that the phrase "science stuff" comes from Star Trek, where script writers would use it to deal with those moments that all authors have, I expect: stuck on "Does anyone know why the can't go back in tine and switch it back again? No? " I heard they would literally put "We can't do that Captain because [science stuff]" and then they had some people to write suitable science stuff later.
The second example is a sci-fi version of "with one bound, Jack was free!"
Obviously we wouldn't get "Science stuff" in LOTR, but we could get the fantasy equivalent - convenient new inventions about magic or the gods or something. Hmm - maybe there is some of that somewhere, it might be fun to look. But in the examples I can think of, I mostly hear the potential plot hole raised and countered in reasonably comprehensible English.
A further thought, I have QUi-Gonn Jinn (woah, this is getting mixed up in its references ) I was re-reading the Foreword to the Second Edition (of LOTR), and came across what is probably a wider answer to the plotholes. It seems that someone has irritated JRRT by proposing that the plot is a simple allegory of World War 2 (I can imagine how that might go: Saurman = Hitler, but Sauron = Stalin, the real threat. The Ring = the atomic bomb, or some other weapon that must not be used, and so on). JRRT spends some time explaining why he doesn't write like that. But he also sketches how a "realistic" war of the Ring would go: obviously, no chances would be taken with the Ring, which would certainly be used against Sauron & so on... It made me think - f you're going to write and read stories in the "heroic" mode, you're in the convention where the heroes are massively the underdog, and our prime character starts out weak and goes on "a personal journey". Maybe almost inevitably you need the hero to have really lucky moments and the villain to have Evil Overlord ones? You just have to do it craftily (in several senses of the word) to avoid the reader unsuspending disbelief? Contrast perhaps the George RR Martin "Song of Ice and Fire"/"Game of Thrones" stories, where being heroic really doesn't seem to bring the gods in on your side - you most likely end up being exploited by someone more cynical
I think I'm including those last thoughts because on the one hand I love"plotholing" (especially as a group activity), but on the other hand one could feel about it that "he who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom". It doesn't spoil the story for me, and I do hope it doesn't spoil it for anyone else.