The Quest of Erebor

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The Quest of Erebor
by J. R. R. Tolkien
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published inUnfinished Tales
PublisherGeorge Allen & Unwin
Publication date1980

"The Quest of Erebor" is a work of fantasy fiction by J. R. R. Tolkien, posthumously published by his son Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales (1980). This work explains how and why Gandalf arranged for the retaking of the Lonely Mountain (Erebor in Sindarin), an adventure recounted from the perspective of the eponymous Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, many years before, in Tolkien's The Hobbit.


"The Quest of Erebor" was originally written in the 1950s to be an appendix to The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien decided not to include it due to space limitations, and only a very abridged version of the tale occurred in Appendix A, III "Durin's Folk". Though none of the original manuscripts were dated, it can be deduced that the story was written no earlier than September 29, 1953—the date Tolkien first received page proofs for The Fellowship of the Ring. A note in the earliest known draft referenced a page number in Fellowship.

There are multiple manuscripts extant of the work. The first published form of the story appeared in Unfinished Tales (1980), compiled by Tolkien's son Christopher. At the end of this version, Christopher included extracts from an earlier and longer manuscript, which was later published in its entirety in The Annotated Hobbit. The earliest known draft was later found and published in The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996) as part of the history of Appendix A's development.


"The Quest of Erebor" is written in the first person, from the perspective of Frodo Baggins. However, nearly all the text consists of narration by Gandalf, who was telling the story at Frodo's request in Minas Tirith after the coronation of King Elessar.

Gandalf knew that Smaug the dragon could pose a serious threat if used by Sauron, then dwelling in Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. He was thinking about the matter when he met Thorin Oakenshield at Bree. Thorin too was concerned about Smaug, but had different motives: he wanted to reclaim the dwarves' treasure in the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf agreed to help Thorin, though he insisted that his party must make use of stealth rather than open confrontation; for that, they would need a burglar, to whom he would take them.

Gandalf thought Bilbo to be a suitable companion to Thorin and his Dwarves for a number of reasons. First, he had observed that Bilbo took more of an interest in the world at large than was usual for hobbits, and was thus more likely to be adventurous. Another reason was that Smaug would not recognize the scent of a hobbit, advantageous to a stealthy operation and likely to distract the dragon's attention. Finally, Gandalf thought that putting a hobbit in the company would prevent Thorin, who did not think much of hobbits and doubted Bilbo's skills, from doing anything rash, such as openly confronting Smaug.

Thorin objected to Bilbo's inclusion in the quest, and Gandalf had a difficult time convincing him. Thorin believed that Bilbo was incapable of helping their adventure and that Gandalf might be simply meddling in his affairs for his own reasons. After much debate, Gandalf managed to convince Thorin, aided by slight misunderstandings on Thorin's part which Gandalf was able to exploit, that Bilbo would be a worthy member. Additionally, Gandalf's show of loyalty to his friendship with the hobbit appealed to Thorin's sensibilities (as Dwarves respect loyalty to friends), leading him to be at least receptive to meeting the hobbit.

The story serves several purposes for readers. Since The Hobbit is written almost entirely from the perspective of Bilbo Baggins and contains little that he does not directly experience or at least witness, "The Quest of Erebor" provides additional insight into the events during and preceding the story. It provides an explanation of why Gandalf wished to include Bilbo in Thorin's business, and why the Dwarves were willing to accept him. This assists in placing The Hobbit on a more equal footing with The Lord of the Rings; as The Hobbit is essentially a children's fantasy tale, the level of suspension of disbelief is already somewhat high and such matters do not require much explanation. The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, has a more serious tone, and so the additional information provided in "The Quest of Erebor" helps to explain the otherwise questionable motives of the characters in The Hobbit.


Christine Barkley, writing in Mythlore, notes that the point of view in The Quest of Erebor is Gandalf's, sharply contrasting with Bilbo's far less well-informed point of view in The Hobbit. That book, she states, uses a third-person, limited-knowledge narrator, supposedly written from Bilbo's diary after the adventure. Where Bilbo is interested in food and comfort, and sometimes other familiar things such as riddles, she writes, Gandalf is concerned with defending the West against the Shadow (Sauron). Further, the Quest actually pretends to be Frodo's memory of a conversation he had with Gandalf, rather than Gandalf actually writing, so there is uncertainty about how much of what Gandalf said may have been recorded. And when Frodo asks if he has now heard the full story, Gandalf replies "Of course not", so the narration is explicitly incomplete. From the reader's point of view, the point of the story is to explain how The Hobbit fits into the background of The Lord of the Rings, or more precisely, in Barkley's words, "why Bilbo was included in the dwarves' plans at Gandalf's suggestion."[1]

Frank P. Riga and colleagues, also in Mythlore, write that Peter Jackson used the Quest to enrich the story when transforming The Hobbit from novel to film, along with Tolkien's 1960 partial version of The Hobbit which he had intended to make consistent with The Lord of the Rings. In their view, the Quest "closely and thoroughly connects the action of The Hobbit with the larger, cosmic concerns of the sequel, showing how the Dwarves' struggle to regain their homeland became crucial in frustrating Sauron's plan to attack Lorien and Rivendell." They explain that the quest had to succeed or the actions described in The Lord of the Rings could not have occurred. Jackson made use of the connections, for instance, they state, making Saruman order Gandalf to stop the quest, and making Gandalf refuse, supported by Galadriel.[2]


The Hobbit's 2013 film adaptation, The Desolation of Smaug, opens with the meeting between Gandalf and Thorin at The Prancing Pony. Elements of Gandalf's motivations and previous discussions with Thorin also find their way into An Unexpected Journey as dialogue, particularly in the meeting held in Bilbo's house.


  1. ^ Barkley, Christine (1996). "Point of View in Tolkien". Mythlore. 21 (2). article 38.
  2. ^ Riga, Frank P.; Thum, Maureen; Kollmann, Judith (2014). "From Children's Book to Epic Prequel: Peter Jackson's Transformation of Tolkien's The Hobbit". Mythlore. 32 (2). article 8.