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I mean, you used to upset things pretty badly in these parts once upon a time.  I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business.”
    “Where else should I be?” said the wizard.  “All the same I am pleased to find you remember something about me.  You seem to remember my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope.  Indeed for your old grandfather Took's sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for.”
    “I beg your pardon, I haven't asked for anything!”
    “Yes, you have!  Twice now.  My pardon.  I give it to you.  In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure.  Very

I think perhaps the first one is where he bid Gandalf goodbye after Gandalf mentioned looking for someone to go on an adventure with, and the second was when he showed excitement about the things Gandalf used to bring around the shire. Is that right?

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3 Answers 3

8

Gandalf was an old guy, so he used an old dictionary.

It seams, pardon had a meaning, which was obsolete in 1913, and disappeared from the language and the dictionaries by now.

https://www.websters1913.com/words/Pardon

  1. To give leave (of departure) to. [Obs.]

https://www.websters1913.com/words/Leave

  1. Liberty granted by which restraint or illegality is removed; permission; allowance; license.

  2. The act of leaving or departing; a formal parting; a leaving; farewell; adieu; -- used chiefly in the phrase, to take leave, i. e., literally, to take permission to go.

So the exchange is:

“I beg your pardon [= permission to go], I haven't asked for anything!”

“Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon [= My permission to go]. I give it to you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure."

As I understand it, this is not (just) a joke of Gandalf. He wants to hire Bilbo for the job, but Bilbo rejects it. Forcing or enchanting him is not allowed by the moral principles of Gandalf. He needs the consent of Bilbo. Gandalf points out that Bilbo's words, like "Good morning", have multiple interpretations, and asks him which one he meant. By answering "all of them at once", he gives permission to Gandalf to use any of the possible interpretations. This allows Gandalf to use that interpretation of "pardon" which suits his plan.

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  • 1
    This usage makes little sense, since the conversation took place on Bilbo's doorstep. What you suggest is that Bilbo asked Gandalf for permission for Bilbo to immediately leave Bilbo's doorstep.
    – Lexible
    Feb 6 at 21:11
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    Bilbo was asking permission to leave, not for Gandalf to leave If I understand correctly. @Lexible This makes perfect sense to me especially considering the hobbit's renowned penchant for word games and riddles too, on top of Gandalf's whimsey (remember, the adventure was all arranged with the dwarves beforehand). Feb 7 at 2:41
  • @JiminyCricket.Except Bilbo knew nothing about the Dwarves at this point in the conversation.
    – Lexible
    Feb 7 at 4:27
  • @Lexible why would that matter?
    – JoshuaD
    Feb 10 at 7:16
  • @JoshuaD Because Bilbo cannot be asking Gandalf for permission to join the prearranged adventure with the Dwarves if he does not know about the Dwarves.
    – Lexible
    Feb 10 at 17:01
66

Bilbo asked for Gandalf's pardon. And he did so twice. At first, "I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business!"

And then a second time, "I beg your pardon, but I haven't asked for anything!"

Gandalf is having gentle fun at Bilbo's expense, by treating Bilbo's social nicety and/or emphatic expression "I beg your pardon" as literally asking for Gandalf to extend him (Bilbo) his (Gandalf's) pardon in a formal sense.

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    @JoshuaD Gandalf has an agenda, and already had Bilbo in mind. At least, by the time of the publication of LoTR that latter part was Tolkien's take. Re: "Oh duh," it is easy to know something if you already know it. :) Pretty sure I stumbled on that exact line for years before appreciating the joke.
    – Lexible
    Feb 3 at 16:31
  • 8
    one might hear it as "I'm not mad at you. On the contrary: I want to give you a gift", being the opportunity of the adventure
    – Mike M
    Feb 4 at 12:27
  • 6
    This exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf is an example of Tolkien's wordplay with familiar phrases. In the same conversation, Bilbo also uses "Good morning" to mean both "Hello" and "Goodbye!" and Gandalf chides him for that.
    – Wastrel
    Feb 4 at 14:16
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    @JoshuaD Gandalf is not taking that to mean that Bilbo is asking for an adventure. He is giving Bilbo what he asked for ("my pardon") and then quickly moving on to another subject to keep Bilbo off balance and therefore unable to critically evaluate what comes next. This is what people mean when they speak of "fast talking" someone into an agreement.
    – Nobody
    Feb 5 at 17:23
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    "How is Gandalf taking that to mean Bilbo's asking for an adventure?" — I think the fact that he's giving Bilbo something that Bilbo didn't ask for is part of the joke. It'd be like if you mentioned your car, and I said "very cool! speaking of your car, I have a great ice cream recipe I think you should try." The fact that I'm implying a connection that makes no sense is the source of humor.
    – yshavit
    Feb 5 at 18:54
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Bilbo did ask for something, at least by implication just before the quoted passage. Here's the whole paragraph with some words highlighted:

"Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows' sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer's Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!" You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of flowers. "Dear me!" she went on. "Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures. Anything from climbing trees to visiting Elves - or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter - I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business."

Bilbo has clearly indicated that he kind of likes the idea of adventure (happening to someone else, perhaps!) and Gandalf concludes (or, at least, affects to conclude) that Bilbo has wished for adventure for himself.

Gandalf speaks of two requests, and the other can reasonably be read into the first part of the quoted paragraph showing how positively Bilbo viewed Gandalf's past actions in the Shire.

As @Lexible's answer correctly notes, Gandalf then pretends that Bilbo's pro forma requests for pardon were genuine requests to be pardoned and gives him what he deep inside wishes for.

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    "you used to upset things pretty badly in these parts once upon a time" <- This can also be seen as a desire for excitement, depending on tone used (imagine he said it with a chuckle at his neighbors being upset). Though I would equate both Bilbo's comments with a desire for novelty and excitement while remaining snuggly safe and comfortable, not adventure, but Gandalf, coming here exclusively to use Bilbo for his own goals, conveniently reinterprets Bilbo's desires to align more with Gandalf's pre-conceived goal of using Bilbo for the "adventure" (which is really part of Gandalf's war).
    – Jamin Grey
    Feb 4 at 18:32

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