The image above is a visual clue that not all is well between the main protagonists in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Gandalf and Bilbo form a relatively good-natured unit, while Thorin is left separated (however slightly) with an incredulous look aimed at Gandalf. In Tolkien’s Hobbit, the conflict between Gandalf, Bilbo, and Thorin is given relatively little attention until right before the Battle of Five Armies, at which point divided loyalties, questions of honor, and loss of trust lead to a stand-off at the gate of Erebor. Assuming the plot of the film will follow the book (a hefty assumption at this point), the betrayal of trust Thorin suffers when Gandalf appears holding up the stolen “Heart of the Mountain” is one aspect of the story which I am most looking forward to watching on screen. The question is, with three movies in the works, will we have to wait years for these matters of trust to take center stage, or will there be an echo of this conflict as early as An Unexpected Journey?
We already know the film contains enough external adversaries (including some not in the original story) that there seems little need to showcase conflict within the Company itself, yet Richard Armitage has mentioned that Thorin’s character “…comes to know himself through his evolving relationship with Bilbo and his deteriorating relationship with Gandalf….” From this we may surmise that the Gandalf/Bilbo/Thorin dynamic will be given proper attention.
While it is true there is little conflict between Gandalf and Thorin at the beginning of Tolkien’s Hobbit, the difficulty Gandalf faces in winning Thorin’s trust, and convincing him to take Bilbo along, evolved into a bigger issue in his later writing. “The Quest of Erebor”, a collection of story fragments in Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth, deals with events and motives leading up to the dwarves’ arrival at Bag End (as told years later by Gandalf to members of the Fellowship). In it, Gandalf explains what Thorin and the dwarves were really thinking when they met Bilbo, rather than what Bilbo perceived.
There is a question as to whether or not the filmmakers have rights to this material, but my feeling has been (and still is) that they will incorporate some of the general ideas present in this work (although the details and dialog may be different). Note that there are multiple versions of Gandalf’s account, each containing slightly different timelines and dialog. I have chosen to mix quotes from each section below.
In “The Quest of Erebor”, Thorin starts out with high hopes upon meeting Gandalf (they both want to bring about the end of Smaug), but he becomes perplexed and disgruntled when Gandalf proposes they use a hobbit as their secret weapon. Thorin and his fellow dwarves consider hobbits to be of little use except as food-growers. Gandalf’s choice to involve Bilbo is due in part to sudden inspiration, but his other motivation is to teach Thorin a lesson about hobbits. As he explains:
“Indeed I think it was annoyance with his haughty disregard of the Hobbits that first put into my head the idea of entangling him with them.”
Having seen the sort of courage hobbits can muster when pressed, Gandalf believes Bilbo is a more likely candidate than his appearance suggests, but Thorin and the dwarves remain dismissive of the idea. When the majority of Gandalf’s attempts to justify his choice—hobbits are stealthy, and their scent is unknown to Smaug—falls on deaf ears, he gets angry with the dwarves’ stubbornness:
“If you persuade this Hobbit to join you, you will succeed. If you do not, you will fail. If you refuse even to try, then I have finished with you. You will get no more advise or help from me until the Shadow falls on you!”
Gandalf puts the burden of encouraging Bilbo to join the Company on the dwarves’ shoulders, even though this is the last thing Thorin cares to do. Thorin has only the rumor of the wizard’s wisdom to go by, and it all comes down to whether or not he trusts Gandalf. Reluctantly, he finally agrees to go to the Shire:
“Very well, I will come. Some foresight is on you, if you are not merely crazed.”
Anticipating their negative reaction, Gandalf tries to prepare Thorin and the dwarves for the meeting by giving them this warning:
“You must come with good will, not merely in the hope of proving me a fool. You must be patient and not easily put off, if neither the courage nor the desire for adventure that I speak of are plain to see at first sight. He will deny them. He will try to back out; but you must not let him.”
Already unenthusiastic about the idea, this makes Thorin even more defensive:
“If I had not given my word, I would not come now. I am in no mood to be made a fool of. For I am serious also. Deadly serious, and my heart is hot within me.”
Unfortunately for Gandalf, Thorin’s fragile trust is nearly shattered upon meeting Bilbo:
“He is soft…soft as the mud of his Shire, and silly. His mother died too soon. You are playing some crooked game of your own, Master Gandalf. I am sure that you have other purposes than helping me.”
Contrast this openly accusatory Thorin of “Quest” with Thorin in the original story, who, at most, becomes slightly condescending toward Bilbo when the hobbit faints at the mention of mortal peril.
In Tolkien’s Hobbit, there is no sign of Thorin’s early distrust of Gandalf, except perhaps briefly, when Gandalf reveals having long possessed the map and key of Thror and Thrain. But even then, Thorin quickly accepts his explanation without issue.
