There was a time when The Lord of the Rings was as synonymous with Christmas as the Lord’s birthday boy. A film adaptation of each book was released once a year for three Christmases. There was a problem, though. They weren’t long enough.
To remedy, people gave their loved ones extended editions – four disc sets – where the snappy theatrical releases were allowed to breathe. The trilogy went from 558 minutes to 683, from 683 to 726. All of that stuff you enjoyed in the originals, now there was more of it. More trees walking. More Saruman being white. More oddly sexual scenes between Frodo and Sam.
But The Hobbit is such a tiny book. A pamphlet, some said. The film would essentially be a Christmas film, just as those were before it. And Christmas is a time for excess. Dinners are seven course events, houses camouflaged in lights; it’s no mistake that Ben-Hur (224 minutes) and Gone With the Wind (238 minutes) both sat like stubborn, fat children in the 25th’s television schedules. If The Hobbit was anything less than half-a-day long, outrage would ensue.
Here’s a TIP – Trust in Peter. The Hobbit’s theatrical release only ended up at an anorexic 169 minutes. But there’s at least two more of them. And eventual extended editions.
Yet despite the glorious running time, there was a frustrating centre to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Judging by his supporting characters, he’s 100 feet tall. He wears a hat, and has a beard. He’s Gandalf the Grey… and he’s bit of a troll.
|Seems about right.|
6. He vandalises other people’s property
At the start of the film – well, not at the start of the film literally, because that has Bilbo and Frodo looking at a map, but the bit after the start of the film – Gandalf rocks up to a Hobbit hole and imposes himself on its owner. It’s morning, and Bilbo is enjoying a quiet piping of a few smoke rings. Smoke rings are a big deal in Middle-earth. By all accounts, it’s like their television.
But Gandalf, you see, is bored. Much in the same way that the great Greek gods would play with the fate of mortals, Gandalf is tired of immense power. He wants a challenge. So he uproots a gentle hobbit and manipulates him to go on a life threatening adventure. Why Bilbo, exactly, is never fully explained. Sure, he’s perfect burgling-size, but he doesn’t seem to have the XP to steal gold from a dragon.
Gandalf mocks Bilbo so much, the poor hobbit is harassed into hiding in his own house. The wizard then proceeds to etch a mark into Bilbo’s freshly painted front door. A hobbit, mind, to whom Gandalf hasn’t spoken for decades.
He’s trolling Bilbo from the start.
5. He invites dwarves into your Hobbit hole without asking.
First off, Hobbit hole is not a euphemism. Secondly, although dwarves are smaller than people of average height, the Hobbit hole is more akin to their size. Dwarves, therefore, take up just as much space in a Hobbit hole as fully grown adults do in a normal house. This is no matter of 13 dwarves making up six and a half people. It’s one of Gandalf taking the space of two. Effectively, he’s invited 15 people into Bilbo’s quiet home. Without asking. Using vandalism.
Once there, the dwarves raid Bilbo’s pantry, taunt him for worrying over precious family heirlooms and then sprawl themselves across the home in slumber, probably drunk, and definitely smelly. All the while, Gandalf sits in the shadows, puffing on his pipe, smirking beneath his beard. To him, putting this poor hobbit out of his comfort zone is hilarious. It’s the Greek god thing again.
|Hobbits: they’re neither big, nor clever.|
4. Why doesn’t he use his bright white flashy thing all the time?
There’s a bit in the movie where the dwarves are captured by goblins in the mountains. It’s a pretty desperate situation. Bilbo falls down into the mountain’s depths and encounters Gollum. The dwarves face imminent death from the Goblin King and, like, squillions of goblins.
But where’s Gandalf in all this? Gandalf does this thing where he abandons his companions in incredibly dangerous portions of their quest. In this instance, he decided to stay with his elf and wizard chums in Rivendell, sipping on wine and talking moon runes. Everyone else had to venture through the mountain where giants were playing some kind of drunken Royal Rumble.
Thankfully, Gandalf likes an entrance. It’s almost as though he purposefully disappears just so everyone’s all overwhelmed when he returns to save them. So grateful are they for his reappearance that they forget he abandoned them in the first place.
So the dwarves have pretty much given up hope, with the death and the squillions of goblins and everything, and all of a sudden – BOOM, bright white flashy light thing. Hooray, Gandalf’s here! Thank [insert Middle-earth deity here]. He’s saved us from all these goblins and is now proceeding to kick all kinds of goblin ass. It’s just a pity he didn’t do that earlier, like when they were being chased by wolf-riding goblins. Or later on, when the large orc guy corners them at the end.
