The Best and the Worst of Bree (Day 30)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Our hobbits, now accompanied by Strider, attempt to leave Bree, but their ponies have gone missing. This blows the whole secrecy thing and, after paying too much for a broken-down replacement pony they’re on their way, escorted by stragglers and children. It’s not an auspicious start by any thinking.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 10 & 11 (p163-181, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
The meeting of Strider is one of the most memorable sections of the book. Because of that, I don’t want to just summarize the events. Instead, here are some things that stuck out for me on this reading.

First, there’s Barliman Butterbur. He’s mostly remembered for not delivering Gandalf’s message to Frodo and basically blowing it as far as getting the Ring safely to Rivendell in a timely manner goes. Why Gandalf trusted him with such a task is beyond me. But rather than dwell on what Strider called “a fat innkeeper who only remembers his own name because people shout it at him all day,” what about Old Butterbur’s courage?

“But spooks or no spooks, they [the Nazgul] won’t get in The Pony so easy. […] No black man [again, the Nazgul] shall pass my doors, while I can stand on my legs. Me and my folk’ll keep watch tonight.”

This was not a minute after Butterbur learned that the Black Riders were from Mordor, and right after Strider called him out. The next morning, he hooked the hobbits up with food, bought them a too-expensive pony and gave them a bit of money on the side – even though it “was a sore blow to him” financially. He had to do none of those things. If he were “smart,” he could have turned them over to the Nazgul and been rewarded. But he didn’t. He wasn’t neutral or passive – he went to great lengths to help the hobbits, though he had no idea at all what their mission might be. And let’s not forget Nob and Bob!

From Bree’s most honorable citizen, we’ll take a dark turn to its least – that nasty old Bill Ferny. We first meet the wretch when Frodo is doing the unfortunate cow jumped over the moon thing in the Prancing Pony. As soon as the Ring slips onto Frodo’s finger, Ferny and a “squint-eyed ill-favoured fellow” slipped out of the Inn. Butterbur claims him to have “an evil name in the Bree-land,” and disparages him for having “queer folk” calling at his house. “He would sell anything to anybody; or make mischief for amusement.”

Ferny is obviously in league with the Nazgul, and he probably got a pretty penny for his troubles. When Merry was found unconscious by Nob, he was “just nigh Bill Ferny’s house.” It’s from Strider that we learn that two Black Riders visited Ferny not long ago.

In the morning, when they wake to see that their ponies had been let loose, Butterbur asks around to see if anyone else had horses. Nobody does – they’ve all been let loose, except one. Bill Ferny’s pony, “a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal,” was all that remained. He would sell it to them, but at three times what he was worth.

But why? What was in it for Bill Ferny? What did he get out of any of this? He must have known that the Nazgul were from Mordor (or were at least evil). And if he was truly in league with them, why would he help (well, “help”) Frodo’s party? In the end, Ferny was in it for himself. He was the man who would sell you the rope with which to hang him.

The last we see of Ferny, he’s by the road as Strider and the hobbits are leaving. After he makes a few quips at the party, Sam tell him to put his “ugly face out of sight, or it will get hurt.” With that, he chucks one of his apples at the man, hitting him “square on the nose.” But in Sam’s assessment, it was a “waste of a good apple.”

A Few Notes:

  • In the original draft of this story, Strider was named Trotter, Barliman Butterbur was named Timothy Titus and then Barnabas, but Bill Ferny was always Bill Ferny. They were all hobbits. Merry was not attacked in the first draft, and it was Trotter, not Sam (named Frodo) who threw the apple at Ferny. In the second draft, there’s a great exchange between Gandalf and Butterbur. Gandalf had not passed through in June, several months prior, but only a few days before, just missing the Nazgul.
  • More than most, this particular story was changed greatly from its original draft. In one, Gandalf and Odo (Pippin) come to the Prancing Pony together. In another, Trotter (Strider) gives Gandalf’s note to Frodo. One of the manuscripts was written from Gandalf’s point of view (as if he were retelling it). Slowly and incredibly confusingly we can see the story iron itself out as Tolkien rewrote it again and again. Trotter became human and then Strider, just as Timothy Titus became human and Barliman Butterbur. It’s maddeningly wonderful and ultimately exhausting.
  • Oh, and this probably isn’t the best place to mention this, as it doesn’t come up again until after Rivendell, but Sam names the pony ‘Bill.’ Apparently, if you rescue an animal from an owner who is abusing it, it’s completely fine to name said animal after this previous owner. In Tolkien’s original draft of “The Ring Goes South” chapter, Sam names the pony ‘Ferny.’ That’s weird, right?
  • In the coming days, the narrative breezes through the miles, covering twenty or so over the length of a paragraph. I’ve decided to take a look at a few things in Bree and the surrounding stories. For instance, what were the Nazgul doing at this point? And what does it have to do with Fatty Bolger? What about the squinty eyed Southerner with Bill Ferny? Where is Gandalf? And who can tell – maybe something else will crop up, too.

About the Photo
Of course, the Road never ends. But here, it ends for a spell for Strider and our hobbits. The Nazgul are patrolling the East Road, and so an alternate route was chosen by Strider. “My cuts, short or long, don’t go wrong.” Clearly Aragorn missed his calling as an ad exec. (flickR)

Thoughts on the Exercising
Somehow or another, the tension on the elliptical machine tightens itself a little more each day. After yesterday’s workout, my legs were killing me. Today, after this discovery, I did another five miles and am feeling awesome! I think it’s off to the comic book store to celebrate.


  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 140
  • 74 miles to Weathertop
  • 320 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,639 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Just leaving the East Road east of Bree. (map)

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6 thoughts on “The Best and the Worst of Bree (Day 30)

    • Thanks! Tolkien’s struggles are really well documented in the History of Middle Earth series. Especially the four-volume Lord of the Rings portion. They’re great and inspirational in a lot of way (pretty inexpensive, too). Definitely worth checking out.

        • I know the first two (Lost Tales) are available as ebooks, but not sure of the others. American Amazon has them in mass market paperbacks as well as trade. You can also buy used, which is what I did (except for the Lays of Berilan which goes for $80ish – yow)

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