The Quest for Erebor

The Hobbit: Prologue

The Quest Begins

“It was in the days of Beregond that the War of the Dwarves and Orcs was fought in the Misty Mountain , of which only rumour came south, until the Orcs fleeing from Nanduhirion attempted to cross Rohan and establish themselves in the White Mountains. There was fighting for many years in the dales before that danger was ended.

When Belecthor II, the twenty-first Steward, died, the White Tree died also in Minas Tirith; but it was left standing “until the King returns”, for no seedling could be found.”

From the History of the Stewards of Gondor[1]


Not long after most of Durin’s Folk abandoned the Grey Mountains. Grór, Dáin’s son, went away with many followers to the Iron Hills; but Thrór, Dáin’s heir, with Borin his father’s brother and the remainder of the people returned to Erebor. To the Great Hall of Thráin, Thrór brought back the Arkenstone, and he and his folk prospered and became rich, and they had the friendship of all Men that dwelt near. For they made not only things of wonder and beauty but weapons and armour of great worth; and there was great traffic of ore between them and their kin in the Iron Hills. Thus the Northmen who lived between Celduin (River Running) and Carnen (Redwater) became strong and drove back all enemies from the East; and the Dwarves lived in plenty, and there was feasting and song in the Halls of Erebor.

So the rumour of the wealth of Erebor spread abroad and reached the ears of the dragons, and at last Smaug the Golden, greatest of the dragons of his day, arose and without warning came against King Thrór and descended on the Mountain in flames. It was not long before all that realm was destroyed, and the town of Dale near by was ruined and deserted; but Smaug entered into the Great Hall and lay there upon a bed of gold.

From the sack and the burning many of Thrór’s kin escaped; and last of all from the halls by a secret door came Thrór himself and his son Thráin II. They went away south with their family  into long and homeless wandering. With them went also a small company of their kinsmen and faithful followers.

Years afterwards Thrór, now old, poor, and desperate, gave to his son Thráin the one great treasure he still possessed, the last of the Seven Rings, and then he went away with one old companion only, called Nár. Of the Ring he said to Thráin at their parting:

“This may prove the foundation of new fortune for you yet, though that seems unlikely. But it needs gold to breed gold.”

“Surely you do not think of returning to Erebor?” said Thráin.

“Not at my age,” said Thrór. “Our vengeance on Smaug I bequeath to you and your sons. But I am tired of poverty and the scorn of Men. I go to see what I can find.” He did not say where.

He was a little crazed perhaps with age and misfortune and long brooding on the splendour of Moria in his forefathers” days; or the Ring, it may be, was turning to evil now that its master was awake, driving him to folly and destruction. From Dunland, where he was then dwelling, he went north with Nár, and they crossed the Redhorn Pass and came down into Azanulbizar.

When Thrór came to Moria the Gate was open. Nár begged him to beware, but he took no heed of him, and walked proudly in as an heir that returns. But he did not come back. Nár stayed near by for many days in hiding. One day he heard a loud shout and the blare of a horn, and a body was flung out on the steps. Fearing that it was Thrór, he began to creep near, but there came a voice from within the gate:

“Come on, beardling! We can see you. But there is no need to be afraid today. We need you as a messenger.”

Then Nár came up, and found that it was indeed the body of Thrór, but the head was severed and lay face downwards. As he knelt there, he heard orc-laughter in the shadows, and the voice said:

“If beggars will not wait at the door, but sneak in to try thieving, that is what we do to them. If any of your people poke their foul beards in here again, they will fare the same. Go and tell them so! But if his family wish to know who is now king here, the name is written on his face. I wrote it! I killed him! I am the master! “

Then Nár turned the head and saw branded on the brow in Dwarf-runes so that he could read it the name AZOG. That name was branded in his heart and in the hearts of all the Dwarves afterwards. Nár stooped to take the head, but the voice of Azog  said:

“Drop it! Be off! Here’s your fee, beggar-beard.” A small bag struck him. It held a few coins of little worth.

Weeping, Nár fled down the Silverlode; but he looked back once and saw that Orcs had come from the gate and were hacking up the body and flinging the pieces to the black crows.

