Saruman, receiving Gandalf into Orthanc just before he springs his trap, accuses Gandalf of being a wanderer through many lands and a meddler in everybody’s business. The accusation, though not meant kindly, has the happy ring of truth to it. “Everybody’s business” seems to include the business of the idle, weak, and foolish (Saruman’s terminology), known chiefly to us as Hobbits and Bree-landers.
Gandalf’s rapport with the little and lesser peoples of Middle Earth is fascinating for its humour and humane interest. It’s interesting how much his pleasure in dealing with these humble folk shines through the stories he tells in the Council of Elrond, sometimes to the exclusion of the great. We note that when he describes his flight from Orthanc to Rohan and his reception by King Theoden, Gandalf gives us no detailed characterization of the king nor any recital of an entertaining conversation with him, even though he rides off on the king’s best horse. But Gandalf does take the trouble to relate some animated exchanges with the Gaffer of Bag End and Butterbur of Bree, even though the chat with the Gaffer has almost no plot value at all.
“I came to Hobbiton and Frodo had gone,” Gandalf says, “but I had words with old Gamgee. Many words and few to the point. He had much to say about the shortcomings of the new owners of Bag End.
“‘I can’t abide changes,’ said he, ‘not at my time of life, and least of all changes for the worst.’ ‘Changes for the worst,’ he repeated many times.
“‘Worst is a bad word,’ I said to him, ‘and I hope you do not live to see it.’”
Now this is a scrap of conversation the Council does not need to hear at all. But Gandalf conjures up the Gaffer vividly anyway, with all his little concerns over bad neighbors, in the midst of a tale full of suspense and dread over the fate of Frodo and the Ring. The only thing that justifies the anecdote is the strength and solidity of the Gaffer’s character itself… and the spontaneous, humane interest in such things on the part of Gandalf and his hearers.