Who is the most incompetent character in Tolkien's legendarium?

In an attempt to inoculate my two six-year-old first-cousins-twice removed from thye upcoming Hobbit movie, I have been reading them the actual book. (I thought about training them to spit every time they hear the name Peter Jackson but decided that was excessive). We’re up to the point when Bilbo rescues the Dwarves from ElvenKing’s dungeons, which means the fourteen of them will be at the Lonely Mountain before long. Thinking about this, something occurs to me:

Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, was a complete nincompoop.

I mean, really. His entire plan for retrieving his people’s fortune was … well, hell, it wasn’t even a plan. It all depended on an extended series of miracles occurring. Now, some may say that he expected Gandalf to get him and his out of the tight spots, but that’s bullcrap. It’s clear from the beginning that Gandalf can’t be arsed to go with them the entire way; they were lucky he stayed with them as far as Mirkwood. And given the enormous size of the hoard they aimed to steal, how on Earth were they supposed to transport it, even assuming they experienced no problems at all before Erebor and that Smaug chanced to choke on a goblet at the very moment they appeared?

Thorin was the most incompetent character in all of Tolkien, I say.

But that’s just me. Anybody else have a nominee?

I’d go with Turin and his madcap adventures, bringing ruin to everyone …but he was under a curse and probably doesn’t count.

I am willing to give Túrin a buy for everything save urging Orodreth to change policy about the defense of Nargothrond – and even that is mainly on the Elf, ultimately, as it’s not like Túrin forced or bewitched him into showing such bad judgment. But it seems to me that Nargothrond was doomed unless the Valar got off their asses. And given that Morgoth was determined to personally persecute the children of Húrin, I think any choice Túrin made was going to go ill. If he’d been more temperate in dealing with Saeros, or counselled Orodreth to maintain the defensive policy, or declined to fight Glaurung personally, things would have still gone badly.

I don’t know if incompetent is exactly the world, but Aulë thoughtlessly brought quite a bit of grief to the world both directly and indirectly.

How so?

Saruman is definitely up there. Hubris, launching his plan before it was really quite ready, underestimating potential enemies (Gandalf and the Ents especially), and letting his vanity and pride get the better of him a bit too often, all led to very poor planning and his (eventual) grisly and humiliating demise.

I’m sure the Evil League of Evil would have ripped up his membership card for rank incompetence.

Creating the dwarves and mentoring both Sauron and Saruman.

AND his association with the Noldor, Feanor in particular. Of course, this kind of fits Tolkien’s overarching subtheme that technology and industry were, at best, a necessary evil that threatened to destroy the agrarian English culture.

It’s one thing to have a single student betray the world order. It’s another thing when an entire race does, and two of your personal assistants go over to become the lieutenants on the Dark Side.

Wrt Thorin, I think he was like one of those rich jerks who proudly say “I don’t know how to program/cook/type/navigate/your-skill-here. I pay people to do that for me.” as if that makes them superior to the poor shlubs who, you know, actually have valuable skills. Thorin didn’t know how to do it; he had Bilbo to do that for him. He didn’t sweat the details. He’d hired a burglar, personally recommended by Gandalf, which when you think about it, is a pretty good reference. Besides, despite all the talk of dividing the proceeds into thirteen equal parts, all Thorin really wanted was the Arkenstone. So, naturally, they buried it with him. The single most valuable thing in Smaug’s entire hoard, and they bury it in the dirt with a dead body that has neither use for it nor the ability to enjoy it. Now that’s stupid!

It’s not incompetence on a grand scale, but I always thought Barliman Butterbur was kind of a fuck-up.

You know, I think you’re exactly on the mark. Despite being no longer wealthy, Thorin still thought of himself as King under the Mountain. In his mind, he had persuaded/manipulated Gandalf into coming onto the quest with them, and even if Gandalf was leaving, he’d have Mr. Baggins. Admittedly he didn’t have a high opinion of Bilbo then, but that changed after the Goblins; Thorin explicitly expects Bilbo to come up with a plan for dealing with Smaug.

But still he was an idiot. I mean, at that time he was making a level by doing work in iron and coal, and yet he went on the quest WITHOUT SWORDS, knowing full well that, at the very least, there’d be goblins to deal with.

Koxinga & jayjay: I refuse to blame Aulë for Sauron, Saruman, or the Noldor. All of them had free will; he could not control or predict their bad choices. And I’m sure he had many apprentices who turned out fine. It’s even more unfair to blame him for the Dwarves, as they would never have turned out evil (to the limited extent that they were) without Eru giving them souls. Making them persons was beyond Aulë’s power.

I thought of Barliman, but I don’t think it’s quite fair. He had a business to run and no idea how important the hobbits were to the wide world (and no way to know). I can easily imagine him putting higher priority on taking care fo custom than on delivering a letter for a crazy old wizard.

Peregrin “Pippin” “Fool of a” Took. Hands down a full on ding a ling.

Take youth into account here. Both Pippin and Merry were the hobbit equivalent of teenagers during the War of the Ring, and they both matured quite a bit by the end of it.

Most of the orcs were pretty darn stupid, at just about every opportunity. Especially when they had Frodo and the ring in their clutches and let him escape. Then again, they weren’t exactly bred for their brains.

I’m going with Tom Bombadil. I’d trust a Balrog to raise my firstborn in my stead before giving that man 10 minutes of responsibility.

I don’t think it can possibly be argued that the Dwarves weren’t woefully under-prepared. Oddly, it never occurred to me until you began this thread. But then, I never questioned the engineering in The Cold Equations either. :wink:

On the other hand, I’ve thought of several ways that Asimov’s Nightfall disaster could have been averted. So apparently my critical faculties come and go.

Of course, the problem in CE is really bad management, not bad engineering. I don’t have a problem with the problem being unsolvable from the pilot’s POV as the story opens. But the young girl was doomed by the lack of a pre-flight check and explicit threats of death for stowaways. If the sign had been written “Stowaways on EDSes will be killed. No exceptions” and signed by the president of the United States (or Earth) she’d have not taken the stupid-but-understandable-to-a-kid risk.

Back on topic, you notice some things when you’re reading stories to little kids. Or telling them. When my baby sister was a little girl I was in charge of putting her to bed and telling her bedtime stories, and she was quick to ask why Snow White ate the poison apple. I could think of no answer more true than “She was a fricking idiot.”

How about “She didn’t know it was poisoned?”

Not plausible. The apple is the second poisoning. She knows the Queen (who is also a witch) wants her dead and that her father will do nothing to protect her; that is why she is hiding in the wilderness. The Queen, in disguise, has already given her a poisoned comb which would have been the death of her if not for the Dwarves. Whether Snow White recognizes the profferer of the apple as the profferer of the comb seems irrelevant; you’d think she’d have learned not to trust strangers.

A poet whose name I cannot recall wrote a poem whose title I cannot recall to explain it. (I recall the book I read it in: The Armless Maiden & Other Stories for Childhood’s Survivors.) The poet opined that the Queen was SW’s mother, not her stepmother (as is the case in uncensored versions of the story) and that SW is fooled by neither disguise, and that further she fully expects the apple to kill her. If she cannot have her mother’s love, she can at least have her attention in this terrible way, and she is in such despair that the death the Queen offers seems better than her life.

Returning to the thread topic: I think Manwë being fulled by Melkor’s dissimulation has to be up there.

In the original fairy story that was the ***third ***magical attempt on her life. Snow White may have been beautiful but she had the smarts of a fetal alcohol syndrome baby.

I’m not very familiar with the Silmarillion lore so I can only speak to the Hobbit and the LotR trilogy. But I’ve often remarked that if the party in the Hobbit had simply hanged Bombur at the start they would have fared better.