Bree (Middle-earth)

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J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location
TypeGroup of Cross-road Hamlets
Group of Hamlets
RulerKings of Arnor
later Arthedain
later Reunited Kingdom
Notable locationsThe Prancing Pony, Bree-hill
LocationBree-land, in central Eriador
FounderMen of Twilight

Bree is a fictional village in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, east of the Shire. It was inspired by the Buckinghamshire village of Brill, which Tolkien visited regularly in his early years at Oxford.[1][2] Bree was also inspired by Tolkien's passion for linguistics, as 'breƷ' is the Celtic word for "hill".[3]


The name of the village of Brill, Buckinghamshire, contains both the Celtic and the Old English words for "hill".

The name Bree means "hill" according to Tolkien, referring to the fact that the village of Bree and the surrounding Bree-land were clustered around a large hill. The name of the village Brill, which Bree may have been inspired by, also means "hill". Brill is a modern contraction of BreƷ-hyll. Both syllables mean "hill" – the first is Celtic and the second Old English.[3]


In Tolkien's fiction, Bree was a very ancient settlement of men in Eriador, long established by the time of the Third Age of Middle-earth. After the collapse of the kingdom of Arthedain, Bree continued to thrive without any central authority or government for many centuries. As Bree lies at the meeting of two large roadways, the Great East Road and the (now disused) Greenway, it had for centuries been a centre of trade and a stopping place for travellers, though as Arnor in the north waned Bree's prosperity and size declined.

Tolkien wrote of two different origins for the people of Bree. One was that Bree had been founded and populated by men of the Edain who did not reach Beleriand in the First Age, remaining east of the mountains in Eriador. The other that they were stemming instead from the same stock as the Dunlendings.[4] These two origins are not completely contradictory as the Dunlendings were descended from the Haladin who were counted the second house of the Edain.[citation needed]

By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Bree was the westernmost settlement of men in Middle-earth, and there was no other settlement of men within a hundred leagues of the Shire.[5] A day's ride east along the road lay The Forsaken Inn, according to Aragorn, although nothing more is known of it. Directly west of Bree were the Barrow-downs and the Old Forest.

Bree was the chief village of Bree-land, the only place in Middle-earth where men and hobbits dwelt side by side. The hobbit community was older than that of the Shire, which was originally colonized from Bree.

There were four villages in Bree-land:

  • Bree was the largest settlement. Bree had a gate and gatekeepers to keep out troublemakers from the wild lands beyond.
  • Staddle was populated primarily by hobbits who made a living from light agriculture, including pipe-weed. Staddle was on the south-eastern side of Bree-hill, sitting south of Combe and Archet. It was the only village (other than Bree itself) visible from the Great East Road.
  • Combe was populated primarily by men, with some hobbits, all of whom made a living from agriculture. Combe was situated on the borders of the Chetwood and on the edge of Bree-hill, between the villages of Archet and Staddle.
  • Archet was the furthest north. Located in the Chetwood, it was populated primarily by men.

The Prancing Pony[edit]

Research by a branch of the Tolkien Society indicates that the Bell Inn in Moreton-in-Marsh was a source of inspiration for the Prancing Pony.[6]

The Prancing Pony was an inn in Bree. It served locals, and it was also familiar to travellers, for one of Eriador's major cross-roads was located just outside the village: the meeting of the Great East Road and the Greenway.

The inn was located in the centre of the village at the base of the Bree-hill, at the spot where the East Road made a bend. The building is described in The Lord of the Rings:

"Even from the outside the inn looked a pleasant house to familiar eyes. It had a front on the Road, and two wings running back on land partly cut out of the lower slopes of the hill, so that at the rear the second-floor windows were level with the ground. There was a wide arch leading to a courtyard between the two wings, and on the left under the arch there was a large doorway reached by a few broad steps. ... Above the arch there was a lamp, and beneath it swung a large signboard: a fat white pony reared up on its hind legs. Over the door was painted in white letters: THE PRANCING PONY by BARLIMAN BUTTERBUR."[7]

Inside there was a large common room, several private parlours, and a number of bedrooms, including a few rooms in the north wing designed for Hobbits, that were low to the ground and had round windows. The inn also had stables.

