Ringworld Study Guide

The following material was posted to the original "larryniven-l" mail list in 1995 by its manager, Frank Wilson of Bucknell University..

Since things have been quiet on the List lately, as a prompting of discussion I'm posting a handout which I usually distribute to my students when I teach Ringworld in my philosophy classes (and other courses as well). The book is a lengthy (300+ pp.) read, and many of the students find it difficult to pull everything together, especially since it's only when one gets into the last quarter of the book that the plot structure becomes really apparent. Thus I provide the following as a kind of analytical table of contents for them, which follows the divisions of the text that Niven himself seems to have employed.

Let me know your reactions to this analysis, and I'd certainly welcome any suggestions for improvement. Also, if any of you have similar reading aids for any other works by Niven that the Listmembers might find useful, you might post them as well. Such analyses and organizational tools help to bring out the thematic and the plot structures of Niven's works. For example, the one below helps to point up the significance of the fact that Niven (quite deliberately) structures the novel in terms of two chapters (#12 and #24) which are both entitled "Fist of God", and which mark the ends of the two halves of the novel.

Frank Wilson
List Manager/LARRYNlVEN-L
Department of Philosophy Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA. 17837

Ringworld: Chapter and Scene Analysis

Ch. 1: Louis Wu (3 scenes)

  1. Louis Wu's 200th Birthday; his situation
  2. Kidnap and interview by a Pierson's Puppeteer
  3. Meeting with Kzinti

Ch. 2. And His Motley Crew (7 scenes)

  1. Louis' return to his party and his conversation with Teela
  2. Arrival of Nessus and Speaker at Louis' party
  3. Discussion of the expedition in Louis' office
  4. Method of travel and destination of the expedition
  5. Louis' further conversation with Teela, and Nessus' discovery of who she is.
  6. Teela's qualifications for the expedition
  7. The Birthright lottery and breeding for luck

Ch. 3. Teela Brown (4 scenes)

  1. Teela's refusal to join the expedition
  2. Teela's and Louis' liason
  3. Two days later: Nessus' depressive phase
  4. Louis and Teela discuss the Core Explosion; Teela's decision to join the expedition.

Ch. 4. Speaker to Animals (3 scenes)

  1. Teela's love for Louis
  2. Nereid, the Outsiders, and Speaker's attempt to steal the ., Long Shot.
  3. Departure from Sol System

Ch. 5. Rosette (3 scenes)

  1. The trip to the Puppeteer migration; Louis' reflections on Teela
  2. Arrival at the Klemperer rosette of puppeteer worlds and the awakening of the crew
  3. Puppeteer history, heat pollution, the moving of worlds, and living forever

Ch. 6. Christmas Ribbon (3 scenes)

  1. Landing on the puppeteer homeworld; Nessus's departure to report to the Hindmost and "Those-who-lead"
  2. Chiron briefs the crew about the Ringworld
  3. History of human first contacts with technologically advanced species, and speculations about the Ringworld Engineers

Ch. 7: Stepping Discs (4 scenes)

  1. The puppeteers' reasons for investigating the Ringworld; Nessus wins mating and parenthood rights from Those-who-lead-from-behind
  2. The puppeteer system of open transfer booths; introduction to the expedition spaceship
  3. Layout and equipment of the ship; departure.
  4. Louis names the ship the Lying Bastard

Ch. 8: Ringworld (4 scenes)

  1. Deceleration from hyperdrive and entering the Ringworld system
  2. Attempts to communicate with the Ringworlders; comments on Dyson spheres; Nessus' refusal to land on the Ringworld.
  3. Along the Ringworld rim; the abandoned spaceport
  4. The underside of the Ringworld; size and scale, seabottoms and mountains, meteor impacts

Ch. 9: Shadow Squares (10 scenes)

  1. Arguments over next steps
  2. Anomalies in the Shadow Squares
  3. Orbital complications
  4. Laser attack
  5. Louis' theory of Teela's luck as a statistical fluke
  6. Around the sun and collision with the shadow square wires
  7. Speaker's EVA
  8. The nature and role of shadow square wire.
  9. Pre-landing pleasures
  10. Landing (crash) on the Ringworld.

Ch. 10: The Ring Floor (4 scenes)

  1. Teela's impulsive exit from the ship and her first lesson
  2. Teela's second lesson; Louis' view of the Liar's landing track and of the Ringworld horizon; his first sight of Fist-of-God. Local topography of the landing area
  3. Preparations for exploration; the decision to seek civilization for help in repairing the Liar; Louis' advice to Teela about the Finagle universe; Flycycles, weapons, and command
  4. Final preparations for departure: food and camping supplies, communicator discs.

