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Why Gandalf’s Backstory Was Missing From The Hobbit

IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf in New Line Cinema’s and MGM's fantasy adventure “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Ian McKellen as Gandalf. Photo: Todd Eyre/Warner Bros

Now that so many of us have seen (and re-seen) The Hobbit, we can begin wringing our hands over the scenes from the book and the Lord of the Rings appendices that we’d have expected to make the movie — but didn’t. We’d have thought, for example, that Team Jackson would have given more of Gandalf’s backstory, explaining why he was helping the Dwarf company and how he got the map and key for their treasure hunt. Instead, there’s no insight into what Gandalf does when he disappears from the group. Vulture commenced hand-wringing a few weeks back at the film’s New York premiere, when we asked Hobbit co-writers Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens to explain this (hopefully temporary) plot hole.

“Good storytelling-spotting!” Boyens said, when we asked why we didn’t see Thráin, father of Dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield and one of the bearers of a Ring of Power, give Gandalf the map and key. (Gandalf had found Thráin near death at Dol Guldur.) “We did try it at the front of this movie, and then we moved it,” she said. Does that mean we’ll see that moment in a flashback or prologue to The Desolation of Smaug? “Yes, it’s very important that we’re going to be doing that. We will be meeting Thráin, and it may be in unfortunate circumstances. It may involve torture. The discovery of who or what is in Dol Guldur” — i.e., Sauron, known only at this point as the Necromancer — “is a fantastic part of the storytelling, so yes, of course we went there.”

“There’s a lot of potential, isn’t there?” Jackson teased. “You never know what we’ve already filmed as well. But there’s certainly a lot of great material, and we’ll make good use of it.” Jackson said he’s just finished editing The Desolation of Smaug (“We’ve shot it, we’ve cut it, and we just need to refine it”) and anticipates a trailer by the middle of next year. There and Back Again has some more writing and shooting ahead, including the Battle of the Five Armies scene. “I don’t want to do any [more] spoilers,” he said, “so you’re going to have to wait for another year or two!”

Where Was Gandalf’s Backstory in The Hobbit?