We have finally arrived at Bree! As the first non-Shire settlement, there is much for the hobbits to adapt to and many new avenues of experience for them. Perhaps the plethora of innovations that the hobbits experience impacts the way that this scene can be interpreted in different ways.
In his Exploring the Lord of the Rings podcast, Dr. Corey Olsen suggested that Peter Jackson did not accurately portray the Prancing Pony in his film. According to Olsen, the great peril of the Pony is that it was so warm and inviting that it would put the hobbits off their guard, which could trick them into revealing more about their errand than they should. He denounced Jackson’s interpretation as far too scary and dark.
Personally, my own experience echoes Jackson’s interpretation more than Olsen’s, although I do see parts of the hobbits’ experience at the Pony as pleasant. While I can appreciate Olsen’s perspective, I always saw the common room at the Pony as in intimidating place because it is the first time that the hobbits encounter the Big People, if you will. Reading the scene as child, it resembled my own experience of entering a room of adults. The feelings of uncertainty and unease that occur to anyone who enters a room where they can assume that they are the least knowledgeable about the world and other people. This connection is obviously an extension of my reading of the hobbits as children.
While the common room unsettled me, I understood that the hobbits were at ease for part of their time there and relaxed for most of their time before going to the common room. Perhaps a more accurate assessment of my response would be that I thought the Pony was, to paraphrase Aragorn, both fair and perilous. The warmth of the caretaker and his staff were more than enough to allow any weary travelers to rest and be at peace. The inclusion of hobbit rooms at the Pony was certainly an unlooked-for balm for the hobbits as they relaxed from their travels. Once the hobbits are refreshed, they confront the world of the Bog People without being properly prepared. While the hobbits felt ease in the beginning of their encounter in the common room, it quickly became a source of intimidation and fear. Just as Frodo was aware of the danger before his fellow hobbits, so I, as the reader, was aware of the danger upon entering the common room.
This is partly because of the warnings that Merry and Pippin bandy back and forth before going to the common room. In Olsen’s opinion, most of these warnings are friendly ribbing among the hobbits. As a young reader, though I took them all very seriously. This put me on guard as they entered the common room, and Frodo’s misgivings only acted as a confirmation of my presuppositions. I do not think that the disagreement in interpretation here changes much of the characterization of important people moving forward. Therefore, it seems to me that this episode supports either of these two interpretations because later developments do not necessitate one interpretation over the other.
Where Do we Go From Here?
What do you think?
When, if ever, did you begin to mistrust the Big People?
What were your impressions of Butterbur, Hob, and Nob?