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How to move your goblins quickly!  

Alex Lewis.                                 

So, you have a hoard of goblins - how do you shift them fast?

Shout ‘Beater and Biter!’ at the top of your lungs!

No, there is a serious point to the question above, and it has to do with the chapters about The Battle of the Five Armies in The Hobbit.

In the chapter The Gathering of the Clouds, Roac son of Carc says:

“The thrush saw [Smaug] fall in battle with the men of Esgaroth the third night back from now at the riding of the moon.”

Roac is sent off by Thorin to summon Dain and his dwarves from the Iron Hills. Then the text says:

‘They were four days gone and by that time they knew that the joined armies of the Lake-men and the Elves were hurrying towards the mountain.’

The journey to the Lonely Mountain would then take no more than another day, and by the evening a host had arrived in Dale.

The following day there is a parley, and after several more days Bilbo delivers the Arkenstone to Bard.

A couple more days pass, and then Dain arrives and battle is about to commence when a darkness falls, and Gandalf comes between the two sides:

“Dread has come upon you all! Alas! it has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria.”

Now, it is said that these goblins came south from Mount Gundabad to fight.

So if you figure it out, that arrival has to have taken place around ten to fourteen days at most since the death of Smaug. And news takes some time to travel - it is not instantaneous, especially not in those pre-telephone and telegraph days, and so it would have taken several days for birds flying west and north to reach Gundabad and for Bolg to have heard of the death of the dragon, and so to have aimed his offensive directly at the Lonely Mountain instead of wherever he originally planned to attack (possibly the Beornings?). It may be that there were as little as six to ten days from the time Bolg heard of Smaugs demise to when he arrived at the Lonely Mountain. It is highly unlikely, for instance that Bolg would have had access to a Palantir - had Tolkien even invented them by then in this Hobbit tale (which he hadn’t, of course!).

One thing is for certain, no goblins could have come from Moria at the southern end of the Misty Mountains to help in the fight - it is too far away (about 600 miles). But even Gundabad is around 500 miles from the Lonely Mountain if you check the marked point for it on the Misty Mountains on maps that are given.

For these goblins to have come hot on the heels of Dain from the Iron Hills - which is the opposite direction, anyway - the goblins would have had to march about fifty to sixty miles a day non stop and across two marked rivers (the Anduin and the Forest river) which had no bridges as far as we know, because of the proximity of the Withered Heath and dragons, and cross very bad terrain.

We also know that Thorin and Company spent weeks on end traversing Mirkwood, and they ran out of food and water on their way, summer passed and autumn was going by too - and these goblins in effect are doing the very same thing but across the top of Mirkwood, in a mere fraction of the time, which as Gandalf explained to Bilbo would have been a big ask:

“Is there no way round (Mirkwood)?” Bilbo asked him.

“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.”

So, if one has to go two hundred miles out of your way north, we are talking serious distances.

How did they do that so quickly?

One has to ask why Bolg is declaring war, and on who.

Perhaps it was partly to do with the death of the Great Goblin, which is what we are told by the narrator (Tolkien - or perhaps more correctly Bilbo Baggins) but there was something else going on at that same time - something a lot larger and far more threatening to the goblins. The White Council met, and they drove the ‘Necromancer’ out from his ancient hold in the south of Mirkwood - he and the Nazgul of course regrouped at Mordor and retook Minas Morgul eventually in Lord of the Rings (once these places were invented). We know that Gandalf had also sneaked into Dol Guldur some years before that to see what was going on and came across Thrain who had had his Ring of Power taken from him, but still had the map and the key to the Lonely Mountain. It was when Gandalf abandoned Thorin and Company on the edge of Mirkwood just after midsummer that he headed southwards and met with the White Council, and it was after that they ousted the Necromancer from Dol Guldur. That, I would contend, is more of a declaration of war than killing one goblin chieftain in the Misty Mountains - he is not even called King or Lord. He doesn’t even have a proper name, for goodness sake! Names are important in Tolkien, the more of them a character has, the more significant that person is (for instance: Aragorn - Strider, Elessar, Longshanks, etc, or Gandalf - Greyhame, Mithrandir, Olorin etc.) and the Great Goblin does not cut it - he’s effectively less important than any of the named Dwarves in Thorin and Company, some of who do not do all that much and could be missed out without affecting the story. He is like The Water, The Hill, The Mountain... just generic.

