Last time in the Tolkien Re-read Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin traversed the infamous Barrow-Downs, stole themselves some ancient daggers from a Barrow-wight, and finally bid farewell to Tom Bombadil on the East Road before heading to Bree. I also promised chapters 9-10 for this post, but I lied. The write-ups for both chapters ran much longer than I expected, so I’ve had to split them up. You can blame this on a certain character showing up and endlessly babbling important (quotable?) things.
Previous posts for the Tolkien Re-read (including my re-read of The Hobbit) can be found here.
A quick note: I’m reading from the Houghton Mifflin movie tie-in hardcover from 2001, but the text should match Del Rey’s more recent tie-in edition (pictured right). Each post will cover one or two chapters and include footnotes of useless trivia that you can read or ignore at your discretion—they’re mostly there to contain the worst of my nerd-babble. Also, there might be spoilers ahead. For the most part, the posts will keep in time with the chapters I’m discussing from The Fellowship of the Ring, but I can’t guarantee I won’t geek out about related things from later in the trilogy or elsewhere in Tolkien lore. If you’ve at least seen the movies, it won’t be a problem, but I shall do my best to avoid spoilery content for the sake of the uninitiated
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie
Chapter 9: At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
It’s well past nightfall when Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin arrive at the West-gate of Bree.
Quick Facts About Bree
◊ It’s the chief village in Bree-land and is often traveled through because of its location at the crossroads of the East Road and the North Road (now seldom travelled and called the Greenway)
◊ The inhabitants of Bree are mostly Men* (aka Big Folk), but there are also some Hobbits (aka Little Folk), and they’re friendly with Dwarves and Elves
◊ In the wild lands around Bree there are “mysterious wanderers” known as Rangers, a race of Men of unknown origins, who are sometimes seen in town and are believed to have “strange powers of sight and hearing” and to be able to ”understand the languages of beasts and birds.”
◊ The Inn of Bree (aka The Prancing Pony) is a gathering place for Bree-folk Big and Small, and for travelers from all over—including Dwarves and Rangers
Bree’s gate is closed when the hobbits arrive, but there is a gatekeeper there to open it for them—after some questions about their business, of course, which Frodo is reluctant to answer in more detail than that they are traveling east and wish to stay the night in Bree.
Relevant Quote Break!
Gatekeeper: We don’t often see Shire-folk riding on the Road at night. You’ll pardon my wondering what business takes you away east of Bree. What may your names be, might I ask?
Frodo: Our names and our business are our own, and this does not seem a good place to discuss them.
Gatekeeper: Your business is your own, no doubt, but it’s my business to ask questions after nightfall.
At this point, Merry interjects that they’re from Buckland and fancy traveling and have heard good things about the Inn at Bree. This gets the man to open the gate for them, and he explains that there are “queer folk about.”
The hobbits bid goodnight to the gatekeeper and head into town in search of The Prancing Pony. Back at the gate, we’re informed by the narrator that the gatekeeper watches the hobbits until he can no longer see them and then returns into his gatehouse. When he does, a “dark figure climb[s] quickly over the gate and melt[s] into the shadows of the street.”
(Sounds completely legit and not menacing at all.)
When the hobbits reach The Prancing Pony, they’re greeted by Barliman Butterbur, the somewhat harried and absent-minded innkeeper.
Favorite Quote Break! (Part 1)
“Barliman Butterbur at your service! You’re from the Shire, eh?” he said, and then suddenly he clapped his hand to his forehead, as if trying to remember something. “Hobbits!” he cried. “Now what does that remind me of? Might I ask your names, sir?”
Frodo gives their names, but introduces himself as Underhill.
Favorite Quote Break! (Part 2)
“There now!” said Mr. Butterbur, snapping his fingers. “It’s gone again! But it’ll come back, when I have time to think. I’m run off my feet; but I’ll see what I can do for you.”
With that, Butterbur calls for Nob, a “cheery-looking hobbit,” and asks him to see after their horses.
Favorite Quote Break! (Part 3)
“Well, now, what was I going to say?” said Mr. Butterbur, tapping his forehead. “One thing drives out another, so to speak. I’m that busy tonight, my head is going round. There’s a party come up the Greenway from down South last night—and that was strange enough to begin with. Then there’s a traveling company of dwarves going West come this evening. And now there’s you. If you weren’t hobbits, I doubt if we could house you.”
Butterbur rambles along in this way as he shows Frodo & Friends to a little parlor where they’re served some dinner and are able to wash up while they wait for their room. After eating, Frodo, Pippin, and Sam—with some coercion from Butterbur—head out to the common room to join the other inn patrons in beer and talk. Merry stays behind, planning to take a walk.
In the common room, Men and Dwarves are talking about the troubles in the South, but the Bree-hobbits are rather a bit interested in our Shire-hobbits. They ask why Frodo & Friends have come to Bree, and under their questioning Frodo finds himself saying that he is interested in history and geography and is thinking of writing a book.
