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In the first chapter of The Hobbit, Gandalf says this about choosing a hobbit for the fourteenth member of the party:

“Of course there is a mark,” said Gandalf. “I put it there myself. For very good reasons. You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal.”

Now, I know why thirteen is an unlucky number to somebody like Tolkien. But all of the reasons for that would have to do with real, Earth history, and to my knowledge none of it applies to Middle Earth.

Is there some in-universe reason Gandalf would consider thirteen to be inherently unlucky?

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    Did Gandalf really believe in unlucky numbers, or was he just kidding? Maybe he said it because the dwarves consider 13 to be unlucky? – user14111 Apr 27 at 3:22
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I suspect that Tolkien was simply applying our universe's aversion for the number thirteen to his fictional universe.

However, The Letters of JRR Tolkien give a couple of examples of thirteen being less than auspicious. As they both occur earlier than The Hobbit, I think they can be considered in-universe explanations.

When Aulë secretly creates the first dwarves, he creates thirteen before Ilúvatar stops him.

Aulë, for instance, one of the Great, in a sense 'fell'; for he so desired to see the Children, that he became impatient and tried to anticipate the will of the Creator. Being the greatest of all craftsmen he tried to make children according to his imperfect knowledge of their kind. When he had made thirteen, God spoke to him in anger, but not without pity : for Aulë had done this thing not out of evil desire to have slaves and subjects of his own, but out of impatient love, desiring children to talk to and teach, sharing with them the praise of Ilúvatar and his great love of the materials of which the world is made.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien Letter 212

Ar-Pharazôn, the King of Númenor who rebelled and attacked Valinor resulting in the destruction of Númenor, was originally the thirteenth King.

Tar-Calion (the Quenya name for Ar-Pharazôn) was originally the thirteenth ruler of Numenor; in later developments of the history of Númenor he became the twenty-fifth.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien Note 131

I understand that these are somewhat tenuous connections. However, I suspect that if we had asked Tolkien why the number thirteen was considered unlucky in Middle-earth, he would have used similar logic to come up with an answer.

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