Ch. 11: The Arch of Heaven (4 scenes)

  1. Takeoff, and the rest of the crew's reactions to the scenery and size of the Ringworld; the emergence of the Arch in the night sky, and Nessus' flight response; Speaker's decision on the direction of travel.
  2. Louis and Nessus consult, and Nessus agrees to turn command over to Speaker; Nessus' reconsideration of the "lucky human" theory
  3. The expedition's first dawn on Ringworld; first notice of the "bright spot" ahead
  4. Teela's trance; the first sighting of Ringworld inhabitants, (human)

Ch. 12: Fist-of-God (7 scenes)

  1. Landing; testing of the flora and fauna
  2. Louis' attempt to explain hypnosis to Speaker and Nessus; Nessus' revelation of the existence of starseed lures, and Speaker's reaction; Teela's awakening
  3. Teela's and Louis' interlude; Speaker's rabbit-chasing
  4. Discussion of the Ringworld natives, and plans for making contact with them
  5. The city of ruined flying buildings (Zignamuclikclik)
  6. The city-dwellers, and the teams's first communication with Ringworld inhabitants
  7. The lynch mob, and Nessus' demonstration of the the puppeteer defense reaction; Speaker's fighting reflex

Ch. 13: Starseed Lure (5 scenes)

  1. Afterthoughts on the city-dweller's reactions, on mistakes, and on the true nature of the puppeteer flight reflex
  2. Size and scale of the Ringworld
  3. Second dawn, viewed in flight, and Louis' reflections on the puppeteers' relations with humans and kzinti; "the light dawns" for him about the significance of Nessus' references to the starseed lures and the puppeteers' manipulations of humans and kzinti; he inadvertently lets "the cat out of the bag," revealing to Speaker what he's concluded; Speaker confronts Nessus with their conclusions over the intercom, and Nessus cuts and runs. Nessus's verbal confirmation of their inferences, and his revelation of the puppeteer strategy. Teela's reaction, and Louis' realization of the puppeteer's breeding of humans for luck. The "playing god" theme; Nessus is excludedfrom the group.
  4. Erosion, and Louis' conference with Nessus
  5. Empty river channels

Ch. 14: Interlude, with Sunflowers (8 scenes)

  1. Louis talks Speaker into landing for rest and consultation
  2. Louis calls Teela to invite her to land also.
  3. Louis' proposal to play God to the Ringworld natives.
  4. Speaker's rejection of Nessus' participation in the god gambit
  5. Louis' consoling of Teela
  6. More arguments about bringing Nessus back
  7. Sunflower attack, with Speaker injured.
  8. Investigation of the Sunflowers, and the question of their origin

Ch. 15. Dream Castle (10 scenes)

  1. Digging a hiding hole
  2. Medical treatment for Speaker
  3. A warning to Nessus about the Sunflower field
  4. Sleeping through the day
  5. Leaving the Sunflower field behind.
  6. A light in the night
  7. Landing on the floating castle (Heaven)
  8. Sight-seeing, sleep, and shadow-square wire
  9. The castle kitchen
  10. Breakfast, and Speaker's announcement about the discovery of the Map Room

Ch. 16: The Map Room (4 scenes)

  1. Louis and Speaker climb (laboriously) to the map room and examine its revelations
  2. Views of the spaceport, and Teela's (easy) arrival (by a luckily operating escalator)
  3. The congregation in the square below the building, and the god gambit again; second communication with Ringworld natives
  4. Louis' conversation with the priest; the destruction of the translator discs

Ch. 17. The Eye of the Storm (4 scenes)

  1. Departure from Heaven, and Louis' exchange with Nessus . about the collapse of Ringworld civilization.
  2. The sighting of the "Eye of God," and Speaker's account of the Kdapt-Preacher heresy on Kzin; the question of whether to go through the Eye, or around it.
  3. Nessus' explanation of the Eye storm, and his argument for going through it to investigate the phenomenon
  4. Teela gets caught by the vortex, and escapes it by luck

Ch. 18. The Perils of Teela Brown (4 scenes)

  1. Speaker allows Nessus to rejoin the expedition, and Louis realizes the influence of Teela's luck; they regain communication with Teela and prepare to meet with her.
  2. Nessus arrives, and Louis explains his theory about the nature of Teela's luck; Teela encounters a trap over a lighted city, and falls out of contact with the rest of the team. The team arrives at the skyscraper city hunting her.
  3. Over Nessus's objections, Speaker and Louis embark on a night search of the city for Teela, leaving Nessus behind.
  4. Speaker and Louis are captured by the police vehicle trap.

