It wasn't until I had read The Tale of Years
in the Appendices
that it really had sunk in just how narrowly Gandalf misses meeting up with the Hobbits and Strider on this day...just mere hours apart.
We have been introduced to the mysterious Strider, and it is evident from the onset that he is much more than he appears to be. Tolkien is quite detailed in his description if the events at Bree in the wee hours of the morning. Strider has finally been identified thanks to the recollection of Gandalf's letter by Butterbur, but it is Merry who breathlessly alerts them to their peril and the arrival of the Black Riders. Nob sets the diversion in the Hobbits' room and Strider settles against the door of the parlour for protection. It is only the next morning when they see how narrowly disaster has been diverted and must make quick alterations to their plans. All one can say is thank goodness for Strider!
I have always found Tolkien's description of the events at Crickhollow in the early hours of that same morning far more terrifying than the happenings at the Prancing Pony. There sat Fatty...all by himself...Fatty who was even afraid of the Old Forest is now being stalked by Black Riders in the dark hours of the night. Alone in a house far off the traveled lane and fear growing on him all day. Fatty it turns out is as resourceful as any Hobbit and the Black Riders ransack an empty Crickhollow only to find the Ring has gone.
The desperation of the Black Riders is mounting with their knowledge that the Ring is close. Tolkien is the master of suspense and already we have chewed our fingernails down to the first knuckle. Can anyone or anything stop these Black Riders from Mordor?
Artwork: "Narrow Bridge of Stone" by Alan Lee