The Hobbit: The Art of Writing: Relieving Tension, Building Tension

Chapter 7 of The Hobbit does three necessary things for the reader. First, after the tension of “Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire,” “Queer Lodgings” relieves some of that tension with the comic relief of Gandalf’s tale to Beorn and the ability for the reader (and the party) to rest and enjoy the scenery and wonder of Beorn’s little kingdom. We can take in and imagine the fields of flowers; the strange, almost human-like animals; and Beorn’s wooden hall and generous table without worrying so much whether the party will make it out of this step of the adventure unscathed. 

This leads us to the second thing this chapter does: it moves us on in the narrative and sets our sights forward. All in a few days time, Bilbo and his friends have journeyed from the edges of the Misty Mountains to the edges of Mirkwood. Eagles and ponies make for speedy traveling companions. 

Finally, even though this chapter relieves a lot of tension, it also begins to build it again. Beorn’s warnings about Mirkwood and the repeated “don’t leave the path” foreshadow the great danger still to come. 

Tolkien manages all three of these things in one chapter that revolves around a new character and a new and strange setting. And yet there is no hiccup in the telling. There is no lurching in the transitions. It’s all woven together the way a story should be. Tolkien makes it natural that we would be relieved of the former tension and at the same time have a new tension begin to grow. 

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