Ch. 19. In the Trap (5 scenes)

  1. Louis attempts to escape, and damages his flycycle.
  2. Upside down in the prison; Nessus brings news of an eavesdropper, and proposes his first plan for Louis to escape
  3. Louis' climb to turn over the flycycle; encounter with the woman watcher, and Speaker's confession of Kdaptist upbringing. Nessus' new plan
  4. Nessus' arrival in the prison, and preparations to influence their woman captor
  5. The return of the woman, and her testing of Louis; Nessus uses the tasp on her; Opening exchanges and language lesson

Ch. 20. Meat (5 scenes)

  1. Nessus' exploration of the prison cell; the return of their woman captor, and Nessus' release
  2. Nessus' departure from the vehicle trap with the woman
  3. The shutdown of the vehicle trap, and the landing of Louis' and Speaker's flycycles; water and the need for food; Louis' discovery of Teela's flycycle, and the likelihood of Teela's death; Speaker's honor versus his hunger; investigation of other cells; the sights of the city, the ocean, the horizon; Louis' suspicions about Nessus' motivations; his observations of the Eye Storm, and Fist-of-God, and his realization of the size of Fist-of-God
  4. Food
  5. Nessus' revelations about the woman's origin

Ch. 21. The Girl from Beyond the Edge (9 scenes)

  1. Prill's story: Arrival at the Ringworld spaceport
  2. Prill's story (continued): Getting through the spaceport
  3. The cause of the collapse of Ringworld civilization
  4. Converting the floating building into a vehicle
  5. Louis's interlude with Prill
  6. Louis' full realization of the nature of Teela's luck
  7. Prill's age, her longevity drug, and her long walk
  8. Prill's story (continued): The journey from the rim wall
  9. Prill's story (continued): Prill's arrival at her home city; she sets up headquarters in the abandoned police station, to look for other civilized survivors.

Ch. 22. Seeker (11 scenes)

  1. Lightening the floating building, and spotting people below
  2. Departure from Prill's home city, headed toward Heaven; objective: to obtain some shadow square wire.
  3. Louis' doubts about his plan
  4. Louis' explanation of the first step of his plan to Speaker
  5. Christening of the Improbable; language lessons continued
  6. Prill's attempt to gain control of the tasp; Louis' explanation of why she can't get it from Nessus
  7. Prill's seduction of Louis, and its backlash, due to Nessus' use of the tasp on her
  8. Louis' angry confrontation with Nessus, and Nessus' use of the tasp on Louis
  9. Louis' guilt about the treatment of Prill; his discovery of Teela and Seeker in the police vehicle trap, being dragged along by their building
  10. Meeting on the bridge of the Improbable
  11. Teela's story: Her fortunate landing, loss of her flycycle, and rescue by Seeker. Seeker's quest for "the base of the Arch," and Teela's devotion to him; her decision to remain on the Ringworld and accompany Seeker on his travels. Their attempt to chase the Improbable, and their capture by the building's speed trap. Louis' explanation of Teela's luck.

Ch. 23. The God Gambit (8 scenes)

  1. The city of Heaven again, and the pile of shadow-square wire 2. The descent into the city, the investigation of the wire, and the attack by the city dwellers; Nessus' decapitation, and Louis' rescue of him, with Teela's assistance
  2. Louis and Speaker discuss the significance for Teela Brown of Nessus' decapitation; Teela's luck as directed toward her growth; Speaker's acquisition of the shadow-square wire.
  3. Attachment of the shadow-square wire to the Improbable
  4. Teela and Seeker leave the Improbable and take over the floating castle
  5. Departure of the Improbable from the city of Heaven; Nessus' condition, and Prill's withdrawal symptoms; her language lessons with Louis and discussions about godhood.
  6. Prill's gradual recovery; Playing god to the Ringworld natives enroute, and Speaker's misgivings about his role as a god to humans; Prill's solution to the problem
  7. Heading back into the barrens; Prill's choice to remain with the expedition

Ch. 24. Fist-of-God (8 scenes)

  1. The Ringworld as protection against the Core Explosion
  2. Louis points out to Speaker that they will have to decide whether to play god to their species about revealing the puppeteer manipulations.
  3. Arrival at the Liar
  4. Rest and recovery
  5. Looping the wire through the Liar
  6. Up Fist-of-God with the Improbable, and into the crater
  7. Flashback: The creation of Fist-of-God
  8. Escape from the Ringworld. Louis' explanation of his reasoning about the nature of Fist-of-God, and Speaker's decision not to steal the Long Shot

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