Summary — Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum proceed through the desolate landscape of Mordor. Gradually, they notice that the land is becoming greener, more fragrant, and less barren, and they welcome the change. As always, they travel by night and rest by day. They do not travel on the open road, but near it. They worry about their dwindling food supply. After several days, they arrive in a country full of woods and streams once known as Ithilien. Gollum coughs and sputters in the verdant setting, but the hobbits rejoice in the reappearance of greenery and water. They stop at a stream to drink and bathe. Again, they are troubled by hunger. Sam sends Gollum off to hunt some food for them all, reminding him that Hobbit food is different from the food the creature is accustomed to eating. Sam watches the sleeping Frodo, observing the fine lines visible on Frodo’s aging face. Sam acknowledges that he feels deep love for Frodo.

Gollum returns with rabbits, which he does not want to cook, preferring to devour them raw. Sam proceeds to make a nice dinner for himself and Frodo, calling upon Gollum again to gather wild herbs for his rabbit stew. Frodo awakens and sees the cooking fire burning. Sam informs Frodo of the nice dinner being prepared, but Frodo warns Sam about the dangers of fire in the open field.

Suddenly Frodo and Sam hear voices nearby, and they see four tall Men wielding spears. The warriors wonder whether the hobbits are Elves or perhaps Orcs. One of the Men identifies himself as Faramir, Captain of Gondor. The hobbits identify themselves as halflings. Faramir says that the hobbits cannot be travelers, as uninvited travelers are not allowed in his land. Frodo explains the hobbits’ separation from Aragorn and Boromir. At the mention of the name of Boromir, Faramir is startled and becomes stern.

Two men named Mablung and Damrod guard Frodo and Sam, telling the hobbits of their enemies, the Southrons, who threaten to attack. Sam wonders where Gollum is. Suddenly, they hear noises of battle and the name of Gondor called out. Damrod announces that the Southrons are attacking and that Faramir’s men are setting out to meet them. The hobbits climb into a position where they can see what is going on, and they witness their first battle among Men.

Suddenly, Damrod calls out for help from a large elephant-like creature called the Mûmak, which arrives from the forest and crushes the enemy. Sam is pleased that he has seen his first oliphaunt, as the creature is called. Damrod tells the hobbits to sleep, as the Gondor captain will soon return and they will have to flee the enemy. Sam replies that the troops of Gondor will not disturb him when they leave. Damrod answers that it is not likely that the captain will allow Sam to stay, but will instead force him to travel with the troops.


The relationship between Frodo and Sam, already at the center of the novel, is deepened by Sam’s expression of affection for Frodo. Sam seems almost surprised by his feelings of solicitude toward Frodo when he notes the wrinkles appearing on his master’s aging face. As Sam’s thoughts are only a private musing, we know that they are sincere. Sam’s concern for Frodo, along with his noting of Frodo’s increasingly haggard and weak appearance, foreshadows the ever-greater role and responsibility Sam must bear in the remainder of the quest. Sam gains no profit or benefit from his attachment to Frodo, and, in fact, his dedication brings him only great hardship. Again, Tolkien, in his depiction of the relationship between the two hobbits, emphasizes the importance of loyalty and selflessness as essential traits for his brand of epic hero.

The narrator’s careful attention to the food preparation of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum brings us down to earth somewhat, again reminding us of the ever-present mundane concerns within the grander scope of the quest. The author even gives Chapter 4 a title referring to the stewed rabbit and wild herbs that Frodo and Sam prepare for dinner. In part, this chapter name is a Homeric touch. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer devotes long passages to seemingly trivial concerns such as the size and smell of the roast ox the warriors eat. Such material details ground the epic quest in reality and remind us that, however spiritual or lofty the heroes’ final goals may be, the heroes themselves are still very human, creatures with bodies that must be fed. Further, the food episode once again shows us the hobbits’ uneasy reliance on Gollum. Their food supplies dwindling, Frodo and Sam are nonetheless unable to catch rabbits themselves, so they must rely on their guide to do so. In such passages, Tolkien yet again reminds us of the hobbits’ odd status as epic heroes, with their relative frailty and inexperience in an environment and role typically filled by great warriors and Wizards.

The appearance of the oliphaunt, or giant elephant creature, is yet another small detail in the story of the journey to Mordor that reminds us of the completeness with which Tolkien has imagined the world of The Lord of the Rings. Sam and Frodo have inquired about the existence of oliphaunts when talking to Gollum, who claims never to have heard of or seen such creatures. But then, in the battle between Faramir’s men and the attacking Southrons soon afterward, this very creature is glimpsed and vividly described. The imagined turns out to be real, and Sam is thrilled. This little detail reminds us that in Tolkien’s universe, the potential for amazement is always present. Unlike other works of fantasy, in which the characters are never surprised by anything within their fantastical world, in The Lord of the Rings, the characters of Tolkien’s Middle-earth are often awestruck by what they see. Sam is amazed by oliphaunts, Faramir’s men are amazed by Gollum, and many humans throughout the novel are startled by the hobbits, whose like they have never glimpsed before. In such episodes, Tolkien constantly reminds us that the surprises of the imagination are always available to us, an essential and often enjoyable part of the experience of life.