A NORTAV Analysis of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King

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Narrative Mode: NCE 1

Narrator: Omniscient

Narrative Intrusion: Yes

Focal Character(s): Pippin

Prose Type(s) and/or Beat Types(s): NCE with mostly beats of Direct NCE and a few instances of Mixed NCE

Narrative Tense: Past

Additional Constraints: None

Narrative Pattern: NCE 1 throughout.

Source: Chapter 1;Paragraphs 1-8


    [Na1] Pippin looked out from the shelter of Gandalf’s cloak. [Nt2] He wondered if he was awake or still sleeping, still in the swift-moving dream in which he had been wrapped so long since the great ride began. [No3] The dark world was rushing by and the wind sang loudly in his ears. He could see nothing but the wheeling stars, and away to his right vast shadows against the sky where the mountains of the South marched past. [Nm4] Sleepily he tried to reckon the times and stages of their journey, but his memory was drowsy and uncertain.

Tolkien opens with Narrated Action beat [Na1]. The beat also includes a bit of incidental observation (“from the shelter of Gandalf’s cloak”). Here we are immediately put into Pippin’s perspective (i.e. Pippin is established as the focal character.). This beat also reveals the presence of the omniscient narrator through the use of “the shelter”, which is narrative commentary, not a focal character’s perception. Thus, this first beat establishes the NCE-based narrative mode. [Na1] leads to Narrated thought beat [Nt2], which reveals to the reader some background information through Pippin’s musings, catching the reader up to the current action. [Nt2] leads to compound Narrated Observation beat [No3]. [No3] is a block of Pippin’s observations, described to us by the omniscient narrator. [No3] leads to [Nm4], a beat of Mixed NCE. This beat mixes Pippin’s reaction and summarized thought. The summarized thought is then played out in the subsequent beat.

    [Nt5] There had been the first ride at terrible speed without a halt, and then in the dawn he had seen a pale gleam of gold, and they had come to the silent town and the great empty house on the hill. And hardly had they reached its shelter when the winged shadow had passed over once again, and men wilted with fear. But Gandalf had spoken soft words to him, and he had slept in a corner, tired but uneasy, dimly aware of comings and goings and of men talking and Gandalf giving orders. And then again riding, riding in the night. This was the second, no, the third night since he had looked in the Stone. [No6] And with that hideous memory he woke fully, and [Nr7] shivered, and [No8] the noise of the wind became filled with menacing voices.

[Nc4] leads to [Nt5], a compound Narrated Thought beat where the narrator describes the details of Pippin’s uncertain memory, which serves to further catch the reader up on events. [Nt5] triggers Narrated Observation beat [No6] and Narrated Reaction beat [Nr7] which reverse the natural response sequence. [Nr7] leads to Narrated Observation beat [No8].

    [No9] A light kindled in the sky, a blaze of yellow fire behind dark barriers. [Nr10] Pippin cowered back, afraid for a moment, [Nt11] wondering into what dreadful country Gandalf was bearing him. [Na12] He rubbed his eyes, and then [No13] he saw that it was the moon rising above the eastern shadows, now almost at the full. [Nt14] So the night was not yet old and for hours the dark journey would go on. [Na15] He stirred and [Nv16] spoke.

Here [No8] leads to [No9] which continues Pippin’s observations. [No9] triggers Narrated Reaction beat [Nr10], which leads to Narrated Thought beat [Nt11]. [Nt11] leads to Narrated Action beat [Na12], which leads to Narrated Observation beat [No13], which triggers Narrated Thought beat [Nt14]. [Nt14] leads to Narrated Action beat [Na15], which leads to Narrated Vocalization beat [Nv16]. Notice two things here. First, Tolkien reveals the narrator’s presence nearly in every beat, through the use of tags (‘wondering’ , ‘he saw’), commentary/summary (‘afraid for a moment’), directives (‘then’), etc. Second, notice how Tolkien ends this section. [Nv16] is a summation of a perception which is played out in the subsequent beat. This is the same prose styling we just encountered in [Nm4] and [Nt5].

    [Nv17] ‘Where are we, Gandalf?’ he asked.

Here’s [Nv17], a typical Narrated Vocalization beat.

    [No18] ‘In the realm of Gondor,’ the wizard answered. ‘The land of Anórien is still passing by.’

[No18] is an initiating Narrated Observation beat.

    [No19] There was a silence again for a while. Then, {No20} [Nv21] ‘What is that?’ cried Pippin suddenly, [Na22] clutching at Gandalf’s cloak. [Nv23] ‘Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in this land? Look, there is another!’

[No18] leads to [No19], a Narrated Observation beat. This beat summarizes Pippin’s continued observation of the ongoing silence. {No20} is an implied initiating Narrated Observation beat. Pippin suddenly observes something (off camera), which triggers his comment in Narrated Vocalization beat [Nv23]. [Nv23] also includes some beat substitution, as Pippin’s continued observation is embedded in the vocalization beat (‘Look, there is another!’).

    [No24] For answer Gandalf cried aloud to his horse. [No25] ‘On, Shadowfax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is the fire on Amon Dîn, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan.’

[Nv23] leads to Narrated Observation beat [No24], which is the narrator describing Pippin’s observation of Gandalf. This leads to Narrated Observation beat [No25]. I could have combined these two beats into a compound beat, but I separated them to show how Tolkien is continuing his style of providing the reader with a narrative summary of an event, ([No24]), and then the actual playing out of the event as it happened ([No25]).

    [No26] But Shadowfax paused in his stride, slowing to a walk, and then he lifted up his head and neighed. And out of the darkness the answering neigh of other horses came; and presently the thudding of hoofs was heard, and three riders swept up and passed like flying ghosts in the moon and vanished into the West. Then Shadowfax gathered himself together and sprang away, and the night flowed over him like a roaring wind.

Here [No25] leads to a continuation of Pippin’s observation in compound Narrated Observation beat [No26]. Notice the narrator’s presence is still detectable throughout this entire beat. The opening ‘But’ is the narrator adding commentary, contrasting the observation with Gandalf’s previous command. The ‘And’ that begins the next sentence does much the same thing. And ‘was heard’ is the narrator’s explanation rather than Pippin himself hearing this directly.

As you can see just from this small sample, Tolkien’s style of prose is quite distant. He uses a very intrusive omniscient narrator (who is not Tolkien himself). That narrator’s presence is noticed by the reader in nearly every beat, either explicitly or implicitly. So, even though this sample reflects a focal character (Pippin) and his perceptions and activities, those perceptions and activities are not experienced directly by the reader (i.e. the reader does not feel like she is experiencing the story through Pippin). The reader feels more like she is continually hearing the narrator tell her about Pippin’s perceptions and activities. This type of NCE-based narrative mode helps to give the work a more “medieval” feel, as it has the sense of a story that’s been passed down in an oral tradition.

Source Copyright

Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

Copyright 1955, 1965, 1966 by J. R. R. Tolkien

Copyright 1983 by Christopher R. Tolkien, Michael H. R. Tolkien, John F. R. Tolkien, Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien

Copyright renewed 1993, 1994 Christopher R. Tolkien, John F. R. Tolkien, Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien

Excerpted for this analysis under the Fair Use doctrine codified in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.


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