The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp 151-159
The common-room of an inn is not the best place in which to remain unnoticed and it becomes even more difficult if the host is skilled at creating a community within it, introducing locals and visitors to one another so that each becomes relaxed in one another’s company, stays a little longer and spends a little more money. All of which might be regarded by those of a suspicious nature as somewhat manipulative but which most of us are willing to accept because the quality of our visit to the inn has been improved thereby.
But put a hobbit like Peregrine Took among a company of people most of whom are strangers to one another and who are only too glad to be entertained by a good teller of stories and soon the need to be discreet is forgotten. Pippin begins to tell the story of Bilbo’s farewell party and soon it becomes possible that he might mention the name of Baggins and even speak of the Ring itself.
“You had better do something quick!” whispers a stranger sitting in the corner of the room to Frodo and for the first time in the story we are introduced to Strider.
He is “a strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall… He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe 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 was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face”.
All that Frodo can see of his face is the gleam of his eyes and so everything about him speaks of mystery. Even Butterbur knows very little about him. Strider comes and goes but keeps himself very much to himself. He is one of the Rangers, a “wandering folk”. It isn’t Barliman’s business to inquire too closely into the lives of others. He allows them to keep their lives a secret as long as they do not bring trouble to Bree. But we have been introduced to the Rangers before and by Tom Bombadil. When Tom freed the hobbits from the barrow wight and brought out the treasure from the darkness he spoke of the Men of Westernesse, foes of the Dark Lord but overcome by the evil king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl, chief of the very Black Riders who have been pursuing the hobbits.
Tom speaks of the Rangers as “sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.” And now the heedless folk, the unwary hobbits feeling quite at home in a warm and comfortable inn, meet one of the guardians who have long maintained them in their comfortable life.
To speak of a once great people as a company who now walk in loneliness is deeply poignant. We might speak of a person who has become closely acquainted with loneliness almost wearing it like a garment but to speak of a whole people in this manner deepens their mystery and its sadness. Imagine being the child of such a people. Imagine an education in which you begin to learn of your ancestry and as you do so begin to realise that your dignity has been fading away for generations. And what dignity! You belong to a race of king, the people of Númenor, the second children of Ilúvatar after the firstborn, the Elves, who are in the world together in a manner unknown to them both to achieve its healing and yet are so diminished now. As you grow up with only a flickering ember of hope to sustain you, you realise that you can only become one of the keepers of this ember if you will embrace the loneliness that is given to you along with your dignity.
As Tom Bombadil spoke of the Rangers the hobbits saw them in their hidden glory as Men, “tall and grim with bright swords, and last came one with a star on his brow”. But now Frodo sits beside one of them who is alone, weather-beaten and smoking in Bree who speaks roughly to him just as Pippin begins to feel just a little too pleased with himself.
11 thoughts on “A Strange-Looking Weather-Beaten Man in The Prancing Pony at Bree. Frodo Meets Strider for the First Time.”
Extraordinary. Many thanks.
Am I getting it all wrong? Surely, Tom Bombadil was missed out of the film? Surely so much got lost with that omission?
Hi Chris, Thank you so much for leaving a comment on my blog. Please do call again.
You are right that the whole section of The Lord of the Rings in which Tom Bombadil plays a central part was omitted from Peter Jackson’s films. To be fair to him the famous BBC Radio 4 dramatisation (the most popular drama ever broadcast on Radio 4) also omitted this part of Tolkien’s story. I think that dramatists have considered that it slowed the pace of the story unnecessarily and that it would be better to move the story onto Bree. Lovers of Tolkien’s work, of course, see it differently. We love the whole encounter with Bombadil and Goldberry and, like the hobbits themselves, are sorry to say farewell to them. The only thing that I would say in support of the emission is that we have not had to be disappointed by the characterisation of Tom and Goldberry as we are by Faramir’s for example. Of perhaps it might have been a performance of sheer brilliance as with Andy Serkis’s performance as Gollum. Who knows.
You may not remember me, but I cut your hair for a number of years at prestige barber shop in Droitwich. I have been keeping up with the blog ever since! I re-read the trilogy and the Silmarillion during lockdown; it was great to engage in the books with your writing in mind 🙂
I hope you and the family are well!
All the best,
Of course I remember you, Dom! It is really good to hear from you. I still get my hair cut at Prestige Barbers and I remember our conversations. I am so glad that Tolkien helped keep you going during lockdown and thank you so much for letting me know that my writing helped. Please feel free to leave a comment whenever you like. I get a lot more views these days but not so many comments.
The last time that we spoke together you were doing an English Literature degree at Manchester University. What are you doing now?
That’s great to hear! They’re a great bunch of lads down there.
I willdo , I end up reading a lot of literary criticism due to uni so I look forward to the blog post as a bit of escapism 🙂
I am in my final year of uni, but I transferred to Birmingham after my 1st year as I was struggling to make ends meet up north. However it’s great to be back in Droitwich (I think I missed the countryside more than anything!)
I occasionally do some shifts down the barbers when they need an extra pair of hands – I’ll let you know when I’m next in if you don’t mind, would be great to catch up 🙂
All the best!
That would be great. How long do I need to let my hair grow?
Haha it may be a few months yet but I will keep you updated!
We studied JRR Tolkien and read “Lord of the Rings” in English class during my senior year. I remember really enjoying the book and am surprised at how many parts in the book I’ve forgotten in the years since I read it. Maybe it’s time for a reread! Thank you so much for this post!
Hi, Cherie. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about your reconnection to The Lord of the Rings. I hope that you will find much joy as you begin to re-read it and do leave a comment whenever you like to tell me how it is going.
You’re so welcome. And I sure will reread and keep you updated, Stephen!