Such was the tale that Nár brought back to Thráin; and when he had wept and torn his beard he fell silent. Seven days he sat and said no word. Then he stood up and said: “This cannot be borne!” That was the beginning of the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs, which was long and deadly, and fought for the most part in deep places beneath the earth.

Thráin at once sent messengers bearing the tale, north, east, and west; but it was three years before the Dwarves had mustered their strength. Durin’s Folk gathered all their host, and they were joined by great forces sent from the Houses of other Fathers; for this dishonour to the heir of the Eldest of their race filled them with wrath. When all was ready they assailed and sacked one by one all the strongholds of the Orcs that they could from Gundabad to the Gladden. Both sides were pitiless, and there was death and cruel deeds by dark and by light. But the Dwarves had the victory through their strength, and their matchless weapons, and the fire of their anger, as they hunted for Azog in every den under mountain.

At last all the Orcs that fled before them were gathered in Moria, and the Dwarf-host in pursuit came to Azanulbizar. That was a great vale that lay between the arms of the mountains about the lake of Kheled-zâram and had been of old part of the kingdom of Khazad-dûm. When the Dwarves saw the gate of their ancient mansions upon the hill-side they sent up a great shout like thunder in the valley. But a great host of foes was arrayed on the slopes above them, and out of the gates poured a multitude of Orcs that had been held back by Azog for the last need.

At first fortune was against the Dwarves; for it was a dark day of winter without sun, and the Orcs did not waver, and they outnumbered their enemies, and had the higher ground. So began the Battle of Azanulbizar (or Nanduhirion in the Elvish tongue), at the memory of which the Orcs still shudder and the Dwarves weep. The first assault of the vanguard led by Thráin was thrown back with loss, and Thráin was driven into a wood of great trees that then still grew not far from Kheled-zâram. There Frerin his son fell, and Fundin his kinsman, and many others, and both Thráin and Thorin were wounded.  Elsewhere the battle swayed to and fro with great slaughter, until at last the people of the Iron Hills turned the day. Coming late and fresh to the field the mailed warriors of Náin, Grór’s son, drove through the Orcs to the very threshold of Moria, crying “Azog! Azog! “ as they hewed down with their mattocks all who stood in their way.

Then Náin stood before the Gate and cried with a great voice: “Azog! If you are in come out! Or is the play in the valley too rough?”

Thereupon Azog came forth, and he was a great Orc with a huge iron-clad head, and yet agile and strong. With him came many like him, the fighters of his guard, and as they engaged Náin’s company he turned to Náin, and said:

“What? Yet another beggar at my doors? Must I brand you too?” With that he rushed at Náin and they fought. But Náin was half blind with rage, and also very weary with battle, whereas Azog was fresh and fell and full of guile. Soon Náin made a great stroke with all his strength that remained, but Azog darted aside and kicked Náin’s leg, so that the mattock splintered on the stone where he had stood, but Náin stumbled forward. Then Azog with a swift swing hewed his neck. His mail-collar withstood the edge, but so heavy was the blow that Náin’s neck was broken and he fell.

Then Azog laughed, and he lifted up his head to let forth a great yell of triumph; but the cry died in his throat. For he saw that all his host in the valley was in a rout, and the Dwarves went this way and that slaying as they would, and those that could escape from them were flying south, shrieking as they ran. And hard by all the soldiers of his guard lay dead. He turned and fled back towards the Gate.

Up the steps after him leaped a Dwarf with a red axe. It was Dáin Ironfoot, Náin’s son. Right before the doors he caught Azog, and there he slew him, and hewed off his head. That was held a great feat, for Dáin was then only a stripling in the reckoning of the Dwarves. But long life and many battles lay before him, until old but unbowed he fell at last in the War of the Ring. Yet hardy and full of wrath as he was, it is said that when he came down from the Gate he looked grey in the face, as one who has felt great fear.

When at last the battle was won the Dwarves that were left gathered in Azanulbizar. They took the head of Azog and thrust into its mouth the purse of small money, and then they set it on a stake. But no feast nor song was there that night; for their dead were beyond the count of grief. Barely half of their number, it is said, could still stand or had hope of healing.

