In Defense of Plot Holes

If you read or write fiction, then you're no doubt aware of the Plot Hole Problem: that is, what happens when a story has a glaring inconsistency. The bad news is that most stories have them, even the great ones. The good news is that most of us don't notice plot holes, especially if we're really invested in the story.

For example, did it ever occur to you to wonder why Gandalf didn't just ask the eagles to fly the Ring to Mt. Doom?

Think about it. If the eagles had flown the Ring to Mt. Doom, Frodo, Sam, and the gang would have been saved all of the heart-wrenching struggle.

Then again, do we really want that? After all, without the struggle, there would be no story; and with no story, there's no Lord of the Rings. 

(Would any of us really want to live in a world like that?)

Interestingly, the literary world isn't the only place to find plot holes. We can find them in our own lives as well.

For example, when I was on a trip to Haiti a few years ago, I got sick. Really sick. But I had a four-day teaching clinic to run, we'd bussed in English teachers from all over Port au Prince, and I wasn't about to send them home without their promised language clinic. I prayed that God would make me well enough to teach. "Just from nine to noon," I prayed. "That's all I need."

And do you know what? God answered. Every morning around 8:45, I would start feeling better. I'd teach for a few hours, and then the minute the clock struck noon, I would collapse.

When I came home and shared this miracle, my sister Bethany put her finger squarely on the plot hole: "Why didn't you just pray to get well, period?"

I'm embarrassed to admit that the thought had never occurred to me.

Through the experience of getting sick in Haiti, I realized that my vision of God in prayer is often too small. This lesson has influenced my prayer life ever since, and I wouldn't trade it for a few days of health.

God isn't concerned with making life easy for us any more than a writer is concerned with making the plot easy on his characters.  After all, stories are not about what happens but about what goes wrong and about how the central characters change during the struggle. 

In scripture, we don't see Jesus trying to make life easy for his disciples. We don't see God taking it easy on the early church leaders in the book of Acts. What we do see is Him lending strength and guidance through the struggle and giving grace to enable spiritual maturity.

Just as we would never wish the eagles to fly the Ring to Mordor because it would rob us of a terrific story, so we would never wish away the plot holes and struggles from our daily lives--not when those very things are often what is required to create space for growth.

* * *


If you're not already aware of the ongoing debate regarding why the Fellowship didn't at least try riding the eagles straight to Mt. Doom, and whether or not this was actually Gandalf's original plan, it makes for some fun reading.

Enjoy going down the rabbit hole.


  1. Good post!

    To me, though, the answer to the eagle thing has always been straightforward - eagles (the Middle Earth kind) are intelligent creatures, not beasts of burden. A flight from an eagle is a gift, one you are probably not going to get unless you have an 'in' like Gandalf (who, it's worth pointing out, is neither human nor mortal). Eagles also aren't real concerned with the fates of creatures that don't fly (note that they battles they intervene in always involve other flying creatures). It's the same sort of problem the company faced trying to get the ents to help against Saruman: Eagles are free creatures, they're not on anybody's side, and whether they choose to help in any given situation is up to them. Presumably flying over Mordor, to say nothing of Mt Doom, is a pretty dangerous proposition and not one the eagles are likely to go for because they're in a giving mood.

    1. Okay, but to avoid a plot hole, couldn't Tolkien have had Gandalf send someone to at least ask the eagles for help, much like Dumbledore sends delegates to the giants? I'm just asking. (I don't actually think the eagles/Ring thing is much of a plot hole.)

    2. I think he dropped the ball by not including SOME sort of explanation, yes.

    3. I have to say, Bethany is a great one for finding plot holes in my stories. (Sometimes they're just a long collection of holes.) If Tolkien had had her around, this might not have happened.


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