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The Hobbit > Gandalf Is A Jerk!

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message 1: by Matt (new)

Matt | 90 comments After reading the first chapter of The Hobbit I couldn't help but re-think my opinion about Gandalf (I read LotR before reading The Hobbit).

Spoilers for the first chapter:
(view spoiler)

The first chapter really tainted my view of Gandalf and the rest of the book I couldn't help see his actions through this prism of him being a complete jerk. Am I crazy or has anyone else read it the same way?


message 2: by Rob, S&L Forum Mod (new)

Rob (robzak) | 3180 comments Mod
Well Gandalf is incredibly smart. He believes he knows better than most people, and he's right about that most of the time.

However, as I was re-reading it, it does feel a bit out of character to me compared to Lord of the Rings.

But I simply accredit his behavior to hubris rather than being a jerk. He thinks it will be good for both Bilbo and the dwarves.


message 3: by Keith (new)

Keith (Teleport-City) | 260 comments Cracked online had a funny article about what a terrible leader Gandalf was. I forgot how much of The Hobbit casts him in the role not of Gandalf the Grey, but Gandalf the Absent


message 4: by Rob, S&L Forum Mod (new)

Rob (robzak) | 3180 comments Mod
Keith wrote: "Cracked online had a funny article about what a terrible leader Gandalf was. I forgot how much of The Hobbit casts him in the role not of Gandalf the Grey, but Gandalf the Absent"

He's not the leader though. Thorin is. Everyone just defers to Gandalf when he's there because he's the smartest one in the group and commands that respect.

He repeatedly tells them it's their adventure, not his. Plus I think he stays with them, and helps them out much more than he originally planned.

I suspect this is something that will be made more important in the books as they look to be including scenes explain why Gandalf keeps disappearing.


message 5: by Owen (new)

Owen | 12 comments Personally I didn't see him as a jerk, but then I've not read the LOTR books, only seen the films, so perhaps there's a side to him I'm unaware of?

What is it about him that made you think he was a jerk specifically?


message 6: by Daran (new)

Daran | 597 comments Wizards are grumpy. Imagine how out of sorts you'd be if your job was to go around telling people unlooked for truths all the time?


message 7: by P. Aaron (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments What about that. Gandalf basically drafts Bilbo...for his own good, of course. Is that justified by later events? Even if so, Gandalf ain't psychic, so to what degree is his meddling ok?


message 8: by Daran (new)

Daran | 597 comments Not psychic, just prescient.


message 9: by Matt (last edited Dec 04, 2012 01:26PM) (new)

Matt | 90 comments P. Aaron wrote: "What about that. Gandalf basically drafts Bilbo...for his own good, of course. Is that justified by later events? Even if so, Gandalf ain't psychic, so to what degree is his meddling ok?"

A friend of mine basically said the same thing, that Gandalf "knows whats best for Bilbo". But Gandalf and Bilbo are complete strangers at the beginning of the book so what right does Gandalf have to say "I'm going to force you to go on this trip where your life is going to be directly threatened two dozen times even though you're perfectly happy now and don't want to go because I know what's best for you"?

If Gandalf and Bilbo were old buddies that's one thing; but for a total stranger to barge into your place with a bunch of his friends, eat all your food, crash there and then make you go on a journey that's most likely going to kill you is really kind of a horrible thing to do.


message 10: by Dara (new)

Dara (hd2185) | 1298 comments Rob wrote: "Well Gandalf is incredibly smart. He believes he knows better than most people, and he's right about that most of the time.

However, as I was re-reading it, it does feel a bit out of character to ..."


I agree with this. Gandalf just thinks he knows better.

Kind of unrelated but Gandalf the Grey is very different to me than Gandalf the White. Gandalf the Grey is more fun and loose but Gandalf the White is more dour and serious. Maybe the White wouldn't be so... pushy I guess, to Bilbo.


message 11: by Sky (new)

Sky Corbelli | 294 comments From the perspective of Middle Earth as a whole, the quest to take back the Lone Mountain was relatively minor. At the time, it was more a target of opportunity. Gandalf had come across the the map and key to Erebor and wanted a solid bastion in the North, along with a way to protect against Smaug (one of the last great dragons) ravaging the lands of men in case it came to war with Sauron.

So really, it wasn't even Gandalf doing it for Bilbo's own good, although that may have been a part of it. It was a side mission that he hoped would pan out while he dealt with the Big Picture.

