Gandalf, Odo and Barnabas Butterbur – Together Again for the First Time!

Due to Gandalf’s delay, he had been traveling a bit behind Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, arriving at Bree the day after they left. But this time table wasn’t worked out until later. In the early drafts, Tolkien had Gandalf arriving in Bree before the hobbits.

This scene was later spread out over three instances in the book. First, Gandalf’s message to Frodo (via Butterbur) was written on Mid Year’s Day (the day between June and July). Gandalf returned to Bree on September 30th, and then told everyone about it at the Council of Elrond.

In the published version, all that’s really said is that Gandalf arrived in Bree and left a note for Frodo. Butterbur also gives a little more detail (not much) in the “Strider” chapter. But in this original draft, Gandalf arrived at Bree a day or so before Frodo, and it was to be included as part of the narrative, rather than part of a flashback.

There were actually two versions of this. The first was written from Barnabas Butterbur’s perspective as he told the hobbits about Gandalf’s visit two days before (he was called Barnabas before Barliman). The way it’s told was pretty well carried over to the published version. The second version was given by the narrator as it happened. Tolkien abandoned this idea, returning to his original choice, but this narrative version is pretty wonderful.

I wish I could just reprint the whole thing. It’s a wonderful piece of writing. But here’s a quick synopsis.

Gandalf arrives at the gate of Bree and wakes Harry, who recognizes him. The wizard is traveling with a hobbit named Odo. Tolkien abandoned the idea of Gandalf traveling with a hobbit, and it’s probably for the best. Even he thought that the early drafts were too hobbity.

Anyway, Gandalf asks about the Black Riders and it turns out that they had been there along with many foreigners from the South. He had arrived after the Pony had closed, but his good friend Butterbur let him in.

Gandalf also saw to the care of his horse, Narothal. This was proto-Shadowfax, and in the margins of the draft, Tolkien suggested renaming him “Fairfax, Shadowfax.”

Butterbur again talked about the strange travelers on the road, prompting Gandalf to ask if there were any hobbits among them. There were not.

“‘That’s bad news’ said Gandalf, tugging at his bear. ‘I wonder where they have got to!'” And in the margin he wrote: “I trusted Tom Bombadil to keep them out of trouble.” Gandalf was worried about how they’d fair in the Old Forest.

Gandalf makes a point of wanting to be unnoticed while in Bree. When he leaves, he wants Butterbur to deliver a message to Frodo: “‘Hurry on! Gandalf’s ahead.’ Just that. Don’t forget, because it’s important.” If anyone else asked about a hobbit named Baggins, Butterbur was to tell them that “Baggins has gone east with Gandalf.”

Butterbur seemed like he expected himself to forget it and went on to talk about Bilbo Baggins and how he disappeared some twenty years back (at his birthday party). Gandalf and Odo slept and then ate breakfast in a private room. They left Bree at 11am, promising Butterbur that he would tell him the whole story someday.

Bob and Nob had been in the story since the earliest draft, and in this version, it’s Bob who is tending to Gandalf’s horse (now named Fairfax). Originally, both were hobbits, but now it seems like at least Bob is a Man. Gandalf and Odo rode north on the Greenway, but before leaving, told Bob to tell anyone who asked that they went east.

“‘Curry me! if these aren’t queer days!’ he [Bob] said to himself. ‘Black men riding out of nowhere, and folk on the Greenway, and old Gandalf with a hobbit on a pillion and all! Things are beginning to move in Bree! But you watch yourself, Bob my lad – old Gandalf can hand out something hotter than silver.'”

The narrative continues in Bree, noting that nothing really happened for the rest of the day until one of the Black Riders approaches Harry at the gate. The hobbits had not yet arrived, but Harry told him about Gandalf and a hobbit. The next morning, Frodo and his friends arrive and it pretty well follows the published version.

All of this was reduced to a line or two in the Council of Elrond chapter. This odd draft was soon forgotten and Tolkien continued on with the narrative almost as we know it. But soon enough, he would change the time line and add in Radagast. We’ll get to him soon enough. Saruman, too, though neither were mentioned at all in this early draft.

A Few Notes
If you want to read it, this is in The Return of the Shadow, p344, and is part of the “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony” chapter.

Typically, where there’s more to know about these kinds of stories, it’s found either in Appendix A or in Unfinished Tales. It’s nice to see that Tolkien tried to see things (and write things) from several different angles to see what worked.

Camera: Argus C3 (35mm) Film: Kodak Ektar 100

Camera: Argus C3 (35mm)
Film: Kodak Ektar 100

About the Photo
Every town has its own Prancing Pony. This is Pizza Pi, Seattle’s vegan pizza joint. Great food and great atmosphere. And really the only photo I have from inside anywhere.


  • Day 143
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 706 (252 from Rivendell)
  • 88 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 215 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,073 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 16th night out from Rivendell. January 9, 3019 TA. (map)

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