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Andy Styx Dr. Bussell ENG 360 11/10/2013 Predestination and Choice in The Hobbit A famous idiom based off of a poem by Robert Burns states "the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry", and one can relate this phrase to the journey of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and the dwarves in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, given the expectation and results of their journey to defeat Smaug. As the best laid plans of Gandalf, Thorin, and even Bilbo unfold, events change and diverge from the intended path, characters make unexpected choices, and the results of the journey are completely different from what any of the characters intended, often due to "lucky" coincidence. However, these expressions of luck or chance occurrence underscore the ideas of predestination, fate, and chance, and what these factors mean in the world of Middleearth and the physical world of the reader. I look to explore the idea that the journey in The Hobbit is not necessarily a mindless course towards completion, but rather like the modern proverb "Life is a journey, not a destination", the experience these characters gain effects the world in significant ways, on the way to fulfilling any predestined or prophesied outcome. Allusions to predestination are littered throughout Tolkien's work, but in The Hobbit, especially independent of The Lord of the Rings, they are strictly tied to Gandalf and his setting of plans in motion. Did Gandalf have access to prior knowledge or premonition in the events leading up to Smaug's defeat? Noted in Kathleen Dubs' essay "Providence, Fate, and Chance", the discussion of providence (essentially predestination) and Fate discusses the difference of the two, and highlights just what Gandalf's confidence in choosing Bilbo to assist the dwarves

that "Bilbo's adventure is being orchestrated by some power beyond the wizardry of Gandalf the Grey or the wisdom of Elrond or Rivendell" (Olsen 67). However. Gandalf's method of notifying the dwarves . However.Styx 2 journey could have been based on. you will fail" (Unfinished Tales 339). and so might I" (Annotated Hobbit 369) . Gandalf's discussion with Gimli in "The Quest for Erebor". his plan to implement Bilbo into the dwarves' journey was not assured success. and how the subsequent "chance" events that led to the positive outcomes of the journey really are just "something other than what was intended" (Dubs 136). Starting with Gandalf and his selection of Bilbo as the "fellow conspirator" of the dwarves. even with Gandalf's threat to Thorin that "if this hobbit goes with you. you will succeed.and this is something that counters the idea that Gandalf or any greater design may have guided the course of the journey. if not. While there are many instances of good fortune that advances the story along. something found in the short story "The Quest of Erebor". that pushes the characters towards completion. in conjunction with the opportunity provided by this chance. Gandalf had a larger purpose besides helping the dwarves and fulfilling Bilbo's repressed desire for adventure. And I might have added: and I was meant to guide you both to those points" (Annotated Hobbit 369) He was bound by Middle-earth. This concept flows throughout The Hobbit. it is often the choices of the characters. as each of the events that occurs is part of the larger plan of predestined outcomes. and you therefore were meant to bear it. and not by its maker. that of the realm as a whole. Bilbo might have refused to leave home. noting that when he stated: "Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. As Frodo notes to Gandalf. complicates the idea of predestination or a greater force at play.

Gandalf's transformation also changes the perception the reader has of events. there is a larger scope at play in the world of The Hobbit. or even the chance encounters that would enable their journey to success. noted in Corey Olsen's Exploring JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit as Gandalf "laughs 'long but quietly' before writing [the notice on his door]" (Olsen 28) . While Gandalf did not have prior knowledge of success. However. he did have an idea of the qualities needed to succeed. distinct from Men" (Rateliff 50).that if placed in the right environment could flourish. Placed in the frame of The Lord of the Rings. and Bilbo's execution of his tasks. this type of omniscience or predestination was likely not a direct theme of the book. especially with the thematic predestination introduced with the one ring. However. Furthermore. which Gandalf notes to Thorin. As Gandalf notes to Thorin: . However. the dwarves' acceptance of Bilbo in their journey. and with the overly successful outcome of the journey.that of his race and ancestry . especially since the predestined theme Tolkien revised within The Hobbit was written in retrospect.he recognizes that Bilbo seeking excitement and adventure is ridiculous. his motions took on a prescient and nearly omniscient nature. Gandalf of The Hobbit is "perhaps the more resourceful of the two [characters]" (Rateliff 51). and while not quite Gandalf the Grey seen in Lord of the Rings. putting greater emphasis on his choice to select Bilbo as the burglar.Styx 3 of Bilbo's status as the burglar for their party even takes on a ridiculous quality to the orchestrator himself. his assessment is based on latent qualities in Bilbo . Keep in mind that Gandalf. which places him "apart in a separate category. even in the context of The Hobbit. even outside of the predestination context of Lord of the Rings. is still a wizard.