As far as being a jerk... well, most of those Big Picture types are jerks.


message 12: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments But Bilbo did actually want to go on an adventure in spite of his denials. I think he wanted to be convinced to go. Perhaps one could argue that the dangers could have been emphasized a little more, or he could have been encouraged a little less - but even then I think the dangers were made quite clear enough in the songs to make him faint of fright.
In the end the Took in him Took over.


message 13: by Joshua (new)

Joshua | 31 comments In The Hobbit Gandalf does get around. But no more so than in LOTR. We just get to see what he is doing while he is riding hither and thither.


message 14: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 1892 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Even if so, Gandalf ain't psychic, so to what degree is his meddling ok?"

Gandalf is an angel sent to Earth to help in the struggle against Sauron. Having insight into both God's mind and his plan for the world, he's able to see signs of providence and help them along, which is what he did with Bilbo.

In both Unfinished Tales and the Annotated Hobbit there's a piece called "The Quest of Erebor" that got left out of the Appendicies to LotR. In it Gandalf recounts The Hobbit from his POV and explains exactly why he chose Bilbo -- namely he wanted someone with a Tookish temperament ameliorated by Bagginsish stodginess. Of unmarried hobbits of adventuring age, Bilbo was the best choice.


message 15: by Daran (new)

Daran | 597 comments There's a reason Gandalf chooses Bilbo. (view spoiler)


message 16: by P. Aaron (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments That may serve Gandalf's purposes...I'm not sure it justifies what he did to Bilbo.
You bring up an interesting point in reading this through the lens of religion (a perfectly valid topic with this author). If Gandalf is, indeed, shoving Bilbo out the door based on a prescient vision, he's effectively removing the Hobbit's free will and replacing it with divine predestination. Calvinism? From Tolkien?


message 17: by JohnViril (last edited Dec 04, 2012 10:13PM) (new)

JohnViril | 36 comments I understand they intend to make 3 movies---a Hobbit trilogy. My guess is that Gandalf's actions of coordinating an attack against Dol Gulder will get much more play than in the book, if you want to expand them into 3 movies. If I recall correctly, Saruman only agrees to the attack against the "dark power" of Dol Gulder because he's after the ring himself. His turning to lust for the Ring, and the discovery that the shadow rising in Dol Gulder is Sauron will likely be fully addressed in a Hobbit trilogy.

Gandalf is a bit of a jerk in the Hobbit. He looks down on the Hobbits and Thorin Oakenshield is greedy. Tolkien also wrote the Hobbit for children, and Gandalf treats the dwarves and Bilbo like children think adults treat them. Tolkien is also playing this for absurdity. When he wrote "The Hobbit" he had no idea he would write LOTR. I have a feeling that the Gandalf Tolkien was writing in "The Hobbit" was not yet the angelic-like savior sent by the Valar, instead he was an acerbic "wizard" whose purpose was to both amuse and intimidate the child-like "little" people.

The explanation from "Unfinished Tales" is likely an attempt at a later justification to harmonize the difference between the two Gandalfs.


message 18: by Daran (new)

Daran | 597 comments I don't think it eliminates Free Will, rather the reverse.(view spoiler)

I think that is very telling of Tolkien's personal theology. God lets you make your own choices, but there's guidance in subtle, and not so subtle ways. gandalf is the second kind.


message 19: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments I think the problem here is that The Hobbit is essentially a children's story. There really isn't any room afforded the reader to make any character judgement of the wizard other than he is lawful good.
Its like taking the story of Hansel and Gretel and railing against the good father for allowing the evil stepmother to convince him to abandon his children. It kind of misses the point - think children's story.
But then we come to Lord of the Rings - and Gandalf is no longer merely a character in a children's book but is presented to adults as well - and that creates a tension between the former Gandalf and the LOTR Gandalf that can't be fixed without killing the children's story - which Tolkien wasn't prepared to do.


message 20: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments Darren wrote: "Fairy tales, as with fables, are designed with deep analysis in mind. They have a story and also a message for the listener in the story."

Oh I agree - but it is still possible to analyse beyond the intention of the author and miss the message.
And I will use Hansel and Gretel again as an example - The "message" in that case ended in reconciliation and redemption for the father. But if we were to judge through our modern adult eyes there would be no redemption afforded the woodcutter. We would have had him locked up for child abuse and made sure he was never allowed near children again. And we would therefore miss the message in the story.

So I am not in least bit saying "just enjoy the story and don't look too deep." I am in fact saying the exact opposite. I am saying that "Gandalf is a Jerk" is a rather shallow conclusion/interpretation of the story - because as soon as you say that you have basically shut him down.


message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan (headspinningfromvagueness) David Sven wrote: "Darren wrote: "Fairy tales, as with fables, are designed with deep analysis in mind. They have a story and also a message for the listener in the story."

Oh I agree - but it is still possible to a..."


