The Geography of LOTRO: Part 2 Bree and Bree-land
In the second part of our look at the geography of Middle Earth (part 1 is here), we shall be focusing of the town of Bree. It has a pivotal role in the events of the book and subsequently play a similar part Standing Stone Games Lord of the Rings Online. Before we start, let us remind ourselves exactly what Tolkien writes when introducing Bree to the reader. The following quote is the opening paragraph of chapter nine; At the sign of the Prancing Pony from The Fellowship of the Ring.
"Bree was the chief village of the Bree-land, a small inhabited region, like an island in the empty lands round about. Besides Bree itself, there was Staddle on the other side of the hill, Combe in the deep valley a little further eastward and Archet on the edge of the Chetwood. Lying round Bree-hill and the villages was a small country of fields and tamed woodland only a few miles broad."
This is a very clear description and to the developers credit they have interpreted this rather literally in the game. Focusing first on the town of Bree itself, Turbine have constructed a settlement that broadly conforms to Tolkien’s details. As you enter through the West-gate and follow the path of "The East Road" you will see the Hobbit holes and small holdings on the slopes of the hill. The homes of men are mainly to the East. "The Prancing Pony" inn is located at the top of the road, abutting to Bree hill itself. The building consists of two wings, as in the source text, though only one is accessible.
Where the game differs is in scale. Bree in LOTRO has been expanded from a simple village to a more substantial centre of commerce. This adaptation allows them to encompass all the crafting and training halls, along with the vendors and sundry NPCs. The only embellishment I personally feel a little excessive, is the town hall itself. It seems a little too ambitious for such a small and insular community. A similar view could be taken on several of the fountains and statues that adorn the various squares. The 2012 revamp has certainly made Bree more populous. Again, perhaps to the detriment of the lore. However, the hedge and dike that surround Bree are very much in accordance with the books and seem authentic.
Moving immediately outside of Bree into Bree-Land itself, we find both Combe and Staddle in the right locations. These being the respective local enclaves of men and hobbits. As specific details are lacking , Turbines visualisations are perfectly acceptable and not in any way excessive. The village of Archet however, has been moved considerably further North. This is to accommodate the fact that the area is a race specific starter area in the game and has been isolated to suit the mechanics of the game. Such local features within the Archet area such as "Bronwe's Folly", "Sprigley's Farm" and "Blackwold Roost" are non-canonical. However none of these are in any way contrary to prevailing regional design.
The above map and the one immediately below have been created using the original books and the subsequent histories of Middle Earth as a guide. They both depict a more Spartan and less populous village of Bree and a far more expansive Chetwood that extends in to the North and NorthEast. The Midgewater marshes are such a distance away as to not even be included on both maps. As are both Andrath and the South Downs. These points highlight the fact that Bree was the last major settlement East of the Blue Mountains before entering the Lonelands. This was a region that was unsettled and thus to a degree barren.
Turbines original condensing of Middle Earth was and remains a necessary factor in creating a viable environment for collective gameplay. However, on occasions, although LOTRO excels at capturing the spirit of Tolkien’s world, there are inevitable trade-offs. The loss of scale particularly in this region is a little disappointing and for those who may not be familiar with the length of original journey, may be somewhat perplexing. For those who wish for more technically accurate cartography, I would recommend the following books. Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey and The Atlas of Middle Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad. Both depict the routes taken by the fellowship and contain exacting details relating to dates and even the phases of the moon and stars.