Episode 171 Summary

Tony Meade

Active Member

Melt all the butter in him:
  • The use of the name Butterbur as part of a joke softens the blow of Gandalf’s despair and anger in Buckland and hearkens back to his characterization in The Hobbit.
  • The name of the innkeeper was alternately Barnabas and then finally Barliman Butterbur.
  • Tolkien very briefly considered using the name Timothy Titus, which was a name from another, unfinished story. It’s significant that all the considered names are alliterative.
  • Tolkien may have avoided the name Timothy in order to remove the anachronism of names with biblical origins, though he’s able to manage this with more ambiguous names, like Sam and Tom.
Thrice worthy and beloved Barliman:
  • While Gandalf’s reaction of joy may seem out of place in light of the danger Frodo and the company are still in, even traveling with Strider, but he had hard evidence of Frodo’s capture.
  • Note: Gandalf’s use of the word “ass” is a reference to a donkey, not the curse word.
  • It certainly seems that Gandalf’s blessing over Butterbur’s beer is effective, based on what Barliman says at the end of the book, when Gandalf and the hobbits return to the inn.
  • The enchantment lasting seven years is in keeping with fairy traditions of lucky numbers, and also seems to be a spontaneous act of joy by Gandalf, rather than premeditated.
  • Note: There is a numerological significance to the seven years, going back to biblical references. This is a significant amount of time, but not out of measure with the good news alone.
  • The fact that Gandalf names a gold piece as the value doesn’t necessarily mean that he carries any money normally or at that time, but is blessing is meant to stand in for that monetary value.
  • This may be a unique instance in the story of a wizard’s blessing on material objects, though there are other instances of elvish blessings in the text as well.
  • Gandalf doesn’t use the word “blessing”, but rather “enchantment”, which raises the question of if Gandalf is physically altering the beer or only people’s perception of the beer.
  • Note: The word “enchantment” is very important in Tolkien, going back to Tolkien’s own theories of creativity in general. Frodo has an experience of elvish enchantment in the Hall of Fire, which seems to be the purest form of this kind of magic. The Latin root word of “enchantment” is associated with singing, which is important to creation in Tolkien’s cosmology.
  • This enchantment seems to be laid on Butterbur himself, and through him his trade is blessed.
  • Note: The word “incantation”, while related and from the same root, is usually associated with evil in Tolkien’s world. The primary example of this is the incantation written on the One Ring.
Taking up with Strider:
  • Barliman confesses what he perceives to be his failure to keep the hobbits from Strider, but it is a dramatic irony that Butterbur is the only person in the story who misunderstands this.
  • While Barliman claims to have done all that he could, but he was not very competent.
  • Recalling this conversation would be for the benefit of Aragorn and the hobbits amusement.
  • The fact that Barliman was not able to perceive Aragorn’s true nature shows the effectiveness of the Strider persona as a disguise, which also would conceal him from agents of the Enemy.
  • Butterbur does seem to understand that Strider is not a threat, as he doesn’t bar him from the inn, since he has never done anything bad in Bree, and appreciates his ability as a storyteller.
  • What Butterbur means by “wilful” is that they did not take is clearly good advice. This is a word that is usually associated with children, which shows something of his view of the hobbits.
  • By calling Butterbur a fool immediately after this, Gandalf is pointing out his own stubbornness.
  • There’s a condescending tone that is often taken my Men toward Hobbits due to their size, but there doesn’t also seem to be contempt of the hobbits, based on their arrangement in Bree.
  • Butterbur may make a distinction between Bree and the Shire, as revealed in his reluctant praise of the Shire’s pipe-weed as opposed to that in Bree, which reveals a kind of inferiority complex.
  • Frodo and company also did not act in a wise way in Bree, which would lead him to doubt them.
  • Frodo’s alarm at what Gandalf might have done reveals how much Butterbur did help them.
  • While Gandalf says he didn’t “bark” much, he did somewhat, and Butterbur’s fear may point to Gandalf uncloaking himself somewhat in his anger.
  • Barliman is clearly still feeling guilty about the letter when Gandalf shows up, so Gandalf’s change from fury to joy at the news about Strider would certainly be jarring.