Oh I don't think so. I mean yes it is a shallow conclusion to simply say he's a jerk and that's it. To be frank aren't most people jerks at some point. And at the start we only see the frustrating elements of a person's personality. Later we see that they did everything for the best intention.


message 22: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments Darren wrote: "PS: This Gandalf is lawful evil. "

Ha Ha! Are you sure you don't mean Chaotic good?


message 23: by JohnViril (last edited Dec 04, 2012 10:21PM) (new)

JohnViril | 36 comments Yeah. Chaotic good, if we must impose D&D categories on Gandalf in "The Hobbit".

As for "predestination", I think Gandalf is more parental. It's more like "Obey me, and see if everything doesn't work out like I say."

Again, remember the intended audience. Tolkien positions Gandalf in the parental role vis a' vis Bilbo and the Dwarves (who are portrayed more like the goofy creatures in "Snow White" than the grim people in LOTR).


message 24: by Casey (new)

Casey Hampton (caseyhampton) | 652 comments Interesting. I've never thought of Gandalf as a jerk. I still don't get that impression though. It would be difficult to make a case that Bilbo would have been happier or lived a "better" life if he'd stayed home.

I think freewill is one of those things that is much easier to disprove than to prove.


message 25: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments Casey wrote: "I think freewill is one of those things that is much easier to disprove than to prove. "

Actually, freewill is obvious from our immediate experience with our choices. That is, any argument you can raise against freewill is less obvious than our actual immediate experience and therefore less rational. You couldn't do it on the basis of argument alone. If on the other hand you could demonstrate to someone - perhaps through MRI or xray that they have been invaded by a parasite that has plugged into the human mind - then one might begin to question that immediate experience - but you would still need to prove said parasite was both intelligent and mind altering. But even then you would have the problem that for the experiment to be valid you would have to assume the free will of the experimenter.

Apart from mind invading aliens - it would be more rational to assume the falsehood of any opposing argument in the face of your immediate experience of your free choices.


message 26: by Leavey (new)

Leavey | 81 comments Gandalf, the Hari Seldon of the Swords?


message 27: by William (new)

William | 2 comments Gandalf does seem different in as a character in some ways in the differences of this book and the LOTR. I don't think he's a jerk for imposing on Mr. Baggins. It was just what Bilbo needed. A bit of an adventure. There's a bit of danger in any adventure. Not Gandalf's responsibility if Bilbo would have not made it through to the end. Ultimately BIlbo chose to go with the dwarves. Didn't have too.


message 28: by Ruth (tilltab) (new)

Ruth (tilltab) (till-tab) | 1204 comments Matt wrote: " I couldn't help see his actions through this prism of him being a complete jerk."

I thought I was the only one who saw him this way! That jerky meddlesome wizard!


message 29: by Mapleson (new)

Mapleson | 94 comments Matt wrote: "P. Aaron wrote: "...Gandalf and Bilbo are complete strangers at the beginning of the book..."This is incorrect. If you look at the UT 'The Quest for Erebor', (view spoiler)

Bilbo is (view spoiler)

Also, there is the fact that hobbits are homebodies and need to be pushed outside their comfort-zone to realize their potential.

(view spoiler)

I guess it's just a matter of perspective, is Gandalf a jerk for helping Bilbo to fulfill a lifelong dream, even if Bilbo himself had given up on it? Or is Gandalf a jerk because he forces the situation that Bilbo doesn't want at that very moment?


message 30: by Matt (new)

Matt | 90 comments David Sven wrote: "I am saying that "Gandalf is a Jerk" is a rather shallow conclusion/interpretation of the story"

I'm not so much talking about just the story as a whole, but more his actions. What would you call someone who out of the blue vandalizes your house, barges in with a dozen of his friends (who you don't know), eats all of your food, invites themselves to stay at your place and then forces you to go on a trip with them afterwards? Whether or not he was doing it for the greater good is irrelevant, he could've been a little nicer in my opinion especially considering what he was asking.


message 31: by Joshua (new)

Joshua | 31 comments So your saying Gandalf is like family?


message 32: by Lorenzo (new)

Lorenzo (Digitaloz) | 12 comments I don't see where Bilbo was forced to do anything.

It seems to me that other than putting the situation in front of Bilbo, Bilbo is actively deciding to do everything himself. For example, when the dwarves question Gandalf about Bilbo's skills in the beginning, he decides to stand up for himself and go on this adventure and do his best.