None the less in the morning Thráin stood before them. He had one eye blinded beyond cure, and he was halt with a leg-wound; but he said: “Good! We have the victory. Khazad-dûm is ours! “

But they answered: “Durin’s Heir you may be, but even with one eye you should see clearer. We fought this war for vengeance, and vengeance we have taken. But it is not sweet. If this is victory, then our hands are too small to hold it.”

And those who were not of Durin’s Folk said also: “Khazad-dûm was not our Fathers” house. What is it to us, unless a hope of treasure? But now, if we must go without the rewards and the weregilds that are owed to us, the sooner we return to our own lands the better pleased we shall be.”

Then Thráin turned to Dáin, and said: “But surely my own kin will not desert me?” “No,” said Dáin. “You are the father of our Folk, and we have bled for you, and will again. But we will not enter Khazad-dûm. You will not enter Khazad-dûm. Only I have looked through the shadow of the Gate. Beyond the shadow it waits for you still: Durin’s Bane. The world must change and some other power than ours must come before Durin’s Folk walk again in Moria.”

So it was that after Azanulbizar the Dwarves dispersed again. But first with great labour they stripped all their dead, so that Orcs should not come and win there a store of weapons and mail. It is said that every Dwarf that went from that battlefield was bowed under a heavy burden. Then they built many pyres and burned all the bodies of their kin. There was a great felling of trees in the valley, which remained bare ever after, and the reek of the burning was seen in Lórien.

When the dreadful fires were in ashes the allies went away to their own countries, and Dáin Ironfoot led his father’s people back to the Iron Hills. Then standing by the great stake, Thráin said to Thorin Oakenshield: “Some would think this head dearly bought! At least we have given our kingdom for it. Will you come with me back to the anvil? Or will you beg your bread at proud doors?”

“To the anvil,” answered Thorin. “The hammer will at least keep the arms strong, until they can wield sharper tools again.”

So Thráin and Thorin with what remained of their following (among whom were Balin and Glóin) returned to Dunland, and soon afterwards they removed and wandered in Eriador, until at last they made a home in exile in the east of the Ered Luin beyond the Lune. Of iron were most of the things that they forged in those days, but they prospered after a fashion, and their numbers slowly increased.  But, as Thrór had said, the Ring needed gold to breed gold, and of that or any other precious metal they had little or none.[2]


Of this Ring something may be said here. It was believed by the Dwarves of Durin’s Folk to be the first of the Seven that was forged; and they say that it was given to the King of Khazad-dûm, Durin III, by the Elven-smiths themselves and not by Sauron, though doubtless his evil power was on it, since he had aided in the forging of all the Seven. But the possessors of the Ring did not display it or speak of it, and they seldom surrendered it until near death, so that others did not know for certain where it was bestowed. Some thought that it had remained in Khazad-dûm, in the secret tombs of the kings, if they had not been discovered and plundered; but among the kindred of Durin’s Heir it was believed (wrongly) that Thrór had worn it when he rashly returned there. What then had become of it they did not know. It was not found on the body of Azog.

None the less it may well be, as the Dwarves now believe, that Sauron by his arts had discovered who had this Ring, the last to remain free, and that the singular misfortunes of the heirs of Durin were largely due to his malice. For the Dwarves had proved untameable by this means. The only power over them that the Rings wielded was to inflame their hearts with a greed of gold and precious things, so that if they lacked them all other good things seemed profitless, and they were filled with wrath and desire for vengeance on all who deprived them. But they were made from their beginning of a kind to resist most steadfastly any domination. Though they could be slain or broken, they could not be reduced to shadows enslaved to another will; and for the same reason their lives were not affected by any Ring, to live either longer or shorter because of it. All the more did Sauron hate the possessors and desire to dispossess them.

It was therefore perhaps partly by the malice of the Ring that Thráin after same years became restless and discontented. The lust for gold was ever in his mind. At last, when he could endure it no longer, he turned his thoughts to Erebor, and resolved to go back there. He said nothing to Thorin of what was in his heart; but with Balin and Dwalin and a few others, he arose and said farewell and departed.

