7

I'll be the first to admit - it's been so long since I've read the books, I'm going off of the Peter Jackson interpretation in his films. But we see in the films that:

Aragorn, the mysterious Ranger, drags our intrepid group of four Hobbits off to his room. He warns them of what it is that really hunts them. He sets up - or it appears as has been set up - fake Hobbits made out of pillows. The Nazgul stab them, and when they realize they've merely stabbed pillows, they screech horribly!

However, we don't know (at least, not from the movies) that they make any more search of the rooms. When the Hobbits travel the next day, the certainly look cheerful as could be expected - they appear to be well rested!

My question is: why did the Black Riders spare so much of Bree? Why didn't they at least go through all the rooms? It seems doubtful that there was a fight that night. It also seems highly doubtful that Bree could've really defended itself against the Nazgul - not unless an angry mob with enough torches would have done the trick!

Why did the riders give up and leave Bree so easily?

  • 7
    "My hobbit is: why... " I think you got a little confused there :P – LepelLeLama Jan 19 '15 at 13:51
15

It's commonly assumed that it was the Nazgul who took part in the attack on the Prancing Pony, but there's actually no evidence in the books to support this assumption.

There is on the other hand plenty of evidence against it.

First of all, the attack of the Nazgul on Crickhollow took place on the same night, but most likely took place later that night. We know that the attack on Crickhollow took place quite close to dawn:

There was a faint stir in the leaves, and a cock crowed far away. The cold hour before dawn was passing. The figure by the door moved. In the dark without moon or stars a drawn blade gleamed, as if a chill light had been unsheathed. There was a blow, soft but heavy, and the door shuddered.

'Open, in the name of Mordor!' said a voice thin and menacing.

But yet Frodo's sleep was disturbed much earlier that night:

In the early night Frodo woke from deep sleep, suddenly, as if some sound or presence had disturbed him.

And in the morning Frodo wakes at almost the same time as the attack on Crickhollow:

He opened his eyes, and heard a cock crowing lustily in the inn-yard. Strider had drawn the curtains and pushed back the shutters with a clang. The first grey light of day was in the room, and a cold air was coming through the open window.

So from this it seems obvious that at this time the Nazgul did not know that the Ring had left the Shire.

Next, Strider explicitly states that the Nazgul will not attack the Inn:

'What will happen?' said Merry. 'Will they attack the inn?' 'No, I think not,' said Strider. 'They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people -not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us.'

And makes a prediction for what will happen later on that night:

'But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe, the gatekeeper too.'

Then we know from Unfinished Tales that Khamul (second-in-command of the Ringwraiths and probable leader of the attack on Crickhollow)...

...was the most ready of all the Nazgûl after the Black Captain himself, to perceive the presence of the Ring...

So it seems quite absurd that the other Nazgul (particularly if the Witch-king was with them) didn't detect that the Ring was not present in the Hobbits' original room in the Pony.

Finally, there is much work in History of Middle-earth 7 on the movements of the Nazgul, including the following passage (it should be noted here that Tolkien used letter codes to identify the Nazgul, so "DE" refers to two of them):

DE get in touch with Bill Ferney, and hear of news at the Inn. They fear Trotter, but get Bill Ferney and the Southerner to burgle the Inn and try and get more news, especially of the Ring.


So to answer your question: the attack on the inn wasn't carried out by the Nazgul; it was carried out by Bill Ferny and the Squint-eyed Southerner. At this stage the Nazgul didn't know where the Ring was, and the attack was for the purpose of gathering information.

  • 1
    Thanks for this! Having re-read the chapters, I'm convinced. I'd always assumed that Butterbur had kept a close watch on the room and that something supernatural must have prevented him from noticing the attackers. Now I read it again, Butterbur says he "heard" nothing, suggesting he listened out (probably from beneath the blankets of his bed, where he'd easily nod off) and the narrator even casts doubt on Butterbur's claim to have stayed up all night. It seems clear that Bill attacked the room while the Bree Nazgul rode to alert the others to the appearance of conspicuous hobbits at The Pony. – Cugel Jan 19 '15 at 22:30
1

Although they're not explicitly named at this point in the story, this statement of Strider indicates that they're almost certainly the Nazgul...

Fellowship of the Ring, Ch. 10 Strider:

‘Do you think the Black Riders have anything to do with it – with Gandalf’s absence, I mean?’ asked Frodo.
‘I do not know of anything else that could have hindered him, except the Enemy himself,’ said Strider. ‘But do not give up hope! Gandalf is greater than you Shire-folk know – as a rule you can only see his jokes and toys. But this business of ours will be his greatest task.’

At most there were six Black Riders that attacked the Prancing Pony in Bree. They didn't make an all-out attack because they weren't all together.

Fellowship of the Ring, Ch. 10 Strider:

‘I do,’ said Strider. ‘The Black Breath. The Riders must have left their horses outside, and passed back through the South-gate in secret. They will know all the news now, for they have visited Bill Ferny; and probably that Southerner was a spy as well. Something may happen in the night, before we leave Bree.’
‘What will happen?’ said Merry. ‘Will they attack the inn?’
‘No, I think not,’ said Strider. ‘They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people – not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us. But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe, the gatekeeper too. They had words with Harry at West-gate on Monday. I was watching them. He was white and shaking when they left him.’

While this is going on, back at the house in Crickhollow in Buckland this is happening...

Fellowship of the Ring, Ch. 11 A Knife in the Dark:

As they prepared for sleep in the inn at Bree, darkness lay on Buckland; a mist strayed in the dells and along the river-bank. The house at Crickhollow stood silent. Fatty Bolger opened the door cautiously and peered out. A feeling of fear had been growing on him all day, and he was unable to rest or go to bed: there was a brooding threat in the breathless night-air. As he stared out into the gloom, a black shadow moved under the trees; the gate seemed to open of its own accord and close again without a sound. Terror seized him. He shrank back, and for a moment he stood trembling in the hall. Then he shut and locked the door.
The night deepened. There came the soft sound of horses led with stealth along the lane. Outside the gate they stopped, and three black figures entered, like shades of night creeping across the ground. One went to the door, one to the corner of the house on either side; and there they stood, as still as the shadows of stones, while night went slowly on. The house and the quiet trees seemed to be waiting breathlessly. There was a faint stir in the leaves, and a cock crowed far away. The cold hour before dawn was passing. The figure by the door moved. In the dark without moon or stars a drawn blade gleamed, as if a chill light had been unsheathed. There was a blow, soft but heavy, and the door shuddered.
‘Open, in the name of Mordor!’ said a voice thin and menacing.

So the nine black rider had divided their forces, with at least three of them diverted to the house in Buckland while the rest moved on Bree.

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