Having recently bought Unfinished Tales (excellent book) I delved straight in and learned some pretty cool things, but one thing that stood out for me in the chapter of the quest for Erebor was this quote by Gandalf.

"And quite apart from greater matters, that might prove fatal to the quest: the power in Dol Guldur would not leave any attempt on Erebor unhindered, unless he had something else to deal with."

This quote interests me because its obviously saying Sauron had his eye on Erebor enough, that if any expedition was made, unless challenged (aka the white council) he would kill any who would attempt to reclaim the mountain. Now I admittedly was not a fan of the hobbit films whatsoever, but was Peter Jackson maybe onto something by having Sauron behind the attack on Erebor?

"There would have been an attack of orcs, however generous Thorin had been with his treasure"

The quote above is again from Unfinished Tales and is from Gandalf's point of view and is quite a hard quote to decipher; does he mean that even if he essentially offered even the orcs some of the treasure they would have attacked? Or if he hadn't been greedy and offered the men and elves some treasure the orcs still in anger of the great goblins death wanted revenge? Personally I don't know what to make of it all.

Is there other evidence that can point to my theory maybe being right or wrong?

  • It seems pretty clear to me that no amount of bribery could prevent Sauron from sending an expeditionary force to take the mountain, or at the very least bottle up the dwarves to prevent them from taking any further part in future conflicts.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 21:07
  • 1
    We might reflect that if Thorin HAD generously shared the treasure with the Elves and the Men of Dale, then those armies would have gone home, and so would not have been there to resist the attack by the Orcs.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 4:00
  • 1
    Sauron had great interest in Erebor, because it strenghtened his position - Smaug was a powerful agent to block a significant part of Sauron's opposition (Erebor being a huge treasury and an industrial facility) at the very least, and quite possibly an outright ally of Sauron. He wouldn't just turn a blind eye to enemy defeating his side in detail - that's just war strategy 101.
    – Luaan
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 9:46
  • It means generous towards the Elves and Men of Dale not Orcs. Have you forgotten how Thorin's father and grandfather were murdered? Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 12:48

3 Answers 3


Could Sauron have been behind the attack on Erebor?

Doubtful; we're told in The Hobbit what motivated the attack by the goblins, and it was pretty clearly a mixture of greed and revenge:

Ever since the fall of the Great Goblin of the Misty Mountains the hatred of their race for the dwarves had been rekindled to fury. Messengers had passed to and fro between all their cities, colonies and strongholds; for they resolved now to win the dominion of the North. Tidings they had gathered in secret ways; and in all the mountains there was a forging and an arming. Then they marched and gathered by hill and valley, going ever by tunnel or under dark, until around and beneath the great mountain Gundabad of the North, where was their capital, a vast host was assembled ready to sweep down in time of storm unawares upon the South. Then they learned of the death of Smaug, and joy was in their hearts

The Hobbit Chapter 17: "The Clouds Burst"

It's not impossible for Sauron to have inserted himself into this intelligence network and influence the decision that was made, but it's pretty clear that he at least didn't order the attack.

What is Frodo1 trying to say with that quote?

Let's take a look at that last quote (from the question) in a broader context:

But alas! Thorin did not live to enjoy his triumph or his treasure. Pride and greed overcame him in spite of my [Gandalf's] warning."

"But surely," I said, "he might have fallen in battle anyway? There would have been an attack of Orcs, however generous Thorin had been with his treasure."

Unfinished Tales Part 3: "The Third Age" Chapter III: "The Quest of Erebor"

From the context, it's clear that Sauron doesn't enter into this discussion at all; Gandalf and Frodo are discussing the climax of The Hobbit, the Battle of the Five Armies:

  • Gandalf laments that Thorin was killed by his own greed and stubbornness; he calls back to a statement from earlier in the text:

    [C]urb your pride and your greed, or you will fall at the end of whatever path you take, though your hands be full of gold.