Little is known of what happened to him afterwards. It would now seem that as soon as he was abroad with few companions he was hunted by the emissaries of Sauron. Wolves pursued him, Orcs waylaid him, evil birds shadowed his path, and the more he strove to go north the more misfortunes opposed him. There came a dark night when he and his companions were wandering in the land beyond Anduin, and they were driven by a black rain to take shelter under the eaves of Mirkwood. In the morning he was gone from the camp, and his companions called him in vain. They searched for him many days, until at last giving up hope they departed and came at length back to Thorin. Only long after was it learned that Thráin had been taken alive and brought to the pits of Dol Guldur. There he was tormented and the Ring taken from him, and then at last he died.[3]


It was nine years after Thrain had left his people that Gandalf found him, and he had then been in the pits of Dol Guldur for five years at least. Throughout his imprisonment, he had kept Thrain’s map and key hidden through all his torments, for the Dark Power had desired nothing from him except the Ring only, and when he had taken that he troubled no further, but just flung the broken prisoner into the pits to rave until he died. “A small oversight; but it proved fatal.” Gandalf later related. “Small oversights often do.”[4]


Now the Shadow grew ever greater, and the hearts of Elrond and Mithrandir darkened. Therefore on a time Mithrandir at great peril went again to Dol Guldur and the pits of the Sorcerer, and he discovered the truth of his fears, and escaped. And returning to Elrond he said:

“True, alas, is our guess. This is not one of the Úlairi, as many have long supposed. It is Sauron himself who has taken shape again and now grows apace; and he is gathering again all the Rings to his hand; and he seeks ever for news of the One, and of the Heirs of Isildur, if they live still on earth.”

And Elrond answered: “In the hour that Isildur took the Ring and would not surrender it, this doom was wrought, that Sauron should return.”

“Yet the One was lost,” said Mithrandir, “and while it still lies hid, we can master the Enemy, if we gather our strength and tarry not too long.”

Then the White Council was summoned; and Mithrandir urged them to swift deeds, but Curunír spoke against him, and counselled them to wait yet and to watch.

“For I believe not,” said he, “that the One will ever be found again in Middle-earth. Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed.”

Therefore naught was done at that time, though Elrond’s heart misgave him, and he said to Mithrandir:

“Nonetheless I forbode that the One will yet be found, and then war will arise again, and in that war this Age will be ended. Indeed in a second darkness it will end, unless some strange chance deliver us that my eyes cannot see.”

“Many are the strange chances of fee world,” said Mithrandir, “and help oft shall come from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter.”

Thus the Wise were troubled, but none as yet perceived that Curunír had turned to dark thoughts and was already a traitor in heart: for he desired that he and no other should find the Great Ring, so that he might wield it himself and order all the world to his will Too long he had studied the ways of. Sauron in hope to defeat him, and now he envied him as a rival rather than hated his works. And he deemed that the Ring, which was Sauron’s, would seek for its master as he became manifest once more; but if he were driven out again, then it would lie hid. Therefore he was willing to play with peril and let Sauron be for a time, hoping by his craft to forestall both his friends and the Enemy, when the Ring should appear.

He set a watch upon the Gladden Fields; but soon he discovered that the servants of Dol Guldur were searching all the ways of the River in that region. Then he perceived that Sauron also had learned of the manner of Isildur’s end, and he grew afraid and withdrew to Isengard and fortified it; and ever he probed deeper into the lore of the Rings of Power and the art of their forging. But he spoke of none of this to the Council, hoping still that he might be the first to hear news of the Ring. He gathered a great host of spies, and many of these were birds; for Radagast lent him his aid, divining naught of his treachery, and deeming that this was but part of the watch upon the Enemy.[5]

Now because of his dislike and fear, in the later days Saruman avoided Gandalf, and they seldom met, except at the assemblies of the White Council. The Council met in Rivendell, and Gandalf sat apart, silent, but smoking prodigiously (a thing he had never done before on such an occasion), while Saruman spoke against him, and urged that contrary to Gandalf’s advice Dol Guldur should not yet be molested. Both the silence and the smoke seemed greatly to annoy Saruman, and before the Council dispersed be said to Gandalf: "When weighty matters are in debate, Mithrandir, I wonder a little that you should play with your toys of fire and smoke, while others are in earnest speech."