Meanwhile, the Thorin in “Quest” is unwilling to be misled. Gandalf admits that his suspicions are partly correct:
“If I had no other purposes, I should not be helping you at all.”
Having been given the map and key, Thorin is quite ready to go on the quest without the “foolish business” of the hobbit. But the wizard is certain the success of everything depends on whether or not Bilbo goes along. Having exhausted attempts at rational entreaty and threats, Gandalf concludes with a more personal plea, even though he doubts it will do any good.
“I can say no more—unless it is this: I do not give my love or trust lightly, Thorin; but I am fond of this hobbit, and wish him well. Treat him well, and you shall have my friendship to the end of your days.”
Whether or not Thorin believes the friendship of Gandalf is worth the concession, the loyalty the wizard shows toward Bilbo strikes the right cord with him (even if he cannot yet feel the same himself):
“Very well…he shall set out with my company, if he dares (which I doubt). But if you insist on burdening me with him, you must come too and look after your darling.”
A less obnoxious manifestation of this passage might be heard in Thorin’s lines from the first trailer; “I cannot guarantee his safety…nor will I be responsible for his fate,” which is a sort of passive/aggressive way of encouraging Gandalf to tag along to ensure nothing happens to Bilbo.
But Gandalf in “Quest” has the matter of the White Council on his mind, and can’t afford to stay with them throughout the journey, though he promises this much:
“I will come, and stay with you as long as I can: at least until you have discovered his worth.”
A new description of Gandalf from Weta Workshop summarizes the situation in similar terms:
Needless are none of the acts of the Wizard, so when he councils Dwarf king in exile Thorin Oakenshield to enlist the services of Mister Bilbo Baggins as a burglar in his quest to reclaim his birthright from the dragon Smaug, it is done with a keen insight into the sheltered Hobbit’s qualities and an understanding of how crucial these will be to their success. The Hobbit impresses Thorin Oakenshield little upon their first meeting, but, despite his misgivings, the Dwarf knows enough of Gandalf to credit him with good reasoning, and indeed it will not be long before Bilbo Baggins’ mettle is tested and the Wizard’s wisdom proven.
As far as the on-screen relationship between Gandalf and Thorin, we know from a report by AICN that Thorin does have respect for him, even before they arrive at Rivendell. But this respect is jeopardized by his own prejudice against hobbits, as the latest description from The Hollywood Reporter bears out:
Bilbo Baggins…eavesdrops from behind a tree as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield scornfully denounces him for deserting his comrades in arms. “We will not be seeing our hobbit again,” sneers Thorin at Gandalf. “He is long gone.”
It appears we will see more blatant skepticism on Thorin’s part than in the original story, but maybe not quite to the level of calling Gandalf “crazed” as he does in “Quest”. I believe Thorin will want to trust Gandalf, but must first overcome the challenge of taking Bilbo seriously.
[Quotes from "Quest of Erebor" - Tolkien, J.R.R. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.]
Update 10/27: The latest interviews with Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage mention the conflict between their characters will be a recurring issue.
Ian in Collider.com
“The overall view is, ‘I better keep an eye on these dwarves.’ Particularly Thorin, who is a bit out of control, and not easily managed. So that’s clearly an ongoing relationship. Will Thorin do it Gandalf’s way, or will Gandalf have– Gandalf loses his temper with him at one point.”
Richard in Collider.com
“They’ve used a lot of the appendix in Lord of The Rings. I think there’s two versions of this chance meeting between Thorin and Gandalf which happens prior to this story, which I’ve certainly used. We’ve discussed the hobbit, and why we need to take him. But in terms of this story, it does unfold as we go along that we need a hobbit to go in to try and find the Arkenstone. Because the dragon will not recognize the smell of a hobbit, whereas he knows very well the smell of a dwarf. And there’s a possibility that they may be lighter on their feet, and more able to get in there. But it’s kind of a loose project for Thorin to accept, I don’t think he’s ever bought that. I think he needs Gandalf to go on the quest, and if Gandalf says they’ve got to take this hobbit, then fair enough. ‘Cause he can’t really do it without him, because Gandalf has the map and the key, and he’s kind of hoodwinked into doing it. But all the way along, there is this antagonistic relationship between Thorin and Gandalf. I think Thorin is trying to prove that Gandalf isn’t correct, and most of his assumption is that he’s trying to usurp his leadership. When Gandalf isn’t there, Thorin really becomes a leader, and when he turns up, he has to be subservient, and it’s not something that he likes at all.”
The mention of using Bilbo to specifically retrieve the Arkenstone is a new twist. It actually makes more sense that way. In the original, Bilbo was sent in to steal stuff from Smaug, but that’s going to an awful lot of trouble just to get a few random bits of treasure.
Richard once described Thorin as being paranoid, and now we begin to see that coming to the fore with his fears about Gandalf. It’s quite a personality shift from the original version in The Hobbit.