Reading the letter, the hobbits are frightened to learn that Gandalf had sensed imminent danger and wanted them to leave Hobbiton by the end of July, two months before they actually left. The wizard writes that he would catch up if he could, but that they should make for Rivendell as quickly as possible. Finally, Gandalf writes that Strider—whose real name is Aragorn—is a friend who can help them. The wizard quotes a few lines of an ancient poem that is somehow related to Aragorn. Sam is still somewhat dubious, but Strider soon convinces Sam by saying that he already could easily have killed them and taken the Ring had he wanted to. The hobbits agree to take Strider on as their guide.
Merry finally returns, bursting with the news that he has seen a Black Rider while out on a walk. Strider immediately decides that the hobbits must not spend the night in their room. They arrange pillows under their blankets to make it look like they are sleeping in their beds—an attempt to deceive anyone who tries to kill them in the night. The hobbits roll out their blankets in the parlor and go to sleep as Strider keeps watch.
Strider dominates these two chapters, though his modest entrance belies his great importance to the novel. At first, his dark, shrouded appearance and knowledge of Frodo’s business inspire suspicion rather than confidence. However, we soon see that Strider’s downtrodden appearance is due to long years of hard travel, and we learn that his knowledge comes from Gandalf, his own keen ears, and his many years of fighting the Enemy. Moreover, the grandness of the poem that Gandalf ties to Strider’s name—Aragorn—hints at the Ranger’s greater destiny. In Strider, as in the hobbits, a humble outward appearance hides inner greatness. As we continue to see throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien prefers his heroes that way. Even Gandalf, Strider hints, is much greater than the mere clever old wizard the hobbits take him to be.
At this point, then, there are at least two surprisingly powerful figures aiding the hobbits. This fact is not only comforting, but it also suggests that Tolkien’s conception of a hero or great man includes the old-fashioned chivalric concern for those who are less powerful. Certainly, the fate of the Ring concerns all of Middle-earth, but Gandalf and Strider have been protecting the Shire since long before the identity of Bilbo’s ring was known for certain. For all their involvement in great deeds, neither Strider nor Gandalf loses sight of the fact that he fights the evil power of Sauron in part to protect seemingly inconsequential people such as the race of Hobbits, with their somewhat bumbling, ignorant ways.
In Bree, we continue to see the corrupting power of Sauron and his servants. Both the gatekeeper and Bill Ferny have, it seems, been enlisted by the Black Riders to keep an eye out for Frodo. The gatekeeper appears to obey because the Black Riders have threatened him, whereas Bill Ferny appears to have been bribed. Those who fight against Sauron must have the strength and will to resist both greed and fear, which together make for a powerful combination of incentives.
The general atmosphere of suspicion in these chapters introduces a recurrent motif in The Lord of the Rings as a whole. Trust is hard to come by in Tolkien’s world. It was not always this way in Middle-earth, however. Characters mention later in the novel that strangers used to be welcomed and trusted before the rise of Sauron’s threat and the dark times that his power has brought to Middle-earth. But now we see that even Hobbits from one region distrust those from another. Strider, who later emerges as one of the greatest and most noble heroes in the novel, is distrusted as a vagrant and a scoundrel at first. The notion of trust is made even more complicated by the lies that are necessary to fulfill the mission, including Frodo’s deception about possessing the Ring. When Frodo vanishes as he puts on the Ring, the others in the tavern become understandably suspicious of this guest who has powers greater than he has acknowledged.