But Gandalf laughed, and replied: "You would not wonder if you used this herb yourself. Yon might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway, it gives patience, to listen to error without anger. But it is not one of my toys. It is an art of the Little People away in the West: merry and worthy folk, though not of much account, perhaps, in your high policies."

Saruman was little appeased by this answer (for he hated mockery, however gentle), and he said then coldly: "You jest, Lord Mithrandir, as is your way. I know well enough that you have become a curious explorer of the small: weeds, wild things and childish folk. Your time is your own to spend, if you have nothing worthier to do; and your friends you may make as you please. But to me the days are too dark for wanderers” tales, and I have no time for the simples of peasants."

Gandalf did not laugh again; and he did not answer, but looking keenly at Saruman he drew on his pipe and sent out a great ring of smoke with many smaller rings that followed it. Then he put up his hand, as if to grasp them, and they vanished. With that he got up and left Saruman without another word; but Saruman stood for some time silent, and his face was dark with doubt and displeasure.

Saruman was suspicious, doubting whether he read rightly the purport of Gandalf’s gesture with the rings of smoke (above all whether it showed any connexion between the Halflings and the great matter of the Rings of Power, unlikely though that might seem); and doubting that one so great could concern himself with such a people as the Halflings for their own sake merely.[6]

Saruman soon became jealous of Gandalf, and this rivalry turned at last to a hatred, the deeper for being concealed, and the more bitter in that Saruman knew in his heart that the Grey Wanderer had the greater strength, and the greater influence upon the dwellers in Middle-earth, even though he hid his power and desired neither fear nor reverence. Saruman did not revere him, but he grew to fear him, being ever uncertain how much Gandalf perceived of his inner mind, troubled more by his silences than by his words. So it was that openly he treated Gandalf with less respect than did others of the Wise, and was ever ready to gainsay him or to make little of his counsels; while secretly he noted and pondered all that he said, setting a watch, so far as he was able, upon all his movements.

It was in this way that Saruman came to give thought to the Halflings and the Shire, which otherwise he would have deemed beneath his notice. He had at first no thought that the interest of his rival in this people had any connexion with the great concerns of the Council, least of all with the Rings of Power, For indeed in the beginning it had no such connexion, and was due only to Gandalf’s love for the Little People, unless his heart had some deep premonition beyond his waking thought. For many years he visited the Shire openly, and would speak of its people to any who would listen; and Saruman would smile, as at the idle tales of an old land-rover, but he took heed nonetheless.

Seeing then that Gandalf thought the Shire worth visiting, Saruman himself visited it, but disguised and in the utmost secrecy, until he had explored and noted all its ways and lands, and thought then he had learned all that there was to know of it. And even when it seemed to him no longer wise nor profitable to go thither, he still had spies and servants that went in or kept an eye upon its borders. For he was still suspicious. He was himself so far fallen that he believed all others of the Council had each their deep and far-reaching policies for their own enhancement, to which all that they did must in some way refer. So when long after he learned something of the finding of Gollum’s Ring by the Halfling, he could believe only that Gandalf .had known of this all the time; and this was his greatest grievance, since all that concerned the Rings he deemed his especial province. That Gandalf’s mistrust of him was merited and just in no way lessened his anger.

Yet in truth Saruman’s spying and great secrecy had not in the beginning any evil purpose, but was no more than a folly born of pride. Small matters, unworthy it would seem to be reported, may yet prove of great moment ere the end. Now truth to tell, observing Gandalf’s love of the herb that he called "pipe-weed" (for which, he said, if for nothing else, the Little People should be honoured), Saruman had affected to scoff at it, but in private he made trial of it, and soon began to use it; and for tins reason the Shire remained important to him. Yet he dreaded lest this should be discovered, and his own mockery turned against him, so that he would be laughed at for imitating Gandalf, and scorned for doing so by stealth. This then was the reason for his great secrecy in all his dealings with the Shire even from the first before any shadow of doubt had fallen upon it, and it was little guarded, free for those who wished to enter. For this reason also Saruman ceased to go thither in person; for it came to his knowledge that he had not been all unobserved by the keen-eyed Halflings, and some, seeing the figure as it were of an old man clad in grey or russet stealing through the woods or passing through the dusk, had mistaken him for Gandalf.

