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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 thorin

Absent a contract, the people of Laketown could also seek to claim that Thorin owes them restitution as a result of causing the damage to their town. Causation requires that but for the actions of the accused, the harm would not have occurred. Here, it is difficult to say that a scorched town of barely-holding-on-humans nestled literally in the shadow of "Dragon Mountain" wouldn't otherwise have had high premiums on their fire insurance.

There has to be a certain degree of risk assumed when choosing to permanently establish your society in such a dangerous locale. Perhaps if the town had been located somewhere else, and the dwarves had intentionally or directly led the dragon to the town, then one could say that the dwarves caused the damage. However, here it seems that a dragon is more akin to an act of nature than a recklessly fired handgun, as it is both immensely powerful and quite difficult to control.

Moreover, it would be unfair for the people of Laketown to feel entitled to a dwarven subsidy after ages of failing to improve their own circumstances, despite clearly having all the necessary tools to do so, including a bow, arrow, and archer, all specialized for dragon killing.

Bilbo Baggins also asserts a contractual claim to the treasure, deriving from his employment agreement with the dwarves, notarized by Gandalf the Gray himself. Bilbo is hired as a burglar, and is informed in no uncertain terms that he has been hired in order to retrieve the Arkenstone. The terms of the contract are incredibly long and detailed, but nevertheless Bilbo is shown to have read it in full. It defines out-of-pocket expenses, time required, remuneration, and even funeral arrangements. Furthermore, it specifies that payment will be issued as "cash on delivery, up to but not exceeding one fourteenth total profit, if any."

There are at least four issues with Bilbo's claim to the Arkenstone deriving from that phrase alone. First, Bilbo is promised cash, not goods, and therefore Bilbo's claim can only be valid with regard to the gold and not the gem. Next, Bilbo's claim only becomes valid upon delivery, in this case of the Arkenstone, and thus it would be logically impossible for him to satisfy such a requirement without exchanging that which he sought to retain. Third, Bilbo's claim may not exceed one fourteenth of the total profit. The Arkenstone is valuable beyond measure, and therefore is obviously worth substantially more than Bilbo's fair share of the hoard. Finally, any profit Bilbo is promised has been qualified with "if any," meaning he has not been guaranteed any profit at all, much less the very thing he was hired to attain for Thorin in the first place.

Humorously, the contract goes on to specify that "present Company shall not be liable for injuries inflicted by, or sustained as a consequence thereof, including, but not limited to evisceration," suggesting that even if the people of Laketown had possessed their own written agreement with the dwarves, it would have been unlikely to cover fire damage.

Unfortunately, all of Thorin's attempts to explain the basic principles of fair dealing to the rest of Middle-earth are unilaterally rebuked, and his words are wrongly interpreted not only as the breach of valid agreements, but also as evidence of his growing madness. And perhaps that was the dwarven King's last gift to his people: Here, in the shadow of the Mountain, five armies were able to unite for a short while under a shared willingness to reject the legal framework underlying ordered civilization, rallied by their mutual lust for another man's treasure.

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