If you’ve got a bright white flashy thing that temporarily disables monsters who are sensitive to light, then use it all the time.
But he’s Gandalf, and he’s on a troll.
|“I’m getting too grey for this shire.”|
3. He becomes unreasonable when faced with Thorin’s perfectly understandable issue with Elves
Thorin Oakenshield is the appointed leader of the dwarves. Partly because he’s got Royal blood, partly because he’s insane enough to have taken on a whole army of orcs with a piece of wood.
The plot of The Hobbit follows the dwarves’ attempts at winning back their kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. When Erebor originally fell, and people were burning and dying, King Thranduil and his army of Wood-elves arrived to help.
But they didn’t help. They remained on their hill, watched as the great Dwarf kingdom crumbled and then left.
Thorin was on the battlefield that day to see their abandonment, and harbors a pretty hefty grudge because of it. And rightly so, you might think.
G-Grey reduces the Elves’ betrayal to a petty disagreement, and then suggests they visit Rivendell to read some runes. Thorin becomes understandably annoyed at having to meet with the race that watched his own burn. Gandalf, however, becomes disproportionately angry at Thorin’s reluctance and rides off in a huff knowing danger lurks nearby for the band.
But it’s okay, because when Bilbo and the dwarves are about to be eaten by trolls – BOOM, bright flashy thing. Gandalf’s back. Yay. Perhaps that’s why Gandalf likes Elves so much. They share the whole abandonment thing.
Huh? How did we end up in Rivendell?
|“You SHALL NOT…wait, this isn’t right.”|
2. Why didn’t he call those giant eagles to take them to the Lonely Mountain in the first place?
Rather similar to the bright white flashy light thingy mentioned earlier, Gandalf has another rather useful trick up his oversized wizard sleeves. A trick that would be particularly useful for a long and dangerous quest over a darkening, increasingly perilous land.
He has a flock of giant eagles at his peck* and call.
Traveling by giant eagle is a both safer and faster than pony. But Gandalf only sends for his feathered friends at the film’s most desperate moment. Dwarves, hobbit and wizard are all clinging to a burning tree on the edge of a cliff, their escape route blocked by orcs and fire. Here, Gandalf’s flock of giant eagles occupies the same section of lazy screenwriting as ‘Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver’.
But perhaps calling the flock of giant eagles truly is a last resort, a solution when all others are exhausted. Then enlisting their help this late on is passable. Gandalf isn’t a troll. He just saved everyone’s lives.
…that would be the case, if the eagles didn’t drop them off in the Middle of Earthing nowhere.
And not only are they set down atop a very tall rock, with no obvious path to below – the eagles, presumably at Gandalf’s request, chose a spot where their actual destination is within view. The Lonely Mountain towers on the horizon. What’s that, an hour by eagle? Nah, it’s okay giant birds, we’ll take it from here. Yeah, that vast expanse beyond us does look fraught with peril. But where’s the fun/lucrative second feature in that?
|So that’s why he wanted to go to Rivendell.|
1. He directly causes the events, and thus the hundreds of thousands of deaths, in Lord of the Rings
Number Two of Gandalf’s trolling ended The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and set up all the work our heroes will have to do in the second film. But the consequences of his actions do not cease with The Hobbit franchise. They also cause all the conflict in The Lord of the Rings.
Upon emerging from the goblin-encounter in the mountains, Bilbo recounts how he escaped Gollum to the dwarves and Gandalf. He chooses to leave out the rather important part about the ring that makes him invisible, but that doesn’t stop G-Dog noticing Bilbo fingering it in his pocket.
Gandalf knows what power that ring holds. You can tell it in his crinkly brow and twitching beard. But he doesn’t do anything. He lets the ring – an object of immense magical importance – stay in the possession of a hobbit with whom he’d only very recently become reacquainted.
In effect, he ruins Bilbo’s life. The hobbit is eventually crippled by addiction. It also sends Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, on a quest that nearly kills him multiple times.
And not just Frodo, but Sam and Merry and Pippin, too. Gimli, Legolas, hundreds of thousands of men, orcs, elves, dwarves, goblins… few in Middle-earth were left untouched by Gandalf’s negligence.
Thengel died. Haldir and Denenthor, Steward of Gondor, too. King Theoden of Rohan, Sarumna, Smeagol. Even Gandalf died once.
But most importantly, Gandalf indirectly killed Boromir of Gondor, who perished defended the hobbits in Frodo’s quest.
So to Boromir. To Alec Trevelyan. To Eddard Stark. May they rest in pieces. (Warning: contains spoiled Beans.)