|J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location|
|Type||Group of Cross-road Hamlets
Group of Hamlets
later Reunited Kingdom
|Founder||Men of Twilight|
Bree is a fictional village in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, east of the Shire and south of Fornost Erain. It was inspired by the Buckinghamshire village of Brill, which Tolkien visited regularly in his early years at Oxford. (Supposedly Tolkien also lived in Brill for a short while). Bree was also inspired by Tolkien's passion for linguistic puns, as 'bre' is often a general Celtic word for "hill".
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. These two origins are not completely contradictory as the Dunlendings were descended from the Haladin who were counted the second house of the Edain.
By the time of the War of the Ring 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. A day's ride east along the road lay The Forsaken Inn, according to Aragorn, although nothing more is known of it.
Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield met by coincidence in Bree, setting in motion the events recounted in The Hobbit. Both were interested in the dragon Smaug at the Lonely Mountain. Together they planned the Quest of Erebor, which resulted in the death of Smaug and the finding of the One Ring by Bilbo Baggins.
Directly west of Bree were the Barrow-downs and the Old Forest. Bree was the chief village of Bree-land, a small wooded region near the intersection of the main north-south and east-west routes through Eriador. Bree-land was 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. In Tolkien's books, it was mostly populated by men, but hobbit servants worked at the Prancing Pony Inn and special hobbit-sized rooms were available there; there were also some hobbit homes on the hill. Bree lay at the junction of the Great East Road and the Greenway (a path leading south), and had a small amount of commercial traffic as a consequence. Bree had a gate and gatekeepers to keep out troublemakers from the wild lands beyond. On rare occasions, adventurous Brandybucks and Tooks from the Shire would venture as far east as Bree.
- 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 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 Bre-hyll. Both syllables of Bre-hyll mean "hill" – the first is Celtic and the second Anglo-Saxon.
In The Lord of the Rings
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins met Strider (Aragorn) at the largest and most popular inn in Bree, The Prancing Pony, owned by Barliman Butterbur. The hobbits also returned to Bree in The Return of the King on their way home. The meeting of Gandalf and Thorin is described in "The Quest of Erebor" in Unfinished Tales.
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. Furthermore, Jackson shows the Ringwraiths attempting to kill the hobbits in their room. Also, Gandalf later said that the Riders threw down the gates of the town and rode through it like a fierce wind and that all the Bree folk were left cowering and expecting the end of the world.
Bree, and all of Bree-land, is featured prominently in the PC game Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, which allows the player to explore the town.
- "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
- Tom Shippey, Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy
- "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony" in The Fellowship of the Ring and Appendix F in The Return of the King.
- The Fellowship of the Ring, "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony", p. 161.
- Brill Village Website "Our name means 'hill'"