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In the chapter "Long-expected party" Tolkien writes:

“The invitations were limited to twelve dozen (a number also called by the hobbits one Gross, though the word was not considered proper to use of people); and the guests were selected from all the families to which Bilbo and Frodo were related, with the addition of a few special unrelated friends (such as Gandalf ).”

This would seem to infer that the total number of attendees in the pavilion was 144, but the total number of hobbits invited would then be less: X = 144 - F, where F is the number of "special unrelated friends." Yet later in the chapter, when Bilbo vanishes in front of the party, Tolkien writes:

“One hundred and forty-four flabbergasted hobbits sat back speechless.”

Which would seem to infer that there were more than 144 attendees at the party: 144 hobbits + F = total attendees.

So did the gross include the non-hobbits? Or not?

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    you're assuming one invitation = 1 person. Generally you do not invite, e.g. husband and wife separately... – KutuluMike Aug 11 '14 at 15:34
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    That's a good point, but I think if that was the case, you'd have a resulting attendance that would number far higher than 144. ie. Tolkien might have written: 232 Hobbits sat back speechless. – Dave Aug 11 '14 at 15:52
  • unless most of Bilbo's friends were bachelors :) – KutuluMike Aug 11 '14 at 15:55
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    @MichaelEdenfield - the 144 are just those invited to the family dinner in the pavillion, a lot more were invited to the party itself but just not to that part of it. – user8719 Aug 11 '14 at 20:27
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    It's as if the gates of Hell opened and The Professor momentarily started channeling the spirit of JKR in all her Maths-failing glory. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 12 '14 at 2:36
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This is actually quite simple as soon as you interpret "with the addition of a few unrelated friends." as:

There were one Gross of hobbits (from all the related families) and additionally a few unrelated friends invited.

To clarify, this reading implies, that Gandalf (and the possibly existing other unrelated friends) are not counted into the Gross.

Your becomes nonexistent with this interpretation :(

  • @Himarm are you really sure you want to count Frodo as a guest? I'd figure neither Gandalf nor Frodo were counted into the 144 hobbits. In fact I wouldn't bother that much over an "off-by-one error". Moreover I'd say 145(Guests including Gandalf) - 1(Gandalf) = 144 – Vogel612 Aug 11 '14 at 15:26
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    if Gandalf (and the possibly existing other unrelated friends) are not counted into the Gross as you state, then 144 hobbits would be speechless only if ALL the special friends were non-hobbit. We know that Gandalf was a special friend. We must assume there are more special friends as Tolkien used the plural. We do not know if among those special friends there are hobbits as well as dawrves, humans, etc. Tolkien also states at the beginning that "the invitations were limited to twelve dozen." There is nothing "interpretable" about that statement: – Dave Aug 11 '14 at 15:43
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    @Himarm- Assuming the flabbergastedness is at Bilbo's disappearance, Frodo would most certainly not be one of the 144 hobbits. The text later says that Frodo wasn't surprised, and was amused. – TenthJustice Aug 11 '14 at 16:50
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    @Dave - I'm not sure where you get "144 guests in total" from. The quote is "the invitations were limited to twelve dozen ... with the addition of a few special unrelated friends" so that's as clear as can be that it was 144 guests plus the unrelated friends, i.e 144 + N. – user8719 Aug 11 '14 at 20:31
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    @DarthSatan - after the word dozen there is a semicolon not a comma. This indicates a separate sentence which stands alone. The semicolon indicates that the bit about special friends is related, but itself an individual sentence too. – Dave Aug 12 '14 at 2:52
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I can see only one piece of text you haven't considered. In between the two excerpts you've noted comes:

"Together we score one hundred and forty-four. Your numbers were chosen to fit this remarkable total: One Gross, if I may use the expression." No cheers. This was ridiculous. Many of his guests, and especially the Sackville-Bagginses, were insulted, feeling sure they had only been asked to fill up the required number, like goods in a package.

That seems to indicate that there were one hundred forty-four guests altogether, though of course how that includes Frodo and Gandalf, who would not have been among the "one hundred and forty-four flabbergasted hobbits", is at best unclear. Or, one could guess that there were one hundred forty-four guests invited (plus Frodo and Gandalf), and that the one hundred forty-four flabbergasted hobbits included only those who had been invited, and not Frodo.

It may be worth noting that the "hundred and forty-four guests" idea goes back to what Christopher Tolkien describes, in The Return of the Shadow (part of "The History of Middle-earth"), as "The Second Version": the first revision of Chapter 1 of The Lord of the Rings. This version says:

To that party invitations had been limited to twelve dozen, or one gross (in addition to Gandalf and the host), made up of all the chief hobbits, and their elder children, to whom Bilbo was related or with whom he was connected, or by whom he had been well treated at any time, or for whom he felt some special affection. ... All the 144 special guests expected a pleasant feast. ... Not one of the 144 were disappointed: they had a very pleasant feast. ... One hundred and forty-four flabbergasted hobbits sat back speechless.

Here it appears that there were one hundred forty-four hobbits invited, not counting Frodo, Gandalf, or any other non-hobbits.

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