The Lord of the... whatever, Book I, Chapter 9:
At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony
Bree was the chief village of Bree-land, a small country a few miles
broad whose chief claim to fame was its aluminum siding industry. The
Men of Bree were cheerful and independant: they belonged to nobody but
themselves. In the lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers.
The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and being unlettered hicks for the
most part knew nothing of their origins. They were believed to have
strange powers of sight and hearing, and so the Bree-folk thought that
they were the ones who secretly ran the local psychic telephone hotline.
When they appeared, they brought strange news from afar, but since they
didn't buy siding, the Bree-folk did not make friends of them.
There were also many families of Hobbits in Bree-land. The Big 'Uns
and the Little 'Uns (as they called one another) were on friendly terms,
both regarding each other as necessary parts of the Bree-folk. Nowhere
else was this peculiar (but politically correct) arrangement to be
The Bree-folk, Big and Little, did not travel much. Occasionally,
the Hobbits of Bree went as far as Beltbuckleland or Eastfarting, though
the Hobbits of the Shire now seldom visited. An occasional
Beltbucklelander or adventurous Took would come out to buy some siding,
but that was becoming less usual.
The village of Bree had some hundred houses of the Big 'Uns, all with
aluminum siding, awnings and doors. It was dark when Frodo and his
companions came to the West-gate and found it shut. The gatekeeper
jumped up and looked at them in surprise.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked gruffly.
"We are making for the inn," answered Frodo. "We are journeying to
"Hobbits! And from the Shire by their talk," the gatekeeper said to
himself. He stared at them darkly, and then opened the gate.
"You'll pardon my wondering what business takes you away east of
Bree! What may your names be, might I ask?"
"Our names and our business are our own," said Frodo, not liking the
nosiness of the man.
"No doubt," said the man, "But I'm supposed to ask questions after
"We are Hobbits from Beltbuckleland, and we feel like staying at the
inn here," said Morrie. "I am Mr. Brandybuck. And why don't you mind
your own damn business?"
"All right, all right!" said the man. "I meant no offense, but
there's queer folk about, not that there's anything wrong with that."
Frodo wondered why the man was so suspicious, and wondered if anyone
had been asking about a party of Hobbits. Could it be Gandalf, or
perhaps his creditors? As soon as the gatekeeper's back was turned, a
dark figure climbed over the gate and into the shadows of the village.
The Hobbits rode on up a slope and drew together outside the inn. Sam
stared up at the inn with its aluminum siding and felt his heart sank.
He had imagined meeting terrifying creatures, but at the moment he was
finding his first sight of Men and their aluminum houses to be quite
enough. He pictured fierce, warlike elf-maidens peering out the out of
dark upper windows.
"We surely aren't going to stay here, are we?" he exclaimed. "Maybe
we could stay with some Hobbits. It would be more homelike."
"What's wrong with it?" asked Frodo. "Tom Bombadil recommended it.
I expect it's homelike enough."
Even from the outside the inn looked a pleasant home to familiar
eyes. A sign above the door pictured a fat white pony rearing on its
hind legs. Over the door was painted the letters: THE PRANCING PONY by
BARLIMAN BUTTERBALL. They climbed up the steps. Frodo went forward and
nearly bumped into a short, grossly overweight man with a bald head and
sweaty red face.
"Can we --" began Frodo.
"Half a minute, if you please!" shouted the man. He dissapeared
into the tavern, and reemerged a moment later, wiping his hands on his
"Good evening, little master," he said, bending down. Morrie and
Pipsqueak giggled and chortled at "little master", but Frodo glared at
them and they shut up.
"We'd like beds for four, and stabling for five ponies," Frodo said.
"Are you Mr. Butterball?"
"That's right," he said. "Barliman Butterball at your service.
You're from the Shire, eh? Now what does that remind me of? Might I
ask your names, sir?"
"Mr. Took, and Mr. Brandybuck," said Frodo. "This is Sam Gamgee,
and I am Mr. Underhill."
"There now," said Butterball, "it's gone again! Well, it'll come
back as soon as I have a chance to think."
Butterball showed them to their rooms and prepared them a dinner in
a private parlor, which was served to them by his wife, Bella. As he
was leaving, he invited them to join the company in the common room when
they were finished.
They felt refreshed and encouraged after thier meal, and Frodo, Sam
and Pipsqueak decided to join the company. Morrie, having learned long
ago the value of keeping a low profile, decided to stay behind, and
perhaps go out later for soem fresh air.
The company was in the large common room of the inn. It was large and
mixed as Frodo discovered as his eyes adjusted to the light. Barliman
Butterball was talking to a group of dwarves near the fire. On the
benches were various folk: the local drunks for the most part, but also
more dwarves and other figures in the shadowy corners.