After that Saruman went no more to the Shire, fearing that such tales might spread and come maybe to the ears of Gandalf. But Gandalf knew of these visits, and guessed their object, and he laughed, thinking this the most harmless of Saruman’s secrets; but he said nothing to others, for it was never his wish that any one should be put to shame. Nonetheless he was not ill-pleased when the visits of Saruman ceased, doubting him already, though he could not himself yet foresee that a time would come when Saruman’s knowledge of the Shire would prove perilous and of the greatest service to the Enemy, bringing victory to within a nail’s breadth of his grasp.[7]


[In those days] Thorin Oakenshield became the Heir of Durin, but an heir without hope. At the sack of Erebor he had been too young to bear arms, but at Azanulbizar he had fought in the van of the assault; and when Thráin was lost he was ninety-five, a great Dwarf of proud bearing. He had no Ring, and (for that reason maybe) he seemed content to remain in Eriador. There he laboured long, and gained such wealth as he could; and his people were increased by many of the wandering Folk of Durin that heard of his dwelling and came to him. Now they had fair halls in the mountains, and store of goods and their days did not seem so hard, though in their songs they spoke ever of the Lonely Mountain far away, and the treasure and the bliss of the Great Hall in the light of the Arkenstone.

The years lengthened. The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again, as he brooded on the wrongs of his House and of the vengeance upon the Dragon that was bequeathed to him. He thought of weapons and armies and alliances, as his great hammer rang in the forge; but the armies were dispersed and the alliances broken and the axes of his people were few; and a great anger without hope burned him, as he smote the red iron on the anvil.


At last there came about by chance a meeting between Gandalf and Thorin that changed all the fortunes of the House of Durin, and led to other and greater ends beside. It chanced that Gandalf was passing through Eriador (going to the Shire, which he had not seen for some years) when he fell in with Thorin Oakenshield, and they talked together on the road, and rested for the night at Bree.

Gandalf had not yet played any part in the fortunes of Durin’s House. He had not had many dealings with the Dwarves; though he was a friend to those of good will, and liked well the exiles of Durin’s Folk who lived in the West. Among many cares he was troubled in mind by the perilous state of the North; because he knew then already that Sauron was plotting war, and intended, as soon as he felt strong enough, to attack Rivendell. But to resist any attempt from the East to regain the lands of Angmar and the northern passes in the mountains there were now only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills. And beyond them lay the desolation of the Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect. How then could the end of Smaug be achieved?

It was even as Gandalf sat and pondered this that Thorin stood before him, and said: “Master Gandalf, I know you only by sight, but now I should be glad to speak with you. For you have often come into my thoughts of late, as if I were bidden to seek you. Indeed I should have done so, if I had known where to find you.”

Gandalf looked at him with wonder. “That is strange, Thorin Oakenshield,” he said. “For I have thought of you also; and though I am on my way to the Shire, it was in my mind that is the way also to your halls.”

“Call them so, if you will,” said Thorin. “They are only poor lodgings in exile. But you would be welcome there, if you would come. For they say that you are wise and know more than any other of what goes on in the world; and I have much on my mind and would be glad of your counsel.”

“I will come,” said Gandalf; “for I guess that we share one trouble at least. The Dragon of Erebor is on my mind, and I do not think that he will be forgotten by the grandson of Thrór.”

In the morning Thorin said to Gandalf: "I have much on my mind, and they say you are wise and know more than most of what goes on in the world. Will you come home with me and hear me, and give me your counsel?"

When they came to Thorin’s Hall he sat long with him and heard all the tale of his wrongs.[8] There they met in conclave with some of his kinsfolk. Balin and Glóin were there, and several others.

“Your own ideas are those of a king, Thorin Oakenshield,” Gandalf began, “but your kingdom is gone. If it is to be restored, which I doubt, it must be from small beginnings. Far away here, I wonder if you fully realize the strength of a great Dragon. But that is not all: there is a Shadow growing fast in the world far more terrible. They will help one another. Open war would be quite useless; and anyway it is impossible for you to arrange it. You will have to try something simpler and yet bolder, indeed something desperate.”

