The History, Language and People of Bree (Day 34)

Camera: Holga 120N Film: Kodak Porta 400

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: Kodak Porta 400

Led by their guide, Strider, our hobbits are still moving east through the woody Chetwood.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p182, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Once more faced with only a line or two about foliage, I turn back to Bree, this time focusing quickly upon its history.

Bree was a small village at the junction of the East Road and the Greenway. The Men who lived there at the time of the Lord of the Rings “claimed, no doubt justly, to have dwelt in those regions from time out of mind, long before the coming of Elendil….”

You’re going to need a map for some of this. Use this one.

This would place the founding of Bree at least 200 years before the end of the Second Age (over 3,200 years before our story). The Men of Bree, then, were not of Numenorian blood, even though their village was within the realm of Elendil’s kingdom (which included Arnor and Gondor). After Isledor’s death and the loss of the One Ring, the kingdom was split though relations were friendly. Eventually, over the course of eight centuries, Arnor and Gondor lost contact with each other.

In 861, Arnor was split into three separate kingdoms (while Gondor had a hell of a cat problem – look up Queen Beruthiel). Bree found itself in the one known as Cardolan (I explained a bit about this here). The problem was, of course, that Bree stood very close to the border of Rhudaur, the kingdom to the north. The Cardolans wanted the Weather Hills and the land west and north of Bree. Both wanted to control the Amon Sul (later known as Weathertop), also situated on the border, because of the tower built by Elendil. There resided the palantir of the North.

Bree survived the strife as well as it could, ignoring the politics and continuing on as a nearly autonomous village. That is, until 1409 when Cardolan was conquered by the Nazgul out of Angmar. They had been slowly steamrolling from the north for over 100 years, first taking out Rhudaur. This was also when Amon Sul/Weathertop was destroyed.

Even through this, Tolkien writes that “The Men of Bree and the Periannath of the same region maintain their independence.” The Periannath are the Hobbits, who settled in and around Bree around 1300. They came from the East, from the Vales of Anduin. For three hundred years, the bulk of the Hobbits lived in a Bree suburb known as Staddle.

Since the war with the Nazgul, as well as the Great Plague, had killed most everyone in Cardolan and Rhudaur, Bree existed on its own, having no central system of government. In this way, without the silliness of politics, it continued even after the Hobbits left to establish the Shire, technically under the control of King Argeleb II of Arnor. The land had become a wilderness due to the plague and was unused until recreated by the Hobbits. It was also at this time that Shire-reckoning began.

In the year 1601, two Hobbit brothers, Marcho and Blanco, crossed the Brandywine (Baranduin) River, thus establishing 1601 as year 1 (it’s convenient to have a round number for the differential). Because Bree had no central system of government, the calendar used by Arnor and Gondor, etc., probably fell out of fashion and use. Shortly after, Bree adopted most the Shire-reckoning. This certainly helped keep Hobbits within Bree and was essential to establishing trade with the Shire. The adoption included the months and days, given in the Common Speech, but not the years, which were continued from 1601 onwards.

Bree shared with the Shire a common language – the aforementioned Common Speech – but neither originally spoke it. Things around Bree were named from a much older language. This included the name “Bree,” which meant “hill,” as well as “Chet,” (as in Chetwood and Archet), which meant “forest.” With the coming of the Men from Numenor, they eventually adopted Common Speech.

A similar thing happened to the Hobbits, who adopted the language as soon as they crossed the Misty Mountains into Eriador (after they left the Vales of Anduin). Prior to that, they spoke a language very similar to that of Rohan. In fact, the word “hobbit” was derived from “holbytla,” which meant “hole dweller.” Tolkien later (?) changed the origin to the word “cugbagu,” still maintaining that it came form Rohan.

And as far as I can tell, this brings us to the “present day,” 3018 TA or 1418 in the Shire-reckoning.

A Few Notes:

  • Most of this information comes from the Tale of Years as well as the book The People of Middle-Earth edited by Christopher Tolkien. This is an incredibly wonderful book that details the background writings to the smaller details like calendars, languages, family trees, peoples, and bits from the Appendix A. It also contains Tolkien’s some of the last writings about Middle-earth.
  • Tolkien made it a point to not name his characters after Biblical names. There was, for a short time, one exception – that of Barliman Butterbur, who was originally named Barnabas Butterbur (Barnabas wasn’t just a vampire, he was also one of Jesus’ disciples). Tolkien tells why: “On an old grey stone in a quiet churchyard in southern England, I once saw in large letters the name Barnabas Butter. That was long ago and before I had seen the Red Book, but the name came back to me when the character of the stout innkeeper of Bree was presented to me in Frodo’s record.”
  • Tolkien also explained the origins of he word “hobbit” from a real life point of view: “For another, I must admit that its [“hobbit”] faint suggestion of rabbit appealed to me. Not that hobbits at all resembled rabbits, unless it be in burrowing.”
  • Though Bilbo and the Dwarves had to have traveled through Bree, neither the town nor the event were mentioned in either the first or second edition of The Hobbit. When Tolkien attempted to rewrite it 1960, after writing Lord of the Rings (in an attempt to fit The Hobbit more perfectly into the larger story, he did mention that they stayed at the Prancing Pony in Bree, saying that it was “as far as Bilbo’s knowledge reached, even by hearsay.” The town is really only mentioned in passing. (The text is available in John Rateliff’s The History of the Hobbit.)

About the Photo
I don’t take many photographs of towns, so it’s not incredibly easy to find something that reminds me of Bree, though I’ve been through many towns that remind me of Bree. Note to self: take more photos of towns.

Thoughts on the Exercising
It’s getting easier. It’s getting easier. If I keep telling myself that, it’ll get easier. Right? Hell. But really, it’s getting easier, but I’m not letting it get too easy. I push myself more and more each day (you know, sort of), so if it’s not actually getting easier, I’m getting into better shape. Also, my heart is going to explode.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 160
  • 54 miles to Weathertop
  • 300 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,619 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still somewhere in the beautiful Chetwood. (map)


4 thoughts on “The History, Language and People of Bree (Day 34)

  1. Wow! What a great blog! I just found you today (thanks for liking my Tolkien quote!) and read everything back to Day 1. It’s inspiring that you are using something you love to motivate you to do something that is less enjoyable (exercise). I’m enjoying all the back-history and lore of Frodo’s journey that you’re sharing. You are much easier to read than Tolkien’s appendices, etc. I’m on my way over to your civil war blog and am sure I will enjoy that, as well. Have a great day!

    • Oh thank you so much! I hope it’s inspiring. That would be great. I wish it were slightly more inspiring to me, of course – it’s always so difficult to pry myself off the couch to exercise. I’m loving the writing history and the back story, and I’m really happy that what I’m writing is easier to understand. Bit-by-bit is the way to do it.


  2. (“Isledor”?!)

    This is the first I’ve heard of cugbagu. Is it in PoME?

    Of course you know that the Common Speech is not really related to English, and the exotic words used – including names – are translations based on Old English roots. The CS word rendered as ‘hobbit’ is kuduk, from an older kûd-dûkan (the word used by Theoden, whose true name is not revealed as far as I know).

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