Listening to this on audiobook has been quite the learning experience for me. I didn't realize the differences between this and the movies, for one. But mostly, I'm shocked at how much book goes past and how relatively little happens.
I'm now with the gang heading to Orthanc to face off Saruman, almost to the end of Part 1, and yet, what has really happened? The hobbits were captures, escaped, and informed the Ents of Saruman. The heroes free Theoden from Grima/Saruman's clutches and fight a big nasty battle at Helm's Deep.
And that's really it.
I think once I get to the Sam/Frodo parts, I'll see more forward motion, but it just feels weird. Like - padding? Not quite padding, but like meandering or something.