I am concerned with many strands.provided much needed strength in the "weak point" of the North that could have served as an attack point for Sauron (Annotated Hobbit 370). but the actions of a character provided the drive to execute is in Bilbo's discovery of the ring. What Bilbo did with the ring provided an opportunity for him to grow and change within the unfolding of events around him. But that should make my advice more weighty. that could just be very articulate planning on Gandalf's part. and falls within Kathleen Dubs' explanation of chance .these events are . not less” (Annotated Hobbit 375) As we see in the result of the journey. with the assistance of Bilbo affect a larger part of middle-earth than just recovering the dwarven treasure from Smaug .the Dwarves of the Iron Hills and the Men of Dale . the actions of the dwarven party. provide much of the "good luck" that could have been negative or even ended the journey of the characters. Much of the journey of Bilbo and the dwarves is filled with "long strings of wildly improbable events" (Olsen 67) that fall within the prior explanation of chance . Bilbo's actions. However. the desolation of the dragon was cleared and those that held the lands . By defeating Smaug. Great as your affairs may seem to you. and even affect the small pocket of the world he resided in at that time. In the frame of The Hobbit. in reaction to unexpected events.something Gandalf intended. as they were off-path. he was separated from the dwarves by Goblins. Finding the ring was unexpected. they are only a small strand in the great web. but didn't absolutely know. I should not be helping you at all. Another instance where predestination seemingly took effect.it wasn't intended for Bilbo to find the ring. akin to an expert chess player knowing his opponent and board.Styx 4 "If I had not other purposes.

These events follow the concept of fate as examined in Dubs' essay . and retrieving the key provided the convincing stroke for Gandalf in convincing Thorin of his master plan. we see Fate/Predestination positioned as an amazing set of coincidences.the sequential "unfolding of events as it is worked out in time. Expanding our scope to The Lord of the Rings. This balance of predestination along with free will or choice exhibited by Bilbo shows how even though there is a "great web" of strands that comprise the world. as far as a secret expedition went at any rate" (Unfinished Tales 338). affecting another journey. just as Gandalf's choice of Bilbo reflects that larger web of threads that runs behind the main narrative of The Hobbit. Gandalf finding Thrain in Dol Guldur. as once Thorin saw them "he really made up his mind to follow [Gandalf's] plan. as we perceive it in the temporal world" (Dubs 135). even a timid hobbit can affect large swaths of history. more so because we are not made aware of the larger design of Tolkien's Middle-Earth.Styx 5 rare. The swords that Olsen states the odds of the group finding are "like going on vacation to India and finding in a village marketplace a sword that belonged to Alexander the Great" (Olsen 64) are physically in that location due to sequences of event unknown to the group. but are only chance due to the awareness of those participating in the journey. and even the narrator. As noted in Dubs' essay. much in the way prior events affected Bilbo's journey. In this definition. . which echoes Bilbo's journey in The Hobbit. and how we perceive it as a reader through the lenses of the narrator and Tolkien's written word itself. Gandalf. yet a task ordered by a recognized providence" (Dubs 139) but still dependent on the hobbit's acceptance of the task. a pity mixed with horror" (Annotated Hobbit 133) resonates in the larger world. based on "A sudden understanding. unknown even to the wise. Bilbo's decision to save Gollum. Bilbo's choices are a reaction to this larger design. Elrond states that Frodo's task was "unforeseen.

Prompted by amazing coincidences that seemingly rely on pure chance or great luck. upon further investigation we can see that these coincidences are part of a larger design of a world spun from many threads that all affect one another. While determining if the events of The Hobbit are the result of a greater scheme or not may be difficult given the evidence of the text alone. . we can see how the choices of the characters. and chance. and how they interact on large and small scales. but also a good reminder for adults regarding the importance of stepping outside the familiar. characters limited by the imagination of one man. made significant changes in the world of Middle-earth. show a parallel to the reader and allow for an example of the successful application of free will in a larger world that is not viewed as a whole from the individual perspective. This expression of free will. but still are affected and reliant on the actions of individuals. the Necromancer and the White Council.Styx 6 While larger events were unfolding between Gandalf. even under the restraints of destiny that exist within Tolkien's fictional middle-earth. This balance provides the reader with a greater perspective into the ideas of predestination. the journey of a hobbit and dwarves managed to change the tide of Middle Earth on both large and small scales. fate. appropriate for a book geared towards children. Tolkien. The journey of Bilbo echoes the procession to adulthood. set off by Gandalf's choice of Bilbo.

Print. The History of the Hobbit. J R. Print. The Annotated Hobbit: The Hobbit. Tolkien. No. 34-42. R. Vol. Exploring J. 1980.Styx 7 Works Cited Dubs. and Douglas A.R. J R. 1 (Spring. Rateliff. Print.". Olsen. 1981). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2002. New York.R. Tolkien. 27. 2012. 2006. Unfinished Tales.Y: Ballantine Books. Print. and J R. London: HarperCollins. Fate. Kathleen. Or. Twentieth Century Literature. Anderson. R. "Providence. John D. . and Chance: Boethian Philosophy in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's "The Hobbit". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. There and Back Again. R. pp. N. Tolkien. Corey.