Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of past conversations are revealed in barest shreds…

It’s time to hit the bar for a pint and discuss “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony.”

Bree and its folk are truly astonishing when compared to other peoples and places in the book. It is one of the few true melting pots of Middle-earth. Big and Little Folk both live side by side in harmony. Yet they are also very insular and isolationist, whether as an artifact of their location in the sparsely populated north or as a sign of the darkly changing times. Just as in the Shire (and Tolkien pointedly repeats the phrasing from the two sides), all non-Bree-landers are Outsiders. “There’s no accounting for East or West, as they say in Bree.” There is a stigma, a fear, even an implied superiority in the society of both places.

Travel has been light in recent years on the North Road and especially on the Greenway, but tonight the Inn is full. Southrons have come up enmasse, with stated goals of resettling in the north, whether welcomed or no. Are they refugees of the wars of the South? Or are they opportunists looking to settle? Or are they the first reconnaissance effort of Saruman in the North?

Significant time was spent discussing the four hobbits in their first experiences and reactions to the Big Folk and the “city.” Sam, in particular, is very uncomfortable, evidently a homebody. Amusingly, each hobbit is very familiar with the inside of a pub, or the bottom of a tankard, and may be easily seen as pub-crawlers. Sam is the gossip, who will warm up to anyone with a few pints. Merry is the quiet one, who prefers quiet and a breath of fresh air to the crowded smokiness of the common-room. Pippin is the story-teller, who, with a few drinks, will spin the wildest tales to be the center of the party and strive for the biggest laughs. And Frodo is the cautious one, who drinks but keeps to himself. Now with Frodo and Merry it is far more likely events form their behavior, but Sam and Pippin? They know their way around a pub!

…which leads to Frodo’s song. Pippin, reaching for an absurd story to entertain, almost lets the cat out of the bag. Here Tolkien is at his most ingenious and smugly humorous. As he does on several occasions, he one-ups history and tells the original version of the beloved Mother Goose rhyme, which first appeared in England in the eighteenth century.

In a possible sign of Frodo’s growth in stature as the bearer of the Ring, this moment marks the first time Frodo notes himself that something is acting on him from the Outside, trying to get him to put on the Ring. In all other instances, he appropriates the urging or acting of the Ring upon him and makes it his own.

Tolkien often leads the reader to make assumptions, but leaves clever hints along the way for the quick of wit to find the correct path. Who is the dark figure who darts over the gate after the hobbits enter Bree? Upon the first reading this figure seems to be one of the Dark Riders. Others have read it as Gollum. With further reading, the figure is Aragorn. It is meant to be a question mark in this chapter, and leads to very intriguing possibilities. It is exceedingly difficult to wrap one’s head around the idea of Gollum in Bree, but it is a fascinating concept to contemplate! Strider later reveals from his own mouth, that he is the culprit. However, there is a wonderful cue in this chapter which lets the reader in on the secret. Notice the dark figure “[melts] into the shadows” and later, in our first introduction to Strider he is “sitting in the shadows…” face overshadowed…He disappears in shadow at the gate and reappears in shadow in the Inn. This imagery is no coincidence. When it comes to words and wordplay, Tolkien is almost always intentional.

The Men and Hobbits of Bree claim to be the oldest of all settlers in the land. They were there before in the dark ages and after when the Numenoreans returned. It was hypothesized that they lived in the region between the Blue and Misty Mountains during the First Age and are of the clans of Men who never crossed over into Beleriand. Therefore, there is, like the elves, a race (of sorts) of Light Men and Dark Men; those who cross and those who stay behind. Is there such a thing as Light and Dark Hobbits? Or Dwarves?

… until the hour of our next meeting.

3 thoughts on “Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’”

  1. Greetings. . .excellent post/I always found Bree an interesting and important place—Bree is a big reason why I’ve always considered “The Fellowship of the Ring” my favorite in the LOTR trilogy; you’re exactly right in saying that it’s a “melting pot,” unlike some of the other places in the book. Lake-town is similar to Bree in this respect, and I do appreciate how Peter Jackson and company decided to flesh out Lake-town more. I think that was the most successful part of the flawed Hobbit trilogy. Great post.

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