The Prancing Pony was a meeting place for both Bree-folk and travellers, and was frequented by Men, Hobbits and Dwarves. Some of the Bucklanders from the Shire are known to have travelled to the inn occasionally. The art of smoking pipe-weed was said to have begun in Bree and from The Prancing Pony it spread among the races of Middle-earth. The inn was also noted for its fine beer, enchanted at an occasion by Gandalf.[8] Tom Bombadil knew the inn well, but presumably by repute only (it lay outside his own little realm which he never left).

Barliman Butterbur[edit]

Butterbur was a fat, bald Man with a bad memory. His family had kept the inn "from time beyond record".[9] He had two employees: Nob, a hobbit servant, and Bob, who worked in the stables and whose race is not specified.[10]

As with other Men of Bree, Butterbur's surname is taken from a plant—the herbaceous perennial Petasites hybridus. Tolkien described the butterbur as "a fleshy plant with a heavy flower-head on a thick stalk, and very large leaves." He evidently chose this name as appropriate to a fat man; he suggested that translators use the name of some plant with "butter" in the name if possible, but in any event "a fat thick plant".[11]


Two important events leading up to the War of the Ring took place at The Prancing Pony. The first was "a chance-meeting" of Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield; this meeting eventually led to the destruction of Smaug and far lighter casualties during the war in the northern theatre.[12] The second event occurred during the journey of Frodo Baggins to Rivendell, when he and his companions stayed at The Prancing Pony for a night. After singing The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late, Frodo accidentally put the One Ring on and became invisible, which led to an attack on the inn by the Black Riders. Aragorn saved him and led the party away. Butterbur delivered a letter from Gandalf which he had forgotten to deliver months earlier.

Business at The Prancing Pony declined during the war because of an influx of rough Men from the South who terrorized Bree and the surrounding countryside. However, when Gandalf stopped with the Hobbits at the inn on their way home (28th 'October', he prophesied that "better days" were coming as the Kingdom was restored and "some fair folk" would be staying at The Prancing Pony.[13]

In adaptations[edit]

In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and his companions arrive at Bree almost immediately after they leave the Shire, giving the impression that less time separates the two events than is described by Tolkien. The hobbits only briefly stay in the common room, without Frodo singing, after which Frodo is taken away by Aragorn. Later Jackson shows the Ringwraiths attempting to kill the hobbits in their room.

Butterbur appears in both Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (1978) and Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), but in both adaptations most of his scenes are cut. Alan Tilvern voiced Butterbur (credited as "Innkeeper") in the animated film, while David Weatherley played him in Jackson's epic. A character credited as Butterbur, Sr appears briefly during the prologue of Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, portrayed by Richard Whiteside. James Grout played Butterbur in BBC Radio's 1981 serialization of The Lord of the Rings. In the 1993 television miniseries Hobitit by Finnish broadcaster Yle, Butterbur was portrayed by Mikko Kivinen.

Bree, and all of Bree-land, is featured prominently in the PC game The Lord of the Rings Online, which allows the player to explore the town.


  1. ^ "Bree ... [was] based on Brilll ... a place which he knew well": Christopher Tolkien (1988), The Return of the Shadow (being vol.VI of The History of Middle-earth), ch.VII, p.131, note 6, ISBN 0-04-440162-0
  2. ^ Tom Shippey, Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy Archived 2007-10-14 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b Mills, A. D. (1993). Brill. A Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0192831313.
  4. ^ "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony" in The Fellowship of the Ring and Appendix F in The Return of the King.
  5. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring, "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony", p. 161.
  6. ^ "PDF: "The Prancing Pony by Barliman Butterbur"" (PDF). ADCBooks. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  7. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring, "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony".
  8. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond".
  9. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue: "Concerning Pipe-weed".
  10. ^ "At the Sign of The Prancing Pony",The Fellowship of the Ring.
  11. ^ "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings," in A Tolkien Compass, Jared Lobdell, ed., Chicago, Open Court Press 1975)
  12. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "The Quest of Erebor", ISBN 0-395-29917-9
  13. ^ The Return of the King, "Homeward Bound".

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