“You are both vague and disquieting,” said Thorin. “Speak more plainly!”

“Well, for one thing,” Gandalf said, “you will have to go on this quest yourself, and you will have to go secretly. No messengers, heralds, or challenges for you, Thorin Oakenshield. At most you can take with you a few kinsmen or faithful followers. But you will need some­thing more, something unexpected.”

“Name it!” said Thorin.

“One moment!” Gandalf said. “You hope to deal with a Dragon; and he is not only very great, but he is now also old and very cunning. From the beginning of your adventure you must allow for this: his memory, and his sense of smell.”

“Naturally,” said Thorin. “Dwarves have had more dealings with Dragons than most, and you are not instructing the ignorant.”

“Very good,” Gandalf answered; “but your own plans did not seem to me to consider this point. My plan is one of stealth. Stealth. Also a scent that cannot be placed, at least not by Smaug, the enemy of Dwarves. Smaug does not lie on his costly bed without dreams. Thorin Oakenshield. He dreams of Dwarves! You may be sure that he explores his hall day by day, night by night, until he is sure that no faintest air of a Dwarf is near, before he goes to his sleep: his half-sleep, prick-eared for the sound of Dwarf-feet.”

“You make your stealth sound as difficult and hopeless as any open attack,” said Balin. “Impossibly difficult!”

“Yes, it is difficult,” Gandalf answered. “But not impossibly difficult, or I would not waste my time here. I would say absurdly difficult. So I am going to suggest an absurd solution to the problem. Take a Hobbit with you! Smaug has probably never heard of Hobbits, and he has certainly never smelt them.”

“What!” cried Glóin. “One of those simpletons down in the Shire? What use on earth, or under it, could he possibly be? Let him smell as he may, he would never dare to come within smelling dis­tance of the nakedest dragonet new from the shell!”

“Now, now!” Gandalf said, “that is quite unfair. You do not know much about the Shire-folk, Glóin. I suppose you think them simple, because they are generous and do not haggle; and think them timid because you never sell them any weapons. You are mistaken. Anyway, there is one that I have my eye on as a companion for you, Thorin. He is neat-banded and clever, though shrewd, and far from rash. And I think he has courage. Great courage, I guess, according to the way of his people. They are, you might say, ‘brave at a pinch.’ You have to put these Hobbits in a tight place before you find out what is in them.”

“The test cannot be made,” Thorin answered. “As far as I have observed, they do all that they can to avoid tight places.”

“Quite true,” Gandalf said. “They are a very sensible people. But this Hobbit is rather unusual. I think he could be persuaded to go into a tight place. I believe that in his heart he really desires to – to have, as he would put it, an adventure.”

“Not at my expense!” said Thorin, rising and striding about angrily. “This is not advice, it is foolery! I fail to see what any Hobbit good or bad, could do that would repay me for a day’s keep, even if he could be persuaded to start.”

“Fail to see! You would fail to hear it, more likely,” Gandalf answered. “Hobbits move without effort more quietly than any Dwarf in the world could manage, though his life depended on it. They are, I suppose, the most soft-footed of all mortal kinds. You do not seem to have observed that, at any rate, Thorin Oakenshield, as you romped through the Shire, making a noise (I may say) that the inhabitants could hear a mile away. When I said that you would need stealth, I meant it: professional stealth.”

“Professional stealth?” cried Balin, taking up my words rather differently than I had meant them. “Do you mean a trained treasure-seeker? Can they still be found?”

Gandalf hesitated. “I think so,” he said at last. “For a reward they will go in where you dare not, or at any rate cannot, and get what you desire.”

Thorin’s eyes glistened as the memories of lost treasures moved in his mind; but “A paid thief, you mean,” he said scornfully. “That might be considered, if the reward was not too high. But what has all this to do with one of those villagers? They drink out of clay, and they cannot tell a gem from a bead of glass.”

