|"The Quest of Erebor"|
|Author||J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Published in||Unfinished Tales|
|Publisher||George Allen & Unwin|
"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 Bilbo Baggins many years before in Tolkien's The Hobbit.
The term Quest of Erebor can also refer to the quest told in The Hobbit. For more on the quest itself, see the synopsis in the main article on The Hobbit.
"The Quest of Erebor" was originally written in the 1950s to be a part of The Lord of the Rings Appendices, 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 the request of Frodo 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 also 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.
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.