The story of the Hobbit was about the quest of the dwarves of Durin’s folk to reclaim their realm, Erebor. To accomplish this, Gandalf felt needed a stealthy member for the group (Thorin’s company) as an alternative to the rash and loud nature of dwarves. Naturally, a hobbit was the ideal candidate. But why did Gandalf choose the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins?
Gandalf picked Bilbo Baggins because he was adventurous. Bilbo’s thirst for adventure and excitement was very unusual for a hobbit, but that was just what Gandalf needed. Another factor is that Bilbo Baggins was the son of Belladonna Took, a famously inquisitive hobbit.
Why Bilbo Baggins Being a Son of a Took Mattered
Bilbo Baggins was the son of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took. Bungo was among the healthiest of the hobbits. He later crafted the most luxurious home in the Shire, Bag End. This was a gift to his wife, Belladonna Took. Tolkien’s works mention how Bilbo took after his father in both his behavior and looks.
However, the biggest draw that made Gandalf pick Bilbo was the latter’s mother.
The film adaptation of The Hobbit shows a flashback of a young Bilbo Baggins encountering Gandalf for the first time. This took place during a celebration and it shows Belladonna and the rest of the Took family interacting with Gandalf. While a minor scene in the film, it establishes that Belladonna and Gandalf already knew each other.
Director Peter Jackson didn’t make this scene up. It comes from the appendices for The Hobbit, which the Tolkien estate published after the author’s death.
Hobbits within the Took family became popular for their sense of adventure. The Lord of the Rings and other post-humous work established that the Tooks preferred hunting instead of farming. They were the most likely to venture out of the Shire and were also the friendliest of hobbits to the Elves.
Bilbo Baggins had that sense of adventure from Belladonna Took and Bungo’s good nature.
There is also the fact Gandalf was already familiar with the Took family. He was friends with the Old Took and later became friends with Belladonna Took. He could’ve approached the other hobbit families but he had to start with people he knew, people he trusted.
Other Details Revealed in The Unfinished Stories
The Book of Lost Tales and the appendices for The Lord of the Rings also provide insight into the conversation between Thorin and Gandalf. During their meeting, Gandalf describes Bilbo as a courageous hobbit who had the necessary traits to help Thorin in his quest to retake Erebor from Smaug.
The Unfinished Tales, which is a collection of unfinished stories set in Middle-Earth, JRR Tolkien explained how Bilbo was unlike any other hobbit.
In the story The Quest for Erebor, Tolkien revealed that Gandalf met Bilbo at least twice before the events of The Hobbit. Unfortunately, Bilbo doesn’t recall these encounters.
Gandalf further explains how Bilbo, even for a Took, was unlike any other. He would wander off in search of adventure and would talk to strangers, including dwarves. This would become important during the journey, seeing as they needed to cooperate with Men and Elves alike.
Also, read our guide on who are the five wizards in Middle Earth?
Why Did Gandalf Need a Hobbit for his Adventure?
When Gandalf and Thorin met, the appendices reveal Gandalf initially wanted to secure the northern regions of Middle-Earth. He knew the Enemy was fast approaching. This gave Gandalf the idea of aiding the dwarves in reclaiming Erebor. Having Thorin’s people back in Erebor would be a big help whenever Sauron would strike again.
However, Thorin intended in fighting a war against the dragon, Smaug. It was Gandalf’s idea to instead sneak their way in. However, Smaug knew the shape and smell of dwarves and could detect them before they could get near. Thorin needed a stranger who was also a master of stealth.
More importantly, Bilbo did not smell like a dwarf. One of Gandalf’s biggest concerns was the fact Smaug was too familiar with dwarves. The dragon could sniff them out long before they could break into his hiding spot in the mountain. Bilbo, as a hobbit and one who lived in wealth, wouldn’t trigger Smaug’s defenses.
This was when Gandalf thought of Bilbo Baggins, a courageous hobbit who exemplified all the requirements. The Lord of the Rings states how all hobbits can naturally hide when they wanted. Bilbo stood out among his people not only for his sneaking skills but also for his courage and love for adventure, traits not often associated with hobbits.
Bilbo proved his ability to sneak around multiple times throughout The Hobbit. He was the only one not captured by the three trolls, he snuck around Thranduil’s elven home, and managed to sneak past Gollum as well. Even without the One Ring, Bilbo managed to find his way through Erebor and face the mighty dragon.
Bilbo later used his skills to steal the Arkenstone from Thorin, a choice he made to resolve the growing conflict involving Thorin, the Men of Dale, and Thranduil’s folk.
How Bilbo Baggins Represented the Small and the Good in Middle Earth
There are multiple occasions of Gandalf explaining how picking Bilbo for the job simply felt right. He knew Bilbo Baggins was a good person and that his sense of mercy and love would one day affect the rest of Middle-Earth. In the novel, Gandalf states there is more to Bilbo that they can guess. He even points out there is more to Bilbo than the hobbit himself knew.
In the film adaptations by Peter Jackson, there is a moment where Gandalf admits he also picked Bilbo because the latter gives him courage. Gandalf admitted he too felt afraid but it was in Bilbo that he found refuge.
There is also a running theme in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This theme focuses on highlighting how the battle of good and evil, determining the fate of the world, wasn’t always in the hands of the mighty.
Instead, the fate of the world lied in the hands of the small. Even a simple, lowly hobbit from a tiny farming village could rise and save the world.
Bilbo Baggins embodied that theme His decision to spare Gollum’s life, for example, had repercussions that only blossomed during the War of the Ring. At the end of Frodo’s journey, it was Gollum who took the One Ring and cast it down the magma of Mount Doom.