Beyond Bree – January 2017
I am very happy:
the theme for the new Beyond Bree 2017 Calendar will be
«Travel in Middle-earth: by horse, boat, wing and foot.»
For me, this one might be the best so far,
and quite probably the best ever:
you see, transportation is my very first hobby.
I started studying trains and vehicles of every description well before I could read.
So perhaps I should write a short article about travel in a little part of Middle-earth.
The starting point is Hobbiton, and the time is about 1419 S.R.
First thing we note: transportation is conspicuously absent.
Our Hobbit friends have no mechanized cars, and they do not really need them:
traveling is actively discouraged, and the farthest place they might visit is Bree.
Going beyond Bree… well, you are not supposed to want to do this.
Nowadays, we travel for business, trade, work, study, leisure…
Shire Hobbits visit family and friends:
«By no means all Hobbits were lettered, but those who were wrote
constantly to all their friends (and a selection of their relations)
who lived further off than an afternoon’s walk.»
Written letters sent to far places mean that
someone—a relay team, perhaps—must carry them by road.
And someone must mend these roads.
Entering other countries is safe enough until you are caught.
Everywhere, the locals are very suspicious about trespassers.
In Rohan the law about «normal» foreigners is harsh enough.
Then again, if you happen to be a foe, things go from bad to worse:
‘The scouts have come back at last,’ said an Orc close at hand.
‘Well, what did you discover?’ growled the voice of Uglúk.
‘Only a single horseman, and he made off westwards. All’s clear now.’
‘Now, I daresay. But how long? You fools!
You should have shot him. He’ll raise the alarm.
The cursed horsebreeders will hear of us by morning.
Now we’ll have to leg it double quick.’
The Bad Guys have no transportation, either.
Even if you have been sent out to catch Hobbits, and keep them alive at all costs,
an important mission indeed, horses are available only for Very Important Villains.
If you are a private soldier, you walk. It is better if you leg it double quick.
The mental frame for all this is not the Europe of the Middle Ages.
It is Sarehole about 1890… and the Somme, about 1916.
Masses of men and horses moved towards the front,
together with many waggons laden with supplies.
They used the existing roads,
and someone must mend these roads.
Vehicles were a rarity in the Shire:
Days passed and The Day drew nearer.
An odd-looking waggon laden with odd-looking packages rolled
into Hobbiton one evening and toiled up the Hill to Bag End…
The startled hobbits peered out of lamplit doors to gape at it.
It was driven by outlandish folk…
Gandalf’s Cart Crosses Bywater Bridge – New Line Cinema
Image found at
At the end of the second week in September a cart came in through Bywater
from the direction of the Brandywine Bridge in broad daylight.
An old man was driving it all alone…
And waggons came from Isengard
to carry away tobacco and other stuff…
Food, and what else?
Maybe wood to make bows, and parts for weapons:
Saruman had to get huge stocks of everything
before starting his wars.
This required many roads…
Someone must mend the roads.
And the Greenway must have inns,
with provision for men and horses.
The ‘Prancing Pony’ is just one halting point for travelers
coming from somewhere else and leaving next morning.
This inn has facilities for ponies,
so we may assume that those other inns have them also.
The Nazgûl ride black horses.
The logo of my site is the Chinese letter for «horse».
There are many horses with names in Middle-earth…
A question: is Shadowfax a magical horse?
And Hobbits and Dwarves ride ponies.
These little equids also carry burdens for you.
There must be market enough for ponies,
or no one would breed them.
They too get names:
Hey! now! Come hoy now! Wither do you wander?
Up, down, near or far, here, there or yonder?
Sharp-ears, Wise-nose, Swish-tail and Bumpkin,
White-socks my little lad, and old Fatty Lumpkin!
And Bill the Pony, Stybba…
They seem to be tame, even affectionate enough to make good pets.
The muster of Rohan has to include many carters and drivers.
The fighting host must travel
at the slow pace of the waggons laden with supplies,
using the old forgotten road to the Stonewain Valley:
‘Let Ghân-buri-Ghân finish!’ said the Wild Man.
