At the Sign of The Prancing Pony & Strider
It is a difficult task to order a definitive list of the best taverns and inns between Hobbiton and Rivendell. The great Green Dragon of Bywater has the vote of many Shirefolk, while one hears that the Golden Perch has the best beer in all of the Eastfarthing. Then there’s The Prancing Pony, of noted quality and diversity in lands as spare and rugged as Bree. Yet, I tip my hat to any merry old inn beneath an old grey hill that has drink so delicious as to intoxicate a celestial body.
It should be noted that the Man in the Moon clearly has a problem. Not only does he shirk his responsibilities and lack the capacity to set clear limits to his imbibing, but he also hangs about with a particular sort of crew: a tipsy fiddling cat, a dancing cow, a pair anthropomorphic pieces of tableware. This likely explains much, tough it is not clear what’s more ridiculous: the scandalous nature of such a tale, or how aligned such poetic verses be to the risk we Lenten pilgrims prepare to face.
An inn, after all, is a marvelous place, whether it be green or golden, prancing or merry. These warm and cozy spaces are little vignettes of life itself, full of song, laughter, conversation, plotting, and secrets. They are rest-stops for all sorts of folk, where both good and bad intermingle and still find some sort of harmony. In that, they bring out both the best and worst in people, the Striders and the swarthy southerners. When Black Riders are about, an inn is a comfortable and dangerous residence.
At an inn, we might discover valued guides and loyal friends. We might unearth lost correspondence and sage advice. We might by intemperance or curiosity put much at risk. We might in busy haste pass by everything with forgetful notice. We might amongst the shadows find exactly what for which we’ve been looking.
For an inn, by its nature, bears the dirt and dust of its passers-through: it looks foul. But within it hosts a deeper spirit of camaraderie and hope that might seem possible: it feels fair. All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. As with people, with places, with longings: not everything is at it seems. And, as Chesterton noted so well, at the end of every road is an inn, and “all roads point at last to an ultimate inn.” At a distance that inn may not appear to be well-suited to sooth our well-trodden feet and weary souls: and yet, who shall we meet, and what sights shall we see, and what stories shall we hear, and what songs shall we sing, and what toasts we shall raise!
In the end, the Man in the Moon has a problem: and it has to do with the ordering of inns, and the crownless again being king, and the tavern at the end of the world. It has to do with the preparation we make for Lent and the road we set off to take. The best of inns, the taverns we long to frequent, are not what they originally seem. If we do not stay awake while within their walls, we may, like the Man in the Moon, doze off while marvelous things happen all around us.