The local folk, having drunk a few pints already, cheered the
Shire-hobbits as they entered the room, but the strangers, especially
the ones from the South, stared at them curiously. Butterball
introduced them to the crowd. The Men of Bree seemed to have strange,
meaty names like Oscar-meyer, Hatfield, Weaver, Tyson, and Sandyman (not
to mention Butterball). However, the Hobbits had much more natural
names, like Banks, Bigholes, Earthmovers, and Digger, many of which were
used in the Shire. There even some Underhills, who immediately took to
Frodo as a long-lost cousin.
Frodo said that he was interested in history and geography, but got
many blank stares, as the Bree-folk were uneducated and such words
weren't in their vocabulary. The Hobbits went over to Pipsqueak and
asked him all sorts of questions about the Shire, leaving Frodo to sit
in the corner by himself.
The Men and Dwarves were mostly talking of distant events. There
was trouble away in the South, and the Men who had come up the Greenway
were on the move looking for lands were they could find peace. The
Bree-folk were sympathetic, but since poor refugees seldom have money
for siding and other home improvements, they didn't want them around.
One traveller, a squint-eyed ill-favored fellow was foretelling that
more people would be coming north in the near future. He went on and on
about squatters' rights, and local folk were not pleased.
The hobbits were not as concerned, since Big 'Uns could hardly beg
for lodgings in hobbit-holes. They were more interested in Pipsqueak
and Sam's tales of the Shire. Pipsqueak roused a great deal of laughter
with an account of the collapse of the Town Holes in Michel Delving:
Will Whitfoot, the mayor and fattest hobbit in the Shire, had been
buried in his hidden stash of cocaine, and came out looking like a
Then Frodo noticed that a strange-looking flabby man sitting in the
shadows was also listening intently to the Shire talk.
"Who is that?" Frodo asked, when he got a chance to whisper to Mr.
Butterball. "I don't think you introduced him."
"Him?" said the landlord. "I don't really know. He is one of the
wandering folk -- Rangers we call them. What his right name is I've
never heard, but he's known around here as Strider."
Frodo found that Strider was looking at him, and he beckoned for
Frodo to come closer.
"I am called Strider," he said in a low voice. I am pleased to
meet you, Master Underhill. If I were you, I would stop your young
friends from talking too much."
Frodo noticed that Strider's attention was focused on Pipsqueak. To
his alarm, Frodo noticed that the ridiculous young Took was now talking
about Bilbo's farewell. He was giving a good imitation of the speech,
and was now drawing close to the astonishing Appearance.
Frodo was annoyed. It would bring the name of Baggins the minds of
the locals, especially if there had been inquiries in Bree about the
Frodo fidgeted, unsure what to do. Pipsqueak, unmindful of the
danger, finished the speech, then he jumped up on a table, tore off his
shirt, and started to gyrate his hips wildly.
"You'd better do something quick!" whispered Strider.
Frodo jumped up onto another table. Some of the hobbits looked at
him and laughed, thinking he had taken as much ale as was good for him.
He felt nervous, and began to fondle the things in his pockets as he
did when making a speech. He felt the Ring on its chain, and quite
suddenly he felt a desire to slip it on and prove his manhood with
Bella. It seemed to him, somehow, that the suggestion came to him from
someone or something in the room. He resisted the temptation firmly.
He spoke a few words, then hesitated and coughed.
Everyone was now looking at him. "A song!" shouted one of the
hobbits. "A song, a song!" shouted all the others. For a moment he
hesitated, and then one of Bilbo's silly old songs came to mind:
Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog cried to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Though since Westron had a lot more words than Modern English, the song
was quite a bit longer than that.
The applause was long and loud, and they called for an encore. Now
Frodo began to feel pleased with himself. He danced on the table, and
when he came to "the cow jumped over the moon" he leaped into the air.
He slipped on a tray of mugs when he came down, and rolled off the
table. The audience laughed when they saw his pants around his ankles
exposing his flannel boxers with pink oliphaunts.
One swarthy Bree-lander looked at him with a mocking and knowing
expression, then slipped out the door with the squint-eyed southerner
and the gatekeeper; they had been whispering together a great deal that
Frodo felt foolish. Not knowing what to do, he pulled his pants
back up and took off the Ring. How it came to be on his finger he could
not tell. He did not like the looks of the men that had gone out.
"Well?" said Strider. "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? We better wait until the laughter dies down. Then,
if you please, Mr. _Baggins_, I should like a quiet word with you."
"Very well," said Frodo, "I'll talk to you later."
After the crowd left, Butterball came over to Frodo. "I'm sorry if I
caused any trouble," Frodo said. "It was quite unintentional. We'll be
leaving early tommorrow. Could you have our ponies ready by eight
"Very good. But before you go, I would like a word with you in
private, Master Underhill. Something has just come back to my mind that
I ought to tell you. After I've seen to a thing or two, I'll come to
your room, if you're willing."
"Certainly," said Frodo, but his heart sank, wondering how many
private talks he has going to have before bed. Were they against him?
He even suspected fat Butterball's face of concealing dark designs.
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