Why did Gandalf leave the expedition and leave Thorin and company to go into Mirkwood by themselves in The Hobbit?

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Greg Jackson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In addition to the plot-point reasons provided in the answer by the other educator here, there are literary reasons why Gandalf leaves the expedition. With Gandalf present, there will be no opportunities for Bilbo to mature as a hero. Gandalf is just too good at saving the day. Indeed, every time that Bilbo has been in serious trouble up to this point, Gandalf has swooped in to the rescue.

With Gandalf temporarily out of the picture, Bibo has his encounter with Gollum, finds the ring, battles giant spiders, hides among the Elves of Mirkwood, confronts Smaug, steals the Arkenstone, and brokers a peace between the inhabitants of Dale and Thorin. If Gandalf had been present during these escapades, it would have been difficult for Tolkien not to have had Gandalf use his powerful wizardry and gifts of persuasion to solve these situations. Bilbo would not have had the opportunity to grow as a heroic character and gain the confidence that defines him by the end of the story.

Gandalf was necessary in the beginning of the story in order to prod Bilbo along and provide him with guidance. With Gandalf nearby, Bilbo and his companions are relatively safe. However, Tolkien needed to get the wizard out of the way in order for the real adventure, and all the peril it involves, to take place. If you compare the character of Bilbo at the beginning of the story to how he is at the end, it is unlikely that this transformation would have taken place if Gandalf had been there to hold his hand through the whole adventure.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Gandalf leaves Thorin and company at the edge of Mirkwood.  All the dwarves and Bilbo are very upset and concerned about his imminent departure.  Gandalf, however, will not be persuaded, telling his friends:

"It is no use arguing.  I have, as I told you, some pressing business away south; and I am already late through bothering with you people" (125). 

Although Gandalf does not openly disclose his plans to Bilbo and the dwarves at the time, Tolkien later reveals the purpose of his business in Chapter 19, "The Last Stage."  When Bilbo and Gandalf at last return to Rivendell on their journey home, Bilbo hears Gandalf tell Elrond about his secretive mission.  Gandalf had been to the White Council, which is a powerful council of wizards and elves, including Saruman and Galadriel.  They had met to discuss the growing threat of the Necromancer (Sauron) in Dol Guldur, south of Mirkwood, and the Council decides to use their collective powers to drive him away.

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