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.