“I wish you would not always speak so confidently without knowledge,” Gandalf said sharply. “These villagers have lived in the Shire some fourteen hundred years, and they have learned many things in the time. They had dealings with the Elves, and with the Dwarves, a thousand years before Smaug came to Erebor. None of them are wealthy as your forefathers reckoned it, but you will find some of their dwellings have fairer things in them than you can boast here, Thorin. The Hobbit that I have in mind has ornaments of gold, and eats with silver tools, and drinks wine out of shapely crystal.”

“Ah! I see your drift at last,” said Balin. “He is a thief, then? That is why you recommend him?”

At that Gandalf lost his temper and his caution. The Dwarvish conceit that no one can have or make anything “of value” save themselves, and that all fine things in other hands must have been got, if not stolen, from the Dwarves at some time, was more than he could stand at that moment. “A thief?” he said, laughing. “Why yes, a professional thief, of course! How else would a Hobbit come by a silver spoon? I will put the thief’s mark on his door, and then you will find it.” Then being angry Gandalf got up, and said with a warmth that surprised even him: “You must look for that door, Thorin Oakenshield! I am serious.” And suddenly Gandalf that he was indeed in hot earnest. This queer notion was not a joke, it was right. It was desperately important that it should be carried out. The Dwarves must bend their stiff necks.

“Listen to me, Durin’s Folk!” Gandalf cried. “If you persuade this Hobbit to join you, you will succeed. If you do not, you will fail. If you refuse even to try, then I have finished with you. You will get no more advice or help from me until the Shadow falls on you!”

Thorin turned and looked at him in astonishment. “Strong words!” he said. “Very well, I will come. Some foresight is on you, if you are not merely crazed.”

“Good!” Gandalf said. “But you must come with good will, not merely in the hope of proving me a fool. You must be patient and not easily put off, if neither the courage nor the desire for adventure that I speak of are plain to see at first sight. He will deny them. He will try to back out; but you must not let him.”

“Haggling will not help him, if that is what you mean,” said Thorin. “I will offer him a fair reward for anything that he recovers, and no more.”

It was not what Gandalf had meant, but it seemed to him useless to say so. “There is one other thing,” he went on; “you must make all your plans and preparations beforehand. Get everything ready! Once persuaded he must have no time for second thoughts. You must go straight from the Shire, east of your quest.”

“He sounds a very strange creature, this thief of yours,” said a young Dwarf called Fili, Thorin’s nephew. “What is his name, or the one that he uses?”

“Hobbits use their real names,” Gandalf said. “The only one that he has is Bilbo Baggins.”

“What a name!” said Fili, and laughed.

“He thinks it very respectable,” Gandalf said. “And it fits well enough; for he is a middle-aged bachelor, and getting a bit flabby and fat. Food is perhaps at present his main interest. He keeps a very good larder, I am told, and maybe more than one. At least you will well entertained.”

“That is enough,” said Thorin. “If I had not given my word, I would not come now. I am in no mood to be made a fool of. For I am serious also. Deadly serious, and my heart is hot within me.”

Gandalf took no notice of this. “Look now, Thorin,” he said, “April is passing and Spring is here. Make everything ready as soon as you can. I have some business to do, but I shall be back in a week. When I return, if all is in order, I will ride on ahead to prepare the ground. Then we will all visit him together on the following day.”

And with that Gandalf took his leave, not wishing to give Thorin more chance of second thoughts than Bilbo was to have.[9]



[1] From The Return of the King, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollins Publisher, London, 2007, p. 1381

[2] From The Return of the King, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublishers, London, 2007, pp. 1407 – 1413.

[3] From The Return of the King, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, 2007, pp. 1413, 1414

[4] From Unfinished Tales, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, 1998, p. 435 (edited for flow)

[5] From The Silmarillion, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, London, 1999, pp 361, 362.

[6] From Unfinished Tales, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, London, 1998, pp 453 - 455. 

[7] From Unfinished Tales, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, London, 1998, pp 451 - 453.

[8] From Unfinished Tales, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, London, 1998, pp 424 - 425. & The Return of the King, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, London, 2007, pp. 1406-1416 (edited for flow)

[9] From Unfinished Tales, Tolkien, JRR, HarperCollinsPublisher, 1998, pp. 429-434 (edited for flow)