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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
Revisiting Bilbo's Contract
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Feb 16 2012, 9:57pm

Post #51 of 72 (1976 views)
There's a huge difference, in terms of language, between Thorin's speech and the contract [In reply to] Can't Post

And according to what we know of Tolkien, and the literature on the history of the Hobbit, included the Annotated Hobbit, we can see that Tolkien meant this to be so. The difference is significant:
Let's look at word choice, which we know Tolkien was very careful about.
In the speech:


plans, ways, means, policy, devices, before the break of day, long journey, solemn moment

The only potentially hobbitish, and modern, word there is “policy.”
In the contract – there is a profusion of modern English words. professionalisms and jargon – which is very much in the hobbit vein (remember the description of Bilbo’s “will” in FotR). It's a sort of devolution in/impoverishment of the meaning of language and words, as Tolkien saw it, which was also evidenced by Gandalf's irritation at Bilbo's use of "good morning" to mean a whole host of different things. It is a contract that is perfectly fit for a "grocer" as Bilbo is referred to by the dwarves. Anyway, here's a list:

hospitality, sincerest thanks, offer of professional assistance, Terms, cash on delivery, one fourteenth, total profits, traveling expenses, funeral expenses, defrayed, representatives, esteemed repose, requisite preparations, 11 a.m. sharp.

I understand that certain things are subjective. However, Tolkien was very precise in his use of different styles of language to illuminate character, and by many accounts, the contract was Tolkien’s way of showing Thorin’s sarcastic contempt for the “grocer,” Bilbo Baggins.
It is a hobbitish contract, shot through with Thorin's contemptuous humor.

IMO, the idea that dwarves do "business-like" and "contract work" is something that has developed over the years as fantasy authors and imitators have taken them in different directions. Tolkien's dwarves are great craftsmen, and lovers of beautiful things, but they are not professional merchants of the modern world, concerned overmuch with profits and timely deliveries. They love crafted things for their own sake!


Feb 16 2012, 10:02pm

Post #52 of 72 (1954 views)
There is reams of evidence, in the books and in Tolkien scholarship [In reply to] Can't Post

To suggest that hobbits are Tolkien's "anachronisms" in Middle Earth. He uses them as the vehicle to allow the reader to enter the deep and "faery" past. And dwarves are of the deep and faery past, not modern England.

There is no place, outside the Shire and Bree, for this very modern kind of "contract" that is written by Thorin. We only hear of such things when hobbits are involved, such as in Frodo's "will" in FotR, where Tolkien explicitly mentions that it is a particularly hobbitish trait to want everything written down proper in red ink, with all the i's dotted and all the t's crossed.

Tolkien's dwarves, on the other hand, are craftsmen and miners because they LOVE beautiful crafted things. Not because they want to make money, as modern merchants do.

Dwarves are not late medieval or industrial age merchants that work on contracts. They are ancient mythological beings of the Earth, with a burning passion for the crafted things of the world.

It is no accident that the dwarves of Belegost got along relatively well with Feanor and his sons. Those are not the kind of dudes that bring lawyers in to seal a deal.

Thorin's long-windedness is an overwrought, and pedantically poetic long-windedness. It is not the kind of long-windedness associated with legalese and business-speak.

(This post was edited by Shelob'sAppetite on Feb 16 2012, 10:11pm)


Feb 16 2012, 10:15pm

Post #53 of 72 (1948 views)
And I would add [In reply to] Can't Post

That Thorin does this, in part, because he knows a hobbit couldn't be in it for "the beauty of treasure," "the glory," the "vengeance," or "the adventure."

As a contemptible grocer, the only way he would come along is to be given a contract, written in parochial hobbit fashion as if they were making a deal on a sale of wheat stocks, to clear up the duties, and terms of payment, for him.

He is a modern. Detached from the heroic. He only does things that are comfortable and good for business. Thorin knows this, and creates a document with the style of a hobbitish agreement, but the substance of a heroic adventure.

That is the essence of the contract.

