Humans and hobbits are the chief inhabitants of the town of Bree, which is also a bustling stopover for travelers. Upon entering the town by nightfall, Frodo, Pippin, Merry, and Sam are uneasy about the gatekeeper’s questions concerning their identities and business. The gatekeeper does not notice the dark shadow that slips over the gate after he lets the hobbits through.
The hobbits have reached the presumed safety of Bree, but a possibly evil presence follows them into the town.
Frodo and his companions enter The Prancing Pony, where the innkeeper Barliman Butterbur settles them in cozy rooms. The appearance of hobbits from the Shire seems to remind Butterbur of something, but he cannot place it. After dinner, Merry rests in the rooms while Frodo, Sam, and Pippin venture into the common room for some company and news. They find a mixture of hobbits, humans, and dwarves drinking and eating food.
Butterbur tries to grasp at a memory that may be important in regard to his new guests, but he cannot remember it. This is later revealed to be a message from Gandalf—one that would have made the hobbits’ journey much easier had they heard it when it was delivered.
While the humans and dwarves mostly speak of troubling events occurring beyond Bree, the Bree hobbits warmly welcome the three Shire hobbits and are curious about their travels. Frodo is using the name Underhill, as Gandalf suggested, and invents a story that he is collecting information about hobbits beyond the Shire to possibly write a book. During conversation, Frodo becomes aware of a mysterious hooded stranger smoking a pipe at the edge of the room. Butterbur identifies the figure as a Ranger called Strider, and warns Frodo to steer clear of him.
Strider’s humble and mysterious appearance disguises goodwill and noble heritage, continuing the theme of heroism appearing in unlikely places. At first, however, Frodo believes he may be a threat to the hobbits, and clearly the townspeople like Butterbur are suspicious of him.
Strider waves Frodo over to join him, which the hobbit uneasily agrees to. The Ranger seems to guess that Frodo’s name is not Underhill, and warns him to keep his friends from giving away any secrets. Strider and Frodo become alarmed when they realize that Pippin is close to revealing Frodo’s and the Ring’s identities as the young hobbit tells a crowd about Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party.
Strider’s conversation does nothing to ease Frodo’s suspicions that the man is aligned with forces of evil. Indeed, Strider seems too invested in the hobbits’ background to be a mere onlooker at the inn.
Frodo steals the crowd’s attention with a few words of thanks for their hospitality, during he which he resists a strong and sudden urge to put on the Ring. His audience is in good cheer and demands a song from Frodo, who obliges with a tune that grows increasingly silly. The hobbit begins to leap around the tables in performance, but slips, and is horrified when he vanishes from sight by accidentally putting on the Ring. The crowd is amazed and then angry, moving away from Pippin and Sam in suspicion.
Frodo once again resists the Ring’s influence, but somehow the weapon slips onto his finger as he capers about on the tables. The Ring has some agency of its own, and as Gandalf said previously, it wants to be found and returned to Sauron.
Frodo crawls to the edge of the room and removes the Ring, feeling immensely foolish and uncertain as to how it suddenly ended up on his finger. Strider addresses Frodo by his real name of Baggins and exclaims “You have put your foot in it! Or should I say your finger?“ Although Frodo tries to play ignorant, Strider demands to talk with the hobbit in private. Frodo agrees and then steps forward to address the upset audience in the common room, but they do not believe him when he states he merely fell down and crawled away under the tables.
The Ring’s accidental use highlights a tension between free will and fate in the novel—was it chance or some greater power that caused Frodo’s disappearance from sight? Strider’s use of the name Baggins and his pointed comment about Frodo’s finger reveals the Ranger’s knowledge of Frodo and the Ring, but Frodo still cannot tell if he means them harm. The crowd at the inn does not believe Frodo’s story that he fell down out of sight, and now views the hobbits suspiciously as troublemakers.