    Unfinished Tales Part 3: "The Third Age" Chapter III: "The Quest of Erebor"

    • Thorin's pride and greed are, of course, the things that most annoy the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale, and lead to the Siege of Erebor that preceded the Battle of Five Armies
  • Frodo remarks that Thorin probably still would have died, even if he'd been less greedy

    • His point is that Thorin could have avoided the Siege of Erebor by giving a small portion of his (enormous) treasure to the Elves and/or the Men of Dale, but he couldn't have prevented the Goblins from attacking; regardless of Thorin's greed, the Battle of Five Armies was inevitable

1 It is indeed Frodo speaking; the quote begins:

"But surely," I said, "he might have fallen in battle anyway? There would have been an attack of Orcs, however generous Thorin had been with his treasure."

Unfinished Tales Part 3: "The Third Age" Chapter III: "The Quest of Erebor"

And Christopher Tolkien's commentary opening the chapter disambiguates the pronouns:

The "He" of the opening sentence is Gandalf, "we" are Frodo, Peregrin, Meriadoc, and Gimli, and "I" is Frodo, the recorder of the conversation

Unfinished Tales Part 3: "The Third Age" Chapter III: "The Quest of Erebor"

  • Do we not use the lord-of-the-rings tag for Hobbit stuff? I thought that was our franchise name of something.
    – Adamant
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 22:03
  • 3
    @Adamant Some people try to use it that way, but I've never been comfortable with it. It seems unfair to the rest of Tolkien's writings, a bit like referring to the Chronicles of Narnia as "the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe series" Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 22:14
  • @JasonBaker To be fair I think Tolkien didn't want to split LotR in three books, but was advised to do so.
    – Zikato
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 5:58
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    @Zikato Strictly, it's six books, normally published in three volumes. Tolkien wanted all six published in one volume of a two volume set (with the Silmarillion as the second volume).
    – TripeHound
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 9:56
  • @Zikato that doesn't change the fact that The Hobbit is not a part of The Lord of the Rings, no matter how many volumes it is published in.
    – Theoriok
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 11:08

The Orcs were gathering to attack Erebor regardless of the diplomatic situation around Erebor. They knew two things: the Dwarves that had killed the Great Goblin were there, and the dragon was no longer around to defend the treasure. The tensions around the treasure ended up being a good thing; without the squabble, the Orcs would have faced a far smaller army: no Dwarves from the Iron Hills, a much smaller contingent of Elves from Mirkwood, and Esgaroth would certainly not have been mobilized for a large battle.

Even without Sauron's direct involvement, this works to his great advantage.

The aftermath would be Erebor occupied by orcs, with Esgaroth likely wiped out. Thranduil and Dain would still hold northern Mirkwood and the Iron Hills respectively, but even together might find Erebor a tough nut to crack. They would be weakened by the attempt, so even if successful there would be little strength to resist the army of the Easterlings coming across the top of Mirkwood to invade Eriador, Lothlórien, and/or Rohan. The west would have effectively been flanked, even without Smaug.


The matter of Sauron's interest in Erebor is answered almost at the very beginning of The quest of Erebor, with my emphasis:

To resist any force that Sauron might send to regain the northern passes in the mountains and the old lands of Angmar there were only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills, and behind them lay a desolation and a Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect.

This is effectively identical to a similar passage in Appendix A(III) (Durin's Folk) of Lord of the Rings:

Among many cares he was troubled in mind by the perilous state of the North; because he knew then already that Sauron was plotting war, and intended, as soon as he felt strong enough, to attack Rivendell. But to resist any attempt from the East to regain the lands of Angmar and the northern passes in the mountains there were now only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills. And beyond them lay the desolation of the Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect.

Sauron's interest was therefore twofold:

  1. It was on a route from the East which Sauron could use to attack Rivendell.
  2. Smaug was a potential ally which he could use in the wars to come.
  • This is quite true with regard to Sauron’s interest in Erebor, but it doesn’t seem to address the issues or theory specifically raised in the question. Perhaps you could add something about that?
    – Adamant
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 9:25

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