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GANDALF’S VISITS TO THE SHIRE
So very often in fics, we see Gandalf paying casual visits to Bilbo or Frodo, or even other hobbits in the Shire. Yet he had a good many other places to travel and things to do.
We know for certain that there were particular visits he made, and we also know for certain that there were some years he definitely was not* in the Shire, for JRRT tells us so in the Tale of Years.
Curious, I started checking. Here’s what I came up with:
TA 2758 (SR 1158) Gandalf’s attention is first drawn to the Shire and to hobbits during the Long Winter, when he renders them aid.
TA 2848 (SR 1248) Gerontius (the Old Took) becomes Thain. We know that during the time Gerontius was Thain, Gandalf “often” visited the Shire, and put on fireworks displays. But we don’t know how “often” was “often”.
And two years later in
TA 2850 (SR 1250) That Gandalf was helping to overthrow Dol Guldur.
TA 2890 (SR 1290) Bilbo is born. At some point in time, Bilbo knows and meets Gandalf, and sees his fireworks. As Gerontius is still Thain, this makes sense.
TA 2911 (SR 1311) Was the Fell Winter. We don’t know if Gandalf was around at that time or not, but it was a very important event in the Shire.
TA 2941 (SR 1341) when he arrives to recruit Bilbo as a burglar, Bilbo has forgotten him, until his memory is jogged. (This brings up a whole other question--how often did Big Folk show up in the Shire, that Bilbo might not realize who this Big Person was?)
TA 2942 (SR 1342) He escorts Bilbo home.
Apparently he does not visit again until
TA 2949 (SR 1349) when he and Balin make a visit.
But he must continue to make visits after this because in
TA 2953 (SR 1353) Saruman notices Gandalf’s interests in hobbits and the Shire, and begins to set spies and take his own measures.
TA 2983 (SR 1383) Faramir is born in Minas Tirith. Now at some point during the time of Faramir’s childhood, Gandalf must have been spending time *there*, which would presumably affect his visits to the Shire. (Remember that Faramir was close to Gandalf, and Denethor called his son “wizard’s pupil”?)
TA 2989 (SR 1389) Bilbo’s adoption of Frodo. At some point here Gandalf’s visits to the Shire again seem to be more often, because in
TA 3001 (SR 1401) when Bilbo throws the Long-Expected Party, Gandalf is a familiar enough figure that the children know he brings fireworks, and Frodo is already a good friend with him.
But we know that for three years after the Party, Gandalf is absent, returning in
TA 3004 (SR 1304) to make the first of “frequent” visits, which seem to be very brief ones.
TA 3008 (SR 1408) he stops coming, and doesn’t return for nine years--until
April 12, TA 3018 (SR 1418) when he brings news of the Ring, and the Great Years begin.
So, I think what I’m wondering here is during those years when he did visit, how many times a year do you think “frequent” or “often” means? Or even once a year? How long could the visits have reasonably lasted and still left him time for his other tasks?
It seems as though during the tenure of Gerontius as Thain, (SR 1248 to SR 1320) Gandalf probably visited at least once a year, perhaps even twice a year, up until the end of Bilbo’s childhood. (The exception being SR 1250, when he would have been in Southern Mirkwood.) Since Bilbo was fifty at the time of his Adventure, I think it safe to say that the wizard had been gone from the Shire for at least twenty years, and perhaps as long as thirty. Or, if he did pay such visits, that they were only to the Tooks, and so Bilbo did not see him. This would allow Bilbo enough time to “forget” him.
Of course, Gandalf returns to collect Bilbo for the Quest of Erebor, in SR 1342, and brings him back a year later. He visits with Balin in SR 1349, and though it does not specifically say so, the impression given is that he had not been to Bag End since their return.
After this, it is possible he could have once more been a frequent visitor, though not necessarily as regular a one, up until the occasion of the Farewell Party. As stated above, however, he would also have been spending some time in Minas Tirith.
Once the Party was over, it is stated specifically that he absented himself from the Shire for three years, after which he returns to making frequent visits. But these visits are described as “brief”-- “coming unexpectedly after dusk, and going off without warning before sunrise.”**
His visits stopped abruptly in SR 1408, and he does not return until April 12, SR 1418, when he comes to inform Frodo of the truth about the Ring, and he remains until June 20. This is the longest visit we actually have any record of.
So, looking at this, it is possible to have stories in which he visits Bilbo and in which he meets the four main hobbits as youngsters, unless such a story takes place during a year when he is clearly stated to have been elsewhere.
*Dates taken from Appendix B, “The Tale of Years”
*From The Fellowship of the Ring”, Chapter II, “The Shadow of the Past”.
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