At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

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At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
Chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring
EventFrodo comes to the Prancing Pony; he meets Strider and Barliman Butterbur.
Date29 September 3018
LocationThe Prancing Pony
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At the Sign of the Prancing Pony is the ninth chapter of the first book in The Fellowship of the Ring.

In this chapter, the four Hobbits arrive in the village of Bree and visit the Prancing Pony inn. The Hobbits meet proprietor Barliman Butterbur and rent a room, then sit down to have drink in the common-room, where Frodo accidentally puts on The One Ring and causes a commotion. He meets Strider, and is then invited to a private conversation with Butterbur.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The chapter begins with the narrator explaining a little about the village of Bree, which lies at the end of the East Road on an ancient and well-traveled crossroads. The village is populated mostly by Men who, according to legend, are descended from the first Men to migrate to Western Middle-earth. We're also told that in the areas outside Bree-land live a different group of Men known as the Rangers, whose origins are not known; they wander the land and often bring news from outside, but are not friends of the Bree-landers.

We're also told that quite a few Hobbit families live around Bree, and coexist peacefully with the Men (though they live in separate communities). These Hobbit settlements are said to be older than The Shire, and their inhabitants are distantly related to the Brandybucks. Hobbit visits to and from The Shire are said to have dwindled in recent times.

Finally, we are told that Bree has an ancient inn (the Prancing Pony) which used to be a popular meeting place for travelers; so much so that the innkeeper is considered a very important person in the village. However, the North Road has become disused as the lands up north have depopulated.

Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin ride up to Bree's western gate after nightfall, to find it shut. However, a gatekeeper named Harry spots them and asks where they're going and who they are. Frodo reveals very little, saying only that they've come from Buckland and are headed to the inn. Merry identifies himself as a Brandybuck. This placates Harry, who opens the gate for them, but mentions that there may be other visitors who have been asking questions about four Hobbits arriving in Bree. Frodo speculates to himself whether Harry might be speaking about Gandalf, though he finds Harry suspicious. As the Hobbits enter the village, a dark figure climbs over the wall and into the village.

When Sam sees the inn, he becomes suspicious and recommends seeking out a Hobbit family to stay with. Frodo reminds him that Tom Bombadil had recommended the inn and spoke well of its proprietor, Barliman Butterbur.

The Hobbits take their ponies into the courtyard, where they encounter Barliman. After introductions, Barliman seems to recall something related to four Hobbits, but can't remember what it was. He apologizes that the inn is quite busy, indicating that it is an unusual situation. He finds them a room suitable for hobbits and has their ponies taken to his stables.

The Hobbits settle in and get washed. Barliman returns with food and drinks, which the Hobbits find familiar and reassuring. Barliman invites the Hobbits to the common room to share in the merriment and news, but does not press them to go. Frodo, Sam and Pippin decide to go, whereas Merry decides to stay behind, saying he might go for a walk later. He reminds the others that they should remain careful, while Pippin advises Merry to stay indoors.

In the common-room are many different people, including Men, Dwarves, and local Hobbits. Barliman introduces everybody. Some of the local Hobbits turn out to be Underhills - the pseudonym which Frodo has been using. As a result, the Hobbits welcome him gladly as a long-lost relation, but also question him thoroughly. Frodo invents an explanation to his journey: He is interested in history and geography, and is traveling in the hope of collecting information for a book on Hobbits living outside the Shire. This causes the Hobbits to volunteer excessive amounts of information, but Frodo shows disinterest and soon finds himself sitting alone.

The Men and Dwarves have a discussion about trouble in the south. There is worry that large numbers of people may be coming up the North Road, seeking refuge from something. The local Hobbits, however, are more interested in hearing news from the Shire, and press Sam and Pippin for information about the "Shire Underhills".

Frodo, meanwhile, notices a man watching him closely from the corner of the room. The man seems well-traveled, and is smoking a pipe, his face shadowed by a heavy hood. Frodo asks Butterbur who the man is. Butterbur explains that he is one of the Rangers who occasionally shows up at the inn. He doesn't know the man's name, but his nickname in Bree is "Strider" on account of his long legs and frequent travels. Butterbur appears to think it strange that Frodo asked about Strider, but is called away before he can complete his thought.

Strider motions to Frodo to come speak with him, which Frodo does. Strider introduces himself, and warns Frodo to stop his friends from talking too much. Frodo realizes that Pippin, having entranced the local Hobbits with stories about the Shire, has begun telling the story of Bilbo's farewell party - which ended with him putting on The One Ring and vanishing into thin air. Frodo is suddenly alarmed that Pippin might mention the Ring.

With Strider's prodding to take action, Frodo gets up on a table and begins to talk, fidgeting with the Ring in his pocket as he does, and having to fight a sudden urge to put it on. All attention is turned to Frodo.

"We are all very much gratified by the kindness of your reception, and I venture to hope that my brief visit will help to renew the old ties of friendship between the Shire and Bree."
Frodo Baggins

Frodo's audience begin calling for a song. Off the top of his head, Frodo begins singing a song about an inn, which the locals appreciate so much that they ask to hear it again. Frodo obliges, but gets carried away and begins dancing on the table-top. He slips off the table and falls, and to everyone's amazement he suddenly disappears into thin air.

The other guests eye Sam and Pippin suspiciously, now regarding them as friends of a traveling magician of some sort. A Bree-lander and a traveler from the south, who had been whispering together all evening, make their way out of the room, followed by Harry the gatekeeper.

Frodo, meanwhile, makes his way to Strider's corner and takes off the Ring. We are told he has no idea how it came to be on his finger. Strider chastises him.

"Well? Why did you do that? Worse than anything your friends could have said! You have put your foot in it! Or should I say your finger?"

Frodo tries obfuscating, but Strider appears to know exactly what had happened. He invites Frodo to speak with him later, saying he has something to tell Frodo that is of some importance to him.

Barliman Butterbur arrives, and the guests begin questioning him about Frodo's disappearance. Frodo then steps forward to show that he hasn't vanished, saying that he'd simply crawled away under the tables. The guests don't buy this story, and grumble about the quality of the evening's entertainment. They soon leave one after another, until none are left but the Hobbits, Strider, and Butterbur.

Butterbur asks Frodo to promise not to cause any further trouble, but also reassures Frodo that the event will not affect his business negatively - saying that the mystery will only draw people back to the inn to discuss it. Frodo excuses himself, saying that he wishes to go to bed. Butterbur asks to speak to him in private before they leave in the morning, about something he's just remembered.

Frodo becomes suspicious that everyone here - including Butterbur - is hiding some dark secret.

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