Besides the nudge Gandalf gives him in putting everything in his way, Bilbo could just as easily have decided to stay. But I agree that an adventure was something that he always wanted and had just forgotten.


message 33: by library_jim (new)

library_jim | 212 comments Yeah, Gandalf seems more like an above-it-all kind of guy than a jerk. He's not human. He's magical. He's playing a chess game no one else can see, so his choices aren't always clear to us regular old Shire folk. Plus, it's a fun way to get the story started. some batty wizard giving a Hobbit a kick in the pants to get the ball rolling.


message 34: by P. Aaron (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments John wrote: "...As for 'predestination', I think Gandalf is more parental. It's more like 'Obey me, and see if everything doesn't...'"


I'm convinced by this. It squares more with my reading, both when I was younger and now. Setting aside the fascinating question of religious interpetation for a later thread, Gandalf's character does come across as a meddling parent, the one who sets you up with a prom date because they're just sure you'll appreciate it later.

And like any good parent in an adventure narrative, he has to be absent for the majority of the text. Disney movies teach us this: if you have two present parents, no adventure is possible. They need to be oblivious, absent or, preferably, dead in order for the youthful hero to go on his or her life-changing quest. Whether Bilbo makes a good protagonist for kids to identify with is grist for another thread as well.


message 35: by Matt (new)

Matt | 90 comments Joshua wrote: "So your saying Gandalf is like family?"

Ha! Now that you mention that if I were Bilbo I think I would like Gandalf about as much as I'd like the Sackville-Baginses


message 36: by Casey (new)

Casey Hampton (caseyhampton) | 652 comments David Sven wrote: "Casey wrote: "I think freewill is one of those things that is much easier to disprove than to prove. "

Actually, freewill is obvious from our immediate experience with our choices. That is, any ar..."


What a great response! I wish I had more time to reply but here's what springs to mind regarding freewill.
I always end up feeling there are two lenses to look at freewill through. One is the religious and one is the Natural.

So for Theism, we run on the assumption that God is an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being. But if God is omniscient and knows everything, then God knows what you will eat for breakfast next year on March 3. If God already knows what you will eat on March 3 2013, your capacity to choose something different from what God knows you will be having is nonexistent.

In nature, there are a few different ways to see it. I read an article a few months back reporting how we act and react to stimuli before we are aware of it. I'm not trying to make a case for this as I recall there is much more research to be done but it's pretty cool stuff. They hooked folks up to a brain scanner and asked them questions and the researchers were able to determine what the people would choose before the subjects reported knowing what they were going to select/choose. I just thought this was cool.

Another interesting argument arises with the issue of time travel. If you go back in time and observe say a battle in WWI, everything has already occurred and nothing will change thus the participants in such a battle would be forced to make the exact same choice they made in the first place.

As I said though, I just think it is much easier to disprove the existence of freewill than to prove it.


message 37: by Mapleson (new)

Mapleson | 94 comments From a Theist perspective, omniscience includes the subset of all possible realities. God goes not only know what happens if you eat eggs on March 3, 2013, God also knows what happens if you eat bacon as well. Until the choice is made and the probability field is collapsed, there still exists a multitude of possible realities.

It is like Schrodinger's Cat. Until the state is observed, both/all possible states co-exist. Therefore, God's omniscience does not limit your ability to express Free Will.

Similarly with your time travel argument, the act of observation is enough to change the state. Thus simply by being present, their particular future no longer exists (assuming it didn't include time travellers at WWI). On a related note, we're seeing an interpretation of superpositioning on a quantum level with Event A causing Event B, which in turn caused Event A (causality loop - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...).


message 38: by Casey (new)

Casey Hampton (caseyhampton) | 652 comments Mapleson wrote: "From a Theist perspective, omniscience includes the subset of all possible realities. God goes not only know what happens if you eat eggs on March 3, 2013, God also knows what happens if you eat b..."

If you don't see a problem with Theism and freewill, that's okay with me.
I'm not trying to recruit anyone.


message 39: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments @Mapleson - I would simply say there is no causal relationship between the knowledge of an event and the event itself - The tense of that knowledge (past present future) is irrelevant to that fact. "Will" implies "Can" but "Won't" doesn't necessarily imply "Can't."


message 40: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments Matt wrote: " What would you call someone who out of the blue vandalizes your house, barges in with a dozen of his friends (who you don't know), eats all of your food, invites themselves to stay at your place and then forces you to go on a trip with them afterwards?"

What would the target audience call it? Hilarious. Its comedy for children. I just can't see that Tolkien was presenting Gandalf as anything in the least wise sinister. I can see reading this to one's children would be a hoot. Not so much if instead you insist on pointing out what an evil manipulative bastard Gandalf is. That just would be a total kill joy and make for a very poor bed time story. And I don't think they would get it.


message 41: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 149 comments I think its important to remember that The Hobbit was a children's book and LOTR didn't exist when it was written.