Also it has to be said that Goblins do not seem all that bothered about one another’s safety and well being - the death of the Great Goblin would have been taken as an opportunity for someone else to take over that patch - but if the ‘Necromancer’ or his servants roused the goblins to fight and destroy the meddling wise folk of the White Council, that would explain how such an army was raised and sent so quickly - it was the ejection of the ‘Necromancer’ that tipped the scales and made Bolg prepare for all out war and to ‘dominate the north’ as seemed to be his purpose. It was the agreement between Bolg and the Necromancer that this kind of retaliation would be carried out in the eventuality of an attack on Dol Guldur, I would contend. A bit like Nazi Germany invading Poland precipitated Britain declaring war on Germany.

There is another item of note - Gandalf knew beforehand that the goblins were going to attack. He immediately tells Bard and Thranduil and Dain who their enemies are, so how did he know? He was only really caught out by how fast they had come all the way to Erebor. He even knew exactly who their commander in chief was who was leading the attacking armies - which seems pretty amazingly insightful, even for a wizard. For that, he would have needed to know there was retaliation or even a declaration of war by Bolg on all comers following the defeat at Dol Guldur.

We also have the timely arrival of Beorn, who comes specifically to crush and kill Bolg. He has come from near the Rivendell pass. If all the goblins had come up stealthily to Mount Gundabad under the mountains, and then marched from there only as their starting point, Beorn would not have been alerted to any danger - and anyway why should be bother with a war up at Erebor? He seemed to pay little attention to anything other than the fact that the Great Goblin was killed - his ‘patch’ as it were was the middle Misty Mountains. But if there were goblins marching up from Moria and southern Mirkwood, if Gandalf was in fact chased by the army all the way north, that would explain how both he and Beorn would have known about it’s impending arrival. The wizard seemed to attach himself rather quickly and conveniently to Thranduil’s army - safety in numbers perhaps! And one further point of note - Gandalf is actually wounded and has one arm in a sling when Bilbo wakes up and is brought to speak to Thorin Oakenshield as the dwarf is dying of his wounds. That would seem to suggest that the wizard was a prime target of the goblins on that day - and perhaps did well not to be killed by them.

As the Mouth of Sauron says before the Black Gates some eighty years later:

“Then thou art the spokesman, old greybeard? have we not heard of thee at whiles, and of thy wanderings,  ever hatching plots and mischief at a safe distance? But this time thou hast stuck out thy nose too far, Master Gandalf; and thou shalt see what comes to him who sets his foolish webs before the feet of Sauron the Great.”

So Gandalf was known as a party to the ‘hostile actions’ taken against the forces of the Lord of the Rings and his allies.

One other question to ponder over - Bolg changed his target at the very last minute, deciding that the lure of dragon gold was greater and of potentially larger value to him than anything else. He perhaps had learnt that Thranduil and his people were marching on Erebor. He would surely have heard that Laketown was totalled by the dragon when it perished - so he might have logically discounted the Lakemen from his calculations. He would have learnt that Gandalf was going to be there too. But Bolg had gathered his forces since at least Midsummer, if we are to believe the narrator. If so, what was his original target?

Looking at the map of Wilderland in the Hobbit, there does not seem to be any likely target there in the north. To attack Thranduil in Mirkwood would be quite unfeasible - elves on their home turf inside Mirkwood would have led the goblins a merry dance and destroyed them piecemeal - just as the less numerous Elves of Lorien did to the orcs coming out of Moria in the Lord of the Rings. There is nowhere else that looks like a target - the hidden valley of Rivendell is after all just that; hidden.

Even the more complex map of Middle earth does not really give us much more idea of what could have been in Bolg’s sights. One could speculate that the goblins planned to invade Lothlorien, perhaps drive Saruman from Orthanc, perhaps drive the men of Rohan from the Mark. But if that were the case, Gundabad looks like a stupid place to start from - the caverns where the Great Goblin was slain by Gandalf seem a lot more logical as a muster point for that kind of offensive - within far easier reach. It just seems odd to take your troops over 200 miles north if you plan to march back down past that place on your way to the intended targets. On top of that, at the time of writing The Hobbit, there was no Lothlorien or Rohan in existence - so that would be out. We are left with a mystery here.

As you can see, there are probably more questions than answers when it comes to the Battle of the Five armies. And that’s before we ask where on Middle-earth all those bats and wargs came from!