(Not bad, Frodo, not bad. Way to keep a low profile.)
Eventually, Frodo notices a “strange-looking weather-beaten man” who is sitting in the shadows by the wall, but is listening intently to the hobbits.
Relevant Quote Break!
He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pip curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.
Frodo, a bit disconcerted, spots Butterbur and pulls him aside to ask about the hooded man.
Relevant Quote Break!
Frodo: Who is that?
Butterbur: Him? I don’t rightly know. He is one of the wandering folk—Rangers we call them. He seldom talks: not but what he can tell a rare tale when he has the mind. He disappears for a month, or a year, and then he pops up again. He was in and out pretty often last spring; but I haven’t seen him about lately. What his right name is I’ve never heard: but he’s known round here as Strider.
With that, Butterbur is called off elsewhere, but not before he mentions that it’s funny that Frodo should be asking after Strider. (Curious.) Then Frodo notices Strider is looking right at him and, with a motion of his hand, he invites Frodo to sit with him. (Curiouser.)
Once Frodo is seated, Strider removes his hood and introduces himself properly. He warns Frodo (with a worrisome emphasis on Frodo’s alias) that he should discourage his friends from talking so much because there are some dangerous people in Bree. Strider nods to Pippin, who is in the middle of telling a story about Bilbo’s disappearance at the infamous Party. A mostly harmless story, except that it brings up the name Baggins.
Concerned that Pippin might mention the Ring (and not to mention the fact that Strider hisses in his ear that he’d better do something quickly), Frodo jumps up onto a table and begins talking. Awkwardly.
His distraction works, though. Suddenly all the eyes in the room are on him, and he thanks the Bree-folk for welcoming him and his friends. He also nervously fingers the Ring in his pocket.
(Danger, Will Robinson, DANGER!)
The crowd thinks he’s drunk, so they call for a song. Frodo obliges them with one of Bilbo’s, but when he finishes they call for an encore and bring Frodo another drink. The crowd sings along this time and Frodo, becoming a bit too excited, leaps into the air at the start of his favorite verse. He slips on his landing, rolls off the table, and disappears into thin air.
The crowd is astonished by this. Many jump to their feet, calling for Barliman Butterbur as they distance themselves from Pippin and Sam. Most in the room now suspect the hobbits of some sort of dark wizardry, but some sketchy looking folks eye them knowingly before slipping out of the inn.
Frodo crawls away under the tables and back to Strider’s dark corner before taking off the Ring. He figures the Ring must have slipped on when he fell, but briefly wonders if it played a trick on him in an attempt to reveal itself to servants of the Enemy.
(Yes, Frodo, that is exactly what happened.)
Favorite Quote Break!
Strider: Well? Why did you do that? Worse than anything your friends could have said! You have put your foot in it! Or should I say your finger?
Frodo: I don’t know what you mean.
Strider: Oh yes, you do. But we had better wait until the uproar has died down. Then, if you please, Mr. Baggins, I should like a quiet word with you.
Frodo: What about?
Strider: A matter of some importance—to us both.
(Looks like Strider knows ALL THE THINGS. As he should. Because Ranger.)
Frodo, alarmed that a stranger seems to know so much about him and the Ring, agrees to talk with him later. Then, since the other patrons are still arguing with Butterbur about whether or not Frodo has vanished by using magic, Frodo jumps up and declares that he hasn’t vanished at all because he is right here.
It’s clear that no one in the room is satisfied by this explanation (except maybe Butterbur), and soon the common room has emptied out. Frodo apologizes to the innkeeper, who doesn’t seem much concerned but does ask to speak with Frodo in private because he’s just remembered that he has something important to tell him.
USELESS TRIVIA FOOTNOTES
*Men of Bree: According to their own tales, the Men of Bree are descended from the first Men to “wander the West of the middle-world” (aka Eriador, once Arnor). They were there when the Men who survived the fall of Númenor (aka the Dúnedain) came to Middle-earth, and they remain now, long after their western kingdoms have fallen.
That’s it for chapter 9! The hobbits have made it to Bree, checked into the Prancing Pony for the evening, met a mysterious Ranger named Strider, and caused some dangers Ring-related commotion in the inn’s common room. Oh, and the scatterbrained innkeeper of The Prancing Pony has finally remembered that he has something rather a bit important to talk to Frodo about. Check back soon for Chapter 10: Strider!
Logan Balestrino is the Publishing Assistant for Del Rey/Spectra and Digital Content at the Random House Publishing Group. She is prone to Doctor Who rants, anime marathons, and extensive ramblings on Elven lineage and the creation of language in Middle-earth. When Logan isn’t working or hanging upside down at her aerials class, she can usually be found saving Hyrule or talking herself out of buying another pair of shoes.