(This post was edited by Shelob'sAppetite on Feb 16 2012, 10:21pm)


Feb 17 2012, 12:39am

Post #54 of 72 (1937 views)
Not so huge and not so simple [In reply to] Can't Post

I understand the point you want to make, and elements of a heroic/modern conflict are where you say they are - as they are throughout the book. But I think you are missing the comedy elements in Thorin's speech, which coexist with higher themes in The Hobbit in a way that cannot be found in either The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.
  • "a journey from which some of us ... may never return." Elevated but meaningless threat because of its screaming obviousness.
  • "It is a solemn moment." Absurd filler. An obvious parody of every speechifier who tries to build atmosphere through declamation rather than description.
  • "Our object is, I take it, well known to us all." Again, meaningless rhetoric enhanced by an even more meaningless interjection ("I take it.")
  • "(I think I should be right in naming Kili and Fili, for instance)" Apophasis, a classic rhetorical device of indirection - "I should be right if I named them" suggests that he hasn't named them yet, which of course he just has. "for instance" - any other younger dwarves available if they won't do?
  • "the exact situation at the moment may require a little brief explanation-" At this point in the speech anyone who has ever attended a banquet in the early 20th century is rolling in the aisles. As Tolkien is kind enough to explain in his commentary after breaking Thorin off.
Seen this way, the Dwarves' letter to Bilbo is likewise a spoof. The idea of a fairy-tale character getting a contract including provision for funeral arrangements (!) is hilarious. Bilbo is more modern than the Dwarves, to be sure. But these bumbling, fumbling, selfish, ineffective, and petty (but brave!) Dwarves are not delivered to us with an entirely straight face from this author, either. They make their grand entrance into Bilbo's front hall with a pratfall that would do Charlie Chaplin proud, and they never really recover their heroic dignity after that.

Smaug's dialogue with Bilbo can be read as both comedy and commentary on the classic Norse Dragonspell, as well. So can many other little interjections in the story where the modern outlook of the narrator imposes a comedic perspective on what seemingly aspires to be a fairy tale of a heroic age into which a bourgeois hobbit has wandered.

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Feb 17 2012, 1:31am

Post #55 of 72 (1901 views)
I don't disagree with that at all [In reply to] Can't Post

In fact, you're right. Tolkien is also highlighting the absurdity and pomposity of the "heroic mode" that Thorin exhibits.

My point is simply that Thorin's wind-baggery (I am patenting that term) is of a different mode than what is in the contract. Thorin's speech is Tolkien poking fun at the empty pomp and braggadocio that comes with such a worldview. Thorin is, in essence, a parody of Beowulf, Sigfried, or even Feanor and Turin.

The contract, on the other hand, is clearly, IMO, not a parody of Thorin at all. It is written in the modern mode, full of legalese and professional jargon. This is the kind of "filler" that is not in Thorin's speech. This is hobbit filler.

The contract is a parody of Bilbo - and by extension - the modern world (and modern man). It shows how ridiculous modern conceits like "contracts" are when applied to the topic of high adventure and life-threatening circumstances. The way it is written suggests that the author, Thorin, is aware of this. His inclusion of "funeral expenses" is particularly funny, as it is pragmatic legalese referring to the possible violent death of the contractor. In this sense, Thorin is diminishing the positive value of "death," as he expects Bilbo has (someone who faints at the mere thought of it). Thorin, in actuality, likely greatly values death - in particular, heroic death. This goes some way in explaining why they had such a horrible, non-plan for once they got to the Lonely Mountain - to barge in and either get lucky, or die.

Of course, as you highlight, it turns out that the dwarves are just as afraid of death as Bilbo is, and perhaps more. But this is a de-mythologizing of the heroic mode (which the dwarves should represent) that is a separate issues from the kind of language used in the contract.

In short, someone earlier said it is written in "dwarven style," and it simply isn't. You, I agree with completely.

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Feb 17 2012, 1:35am

Post #56 of 72 (1946 views)
Just to clarify: [In reply to] Can't Post

By 'Dwarven style' I meant the letters used - about which I was entirely wrong - not the syntax.

(Thanks for correcting me, those of you who did!)

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories

Longbottom Leaf

Feb 17 2012, 1:55am

Post #57 of 72 (1914 views)
Wind- baggery! [In reply to] Can't Post

Ha!...Love it! My favorite term since numb-skullery!

The best weed in the southfarthing!

Tol Eressea

Feb 17 2012, 4:10pm

Post #58 of 72 (1930 views)
Actually this particular statement isn't quite accurate... [In reply to] Can't Post

Dwarves are not late medieval or industrial age merchants that work on contracts. They are ancient mythological beings of the Earth, with a burning passion for the crafted things of the world

They indeed do care about being paid for their work and the matter of binding contracts, enough so to fight wars, as is stated in The Hobbit.

Tolkien's writings indicate this as stated below.

"In ancient days they had had wars with some of the dwarves whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was their due, for the elf-king had bargained with them to shape his raw gold and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay." The Hobbit