In the book, the inn at Bree was a very amiable place....
As they hesitated outside in the gloom, someone began singing a merry song inside, and many cheerful voices joined loudly in the chorus. They listened to this encouraging sound for a moment and then got off their posies. The song ended and there was a burst of laughter and clapping.
This was just the sort of atmosphere in which a Mr. Baggins could be lulled into a false sense of security so that, in need of a distraction, he might climb onto a table and give the assembly a song, even gracing them with an encore. Not so the film's Prancing Pony.
The film hobbits arrived just as tired and hungry as their book counterparts, but they arrived wet, cold, trudging up a filthy street in steady rain, not on a clear night on the backs of ponies. Once inside, gone was the cosy private room with a fire in the grate, Nob sailing in with platters and mugs to sate their hobbit appetites. In the film, Frodo and Sam hunkered over a bare board, eating and drinking plain, spare fare almost furtively, wary and tense.
Although I missed the jolly Bree of the book, this worked well for the film adaptation, I thought. Since everything between the Black Rider and the scene at Bree had been cut (the brief ferry escape the only intervening episode), there was no need to portray Bree as the cheery place in the book. In the book, Tolkien had established a rhythm which the films ignored, one which alternated a crisis on the road with a period of rest and restoration. In the book, after the unsettling incident of the Black Rider, the hobbits experienced a growing sense of dread. But they were given refuge and shown warm hospitality by Farmer Maggot. From there they travelled to the ferry in a state of fear. But all was well, it was only Merry, and the travellers relaxed in the [temporary] warmth and safety of Crickhollow. After being subjected to the terrors of the Old Forest and near-disaster with Old Man Willow, they enjoyed safe haven again, at the home of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. After the horror of the Barrow Downs, they recuperated at Bree (if only through their very satisfying dinner and afters), at a friendly, bustling inn in a friendly, bustling town. Later they were assailed on Weathertop and forced to fly in great peril, but a time of peace and recovery in Rivendell followed. There was disaster under the Misty Mountains, but they recovered again, in the guarded haven of LothLorien. In the stronghold of Henneth Annun, at the bidding of Faramir, Frodo and Sam enjoyed the last hospitality, the last night of safety they would experience until they woke up in the Houses of Healing, in Minas Tirith.
No wonder the chapters which follow are so harrowing and draining -- for Frodo and Sam and for the reader. Tolkien gives no more interludes of respite. Like the characters, the reader has to make do with mere snatches of refreshment. A trickle of water found in a ravine. A star peeking through Sauron's gloom. A faint light that illuminates the care-worn face of a beloved hobbit as he sleeps. A hand pressed in gratitude for a fearful rescue. That is all, and these moments have to do for leagues and leagues of toil and want and suffering.
The films didn't have time to establish that rhythm, and they didn't attempt it. The film characters went out of the frying pan and into the fire -- and into the fire -- and into the fire. Even the places of respite were havens no longer, or else the sense of haven was compromised, shot through with a sense of danger, all done (I think) to establish the power of the Ring. In the films, in Bree the Ring already was calling the wraiths and colouring Frodo's perceptions, making him paranoid. The viewer experienced Frodo's burgeoning sense of the presence of evil with him. In Rivendell, Aragorn angsted, Boromir brooded and lurked, Bilbo turned into a ghoul. In LothLorien, while the place was beautiful it vibrated with a sense of unwelcome and menace. Galadriel was magical, beautiful and imposing, but even before she went terrifyingly nuclear she seemed to radiate a sense of "danger." In Henneth Annun, there was no welcome, no dinner for the hobbits, no noble, cultured exchange between Faramir and Frodo, as one between the son of the Steward of Gondor and the Shire's version of a prince. The hobbits were prisoners, thrown about and threatened. Propped against a stone wall, they talked of desperate plans. Gollum was brutally beaten. No, there was no safe haven there.
I did not like all these changes, it is true, but I can see now how they hang together thematically. The films were pressed for time, so they jettisoned all the periods of respite Tolkien had provided for his heroes, sending them instead through one long ordeal, carrying them along from angst to angst, whether they would or no, as surely as a woman is carried off into labour to push out her child with cries of pain, but, hopefully, in the end, to cry with joy.
In the frames below, the hobbits have just entered the gloom of the Prancing Pony, tired and cold and wet. How odd they must have felt, as if revisiting their childhoods (since none of them had lived among the Big Folk), to stand before a counter higher than their noses, making inquiries to someone nearly twice their size. I thought they did scale wonderfully well in this scene. I really had a sense of the hobbits as little, even insignificant as the big, brutish Men shoved and sidled past.
Frodo, as usual, manages to look stunning, however tired and cold and wet.
~ Frodo enters the Prancing Pony with his companions, from the full-screen theatrical version of FotR:
Next Bree entry here.
Click HERE for table of Frodo and Elijah Wood Screencaps.