‘More than one road he knows.
He will lead you by road where no pits are, no gorgûn walk,
only Wild Men and beasts.
Many paths were made when Stonehouse-folk were stronger.
They carved hills as hunters carve beast-flesh.
Wild Men think they ate stone for food.
They went through Drúadan to Rimmon with great wains.
They go no longer. Road is forgotten, but not by Wild Men.
Over hill and behind hill it lies still under grass and tree,
there behind Rimmon and down to Dîn,
and back at the end to Horse-men’s road.
Wild Men will show you that road…’
It is not, and never has been, a dedicated warpath.
The wains went to the quarries and carried the stones
to build Minas Anor and Osgiliath.
Again, someone must mend this road…
Most Hobbits dislike boats.
We see some Elvish canoes,
but we only find real ships at Minas Tirith:
«For Anduin, from the bend at the Harlond,
so flowed that from the City
men could look down it lengthwise for some leagues,
and the far-sighted could see any ships that approached.
And looking thither they cried in dismay;
for black against the glittering stream
they beheld a fleet borne up on the wind:
dromunds, and ships of great draught with many oars,
and with black sails bellying in the breeze.»
Now, Tolkien chose his words with great care.
A dromund is not just «any» ship.
Rather, it is a very specific type of warship.
A dromon or dromond was
«a large swift sailing vessel of the 12th to 15th centuries,
from Anglo-French dromund,
ultimately from Late Greek dromon, a light swift ship.»
Image found at
Arthur C. Clarke tells us this:
«And one crewman, who was a keen sailor,
had raised an interesting conjecture.
‘Where there’s a sea,’
Sergeant Ruby Barnes had predicted,
‘there must be docks and harbours – and ships.
You can learn everything about a culture by
studying the way it builds boats.’
Her colleagues thought this
a rather restricted point of view,
but at least it was a stimulating one.»
Rendezvous with Rama.
Well… Dromunds mean professional crews,
skilled sailors, many trained oarsmen…
And big shipyards, big enough
to make fishing boats, of course,
and transatlantic ships, maybe.
Flying and air travel
We had seen some flight by Eagle before,
but Eagles are so undependable…
No scheduled trips, no big loads,
widespread suspension of the laws of Physics…
They are a «deus ex machina» resource, and subsequently
the Professor—on the whole, an honest storyteller—uses them
The Nazgûl Flying Steeds are just a little better.
I contracted Dinomania at an early age,
so I can see them only as «real-life» Pterodactyls,
maybe like this
Image from the Whipsnade Zoo –
Even the Jurassic Park version
is not any good as a weapons platform.
They are useless for serious fighting,
like a sort of Learjet for Very Important Wraiths.
But they may distract the enemy with terrifying noises,
like the howling Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers.
Wisely, Tolkien chooses to leave Dragons out of this war.
They are a nightmare to handle.
The Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts looks
like a fair representation of the trouble they may give…
and Rowling’s beasts are nowhere near as dangerous
as Tolkien’s tamest ones…
Yet, we had seen a live Flying Dragon not very long ago.
Now, Dragonology is a full-fledged branch of Tolkienology.
If you are an uncouth barbarian,
a man suspended in mid-air by a huge kite
and shooting rockets at your head
may well look to you like a fire-breathing dragon.
A contraption like this would have
very great military worth
as a Psychological Warfare weapon…
far greater than the actual damage it can cause.
And the only instance ever of someone
using a Dragon as a beast of burden is Giles of Ham,
when he loaded Chrysophylax with his own spoils.
But this did not happen in Middle-earth,
where attempting to harness any of those Worms
would be highly unadvisable.
But we digress…
When I get to see the Calendar
I might try and write another short piece like this.
I am already doing some research
with the monumental Tolkien Thesaurus
by Richard Blackwelder.
Aulendil, Aspiring Warden of Halifirien
Juan Manuel Grijalvo