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Why did Gandalf put the dwarves and the hobbit in danger in The Desolation of Smaug by going through the "cursed forest"?

Gandalf clearly said he would go another way around, which means there's another way around other than going through the cursed forest. So why didn't they just follow Gandalf the other way around instead of going through the "cursed forest"?

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    Because they had little fat ponies and he has the fastest horse in the entire universe? – Valorum Feb 6 at 9:12
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    @Valorum I'm not sure whether you are referencing Gwaihir here, but IIRC Gandalf only gets the fastest horse when enters Rohan in LotR – Nikita Neganov Feb 6 at 9:51
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    Don't have quotes with me at the moment, but (as far as I remember) Gandalf wasn't going round the forest, he was on his way to Dol Guldor to face the Necromancer (i.e. Sauron). – Nicola Talbot Feb 6 at 10:57
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    Sure, the cursed forest was the most dangerous thing, and the dragon at the destination wouldn't harm a fly... They were working under a time restraint, so chose the shortest path. – Jon Custer Feb 6 at 17:36
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    He needed to level up the party a bit more before the Boss Fight. – Jon P Feb 6 at 21:29
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Because that was the shortest and less dangerous route to go

Just to clarify: Gandalf wasn't going by another path to Erebor by himself, he was heading to Dol Guldur with The White Council, and afterwards going back to Bilbo and the Dwarves. The other way round that Gandalf mentions would take the party more time to travel, in addition to being more dangerous. Bilbo himself asks Gandalf this.

"Do we really have to go through?" groaned the hobbit.

"Yes, you do!" said the wizard, "if you want to get to the other side. You must either go through or give up your quest. And I am not going to allow you to back out now, Mr. Baggins. I am ashamed of you for thinking of it. You have got to look after all these dwarves for me," he laughed. "No! no!" said Bilbo. "I didn't mean that. I meant, is there no way round?"

"There is, if you care to go two hundred miles or so out of your way north, and twice that south. But you wouldn't get a safe path even then. There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go. Before you could get round Mirkwood in the North you would be right among the slopes of the Grey Mountains, and they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and rest of the worst description. Before you could get round it in the South, you would get into the land of the Necromancer; and even you. Bilbo, won't need me to tell you tales of that black sorcerer. I don't advise you to go anywhere near the places overlooked by his dark tower! Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best, and with a tremendous slice of luck you may come out one day and see the Long Marshes lying below you, and beyond them, high in the East, the Lonely Mountain where dear old Smaug lives, though I hope he is not expecting you."

The Hobbit, Queer Lodgings

Cutting straight through Mirkwood on the Old Forest Road would take far less time. That does not mean it wasn't dangerous, as Beorn himself notes that goblins used that road.

But Beorn had warned them that that way was now often used by the goblins, while the forest-road itself, he had heard, was overgrown and disused at the eastern end and led to impassable marshes where the paths had long been lost.

The Hobbit, Queer Lodgings

You can see for yourself on this map: To go North? An extra 200 miles and guaranteed goblins at the end? No thank you. 400 extra miles South and going near Dol Guldur? I'll pass. Going through Mirkwood on the Old Forest Road; goblins, possibly, but it would sure take a ton of time off the journey.

So their last alternative, the chosen route, seemed the most ideal because, like the Old Forest Road, it was a shortcut through Mirkwood to Erebor. In addition it was a little-known path, meaning chances of meeting goblins were much less on that path than any other. (Thanks @chepner)

North of the Carrock the edge of Mirkwood drew closer to the borders of the Great River, and though here the Mountains too drew down nearer, Beorn advised them to take this way; for at a place a few days' ride due north of the Carrock was the gate of a little-known pathway through Mirkwood that led almost straight towards the Lonely Mountain.

The Hobbit, Queer Lodgings

Map of Wilderland

Mirkwood map

The map of Wilderland drawn by Christopher Tolkien and included in most editions of The Hobbit.

As you can see on the above map the Elf-Path is located a little more North as compared to the Old Forest Road, and would clearly take the party far less time travelling on it and through the forest, than going either North or South to avoid Mirkwood.

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    Note that they didn't take the Old Forest Road, but another path known by Beorn that was further to the North (and not on this map). Said road was closer to Beorn's, less likely to be used by goblins, and exits the forest closer to Erebor. (See wordsathome2.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/…, looking for the elf path marked in a dotted line halfway between the northern end of the forest and the Old Forest Road.) – chepner Feb 6 at 16:20
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    (Sorry, ignore the statement that the elf path was closer to Beorn's.) – chepner Feb 6 at 16:30
  • @chepner Seems like I need to do a reread sometime soon, I mixed those 2 up. Thanks for pointing that out. – Mat Cauthon Feb 6 at 22:05
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    I think their original plan, though, was indeed to take the Old Forest Road (lining up as it does with the High Pass), so the same conversation probably would have resulted :) – chepner Feb 6 at 22:08
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    It's also mentioned that it's a good thing they didn't follow the Old Forest Road, as that got lost in swampy land at the eastern end and it would have delayed them no end, and then they would have had to trek north to Laketown through empty lands. – David Roberts Feb 7 at 7:39
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Because unless they were terminally stupid and left the path, they were relatively safe. All they had to do was to keep following a wide path, going in a straight line, as instructed by an uber-powerful wizard who knew everything about the world and an uber-powerful werebear who knew everything about that area of the world. You'd have to be some kind of idiot to wander off the path, hoping that the wood elves (the natural enemies of dwarfs) would welcome you to their fireside and feed you.

Oh wait...

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    I prefer to think that the Hobbit was a short story written by Tolkien for children and it was the quickest path to more interesting parts of the story. – StainlessSteelRat Feb 7 at 16:06
  • This answer overstates its case, seems to indicate at the end that it is wrong and does not seem to be based on any specific evidence. – PJTraill Feb 12 at 9:54
  • @PJTraill Overstates how? They had no problems following the path, and there were no dangers on the path apart from the stream which put them to sleep. I'm hardly exaggerating the powers and knowledge of Gandalf or Beorn. And in Tolkien, dwarfs and elves do not get along. – Graham Feb 12 at 12:12
  • seems to suggest at the end that is wrong... Allow me to introduce you to the concept of irony. Like "You'd have to be some kind of idiot to misunderstand that. Oh wait..." All clear now? ;) – Graham Feb 12 at 12:15
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    While I do not agree with your view on the question/answer, I find your comments on children v. adults intriguing – must give that some thought! – PJTraill Feb 12 at 17:03

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