However we can't read The Hobbit without having LOTR in the back of our minds, constantly comparing the two even when we don't mean to.

This is just a consequence of Tolkien changing the story into something much larger and grander and darker from his original little idea for a book.


message 42: by JohnViril (new)

JohnViril | 36 comments Joseph wrote: "I think its important to remember that The Hobbit was a children's book and LOTR didn't exist when it was written.

However we can't read The Hobbit without having LOTR in the back of our minds, c..."


Exactly


message 43: by Skip (new)

Skip | 508 comments Don't forget that Gandalf has (view spoiler)

Given that, it would seem more apt to call Gandalf an agent provocateur, than a jerk. His intention is not just in bettering Bilbo, nor is it a cold political calculation. Instead, he likes the people he is helping and he is trying to do right by them. If he comes across as a parent talking to a young child, that is pretty much exactly the way it is - Gandalf is a whole lot older than the entire rest of the party and has seen much more than any of them.


message 44: by Ruth (tilltab) (new)

Ruth (tilltab) (till-tab) | 1204 comments David Sven wrote: "What would the target audience call it? Hilarious. Its comedy for children."

I read the first part of the book when I was a kid, and I thought he was a jerk. And the dwarves were horrible. Gandalf isn't exactly a lovable wizard in this book, and saying it's for children doesn't change that. No one said it was BAD that he was a jerk.


message 45: by David Sven (new)

David Sven (Gorro) | 1571 comments I guess even Tolkien can't please everyone.


message 46: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (ALB2012) | 312 comments Sometimes people simply need to be told to do things. Many people procrastinate and if left alone nother would be done. Gandlaf IS more intelligent and more worldly than the others, and I bet he knows what might be coming. Sometimes people need a shove in the right direction. I doubt he would have forced any of them to go but they did need to be guided.

I don't think he is meant to be good, he is simply trying to do what he feels is right and certainly in the case of LOTR to help save the world from a greater evil.

People sitting around doing naff all and not doing what they SHOULD have done- ie get rid of the Ring of Power in the first place is what leads to the whole LOTR battles etc.

Even gandalf says he should have done something before and didn't if I remember rightly, althugh it is a while sinceI read them.

Sometimes people simply need to be pushy.


message 47: by Matt (new)

Matt | 90 comments Ruth wrote: "I read the first part of the book when I was a kid, and I thought he was a jerk. And the dwarves were horrible. Gandalf isn't exactly a lovable wizard in this book, and saying it's for children doesn't change that. No one said it was BAD that he was a jerk."

Exactly. It doesn't matter who the target audience is, it doesn't change his actions. The main reason I brought it up is because I read LOTR first and had a formed opinion of the character which seemed to conflict with what I was reading in the Hobbit.


message 48: by Scott (new)

Scott Allen | 22 comments If you look at from the perspective of the hero cycle, Gandalf issues the Call to Adventure, which Bilbo promptly refuses. Often times heroes in literature need to be pushed out the door. Bilbo brings so much back when he returns to the Shire and prepares the next generation of adventurers (Frodo and Sam) with his knowledge, resources, and adventuring spirit (the Tookish side).

The Hobbit follows this mythological formula very well throughout the whole of the novel.

Here is a link to some diagrams of the hero cycle as researched by Joseph Campbell: http://www.frankandstacy.net/english-...


message 49: by Casey (new)

Casey Hampton (caseyhampton) | 652 comments David Sven wrote: "I guess even Tolkien can't please everyone."

Oh yes he can!!!
If thou dost not love Tolkien thus thou dost not love life.
Repent ye blasphemers or never shall ye the taste of honey upon lips of lovers find.


message 50: by Julia (new)

Julia | 177 comments Scott wrote: "If you look at from the perspective of the hero cycle, Gandalf issues the Call to Adventure, which Bilbo promptly refuses. Often times heroes in literature need to be pushed out the door. Bilbo bri..."

Good point, Gandalf is very much an archetype in The Hobbit. Also, I feel that he is not as fleshed out a character in The Hobbit as he is in LOTR.

It could also be the difference in perspective between The Hobbit and LOTR. In The Hobbit it's clearly, although 3rd person, told from Bilbo's POV. As such, Gandalf's behavior doesn't make much sense to us since Bilbo doesn't understand it. In LOTR the perspective is much grandeur, we are able to Gandalf's motivations and understand his jerk-like behavior. Because of this I think that behavior doesn't seem as bad or jerk-like as we understand the motivations. In The Hobbit it just seems arbritary.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth (other topics)
The Crystal Cave (other topics)
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (other topics)
The Last Ringbearer (other topics)