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A Defense of Thorin's Claim on the Treasure of Erebor

Ma'idah Lashani | 15 Jan 2015 09:00
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the hobbit laketown

While Thorin is the true owner of Erebor and its treasure, including both the Arkenstone and the gold, that is not to say that he cannot otherwise be asked to part from it, through contract or to satisfy a debt. Here, there are at least two alleged claims against Thorin's ownership of the treasure of Erebor: First, the people of Laketown's claim that they are owed a portion of the gold to rebuild the damage Smaug did to their home, and second, Bilbo's claim that pilfering the Arkenstone was an appropriate exercise of his percentage of the dwarven company's profit.

The people of Laketown allege, after Thorin has reclaimed possession of his home, that he owes them a debt of cash to finance the reconstruction of Laketown II because he promised it in exchange for their help. However, it is unclear whether Thorin actually promised to do any such thing. When discussing his plan to retake his birthright with the townspeople, he reminded them that their city used to benefit substantially from its mere proximity to Erebor, becoming a mercantile force in the region solely due to its ability to facilitate the trade of dwarven goods.

"I promise you this," Thorin says, "If we succeed all will share in the wealth of the mountain. You will have enough gold to rebuild Escaroth ten times over." While the townspeople may have taken these words as an explicit offer of cash in exchange for freedom and assistance, Thorin did not specify a quantity, quality, time, or place, indicating that the statement was meant more abstractly than actually. One might be tempted to believe that this is simply the way in which Thorin contracts, however the depth and specificity of his existing agreement with Bilbo indicates otherwise.

Even if the contract were explicit and actually assented to by both parties, it would still be voidable because it was formed under duress. Duress occurs when assent is induced by improper threat that leaves the victim with no reasonable alternative but to agree to the terms of the offer. Such contracts do not express the actual will of the parties, and instead represent an illusion of consentuality - in other words, it is theft masquerading as trade.

Here, Thorin was a prisoner of the Master of Laketown, and having committed no other substantive crime, was clearly held on condition of his assent to pay. Thus, it may be fairly said that Thorin and his companions were being held ransom, and that their freedom was ultimately exchanged for the promise of future payment. Such promises are usually regarded as fraudulent, and it is against public policy to enforce them lest kidnapping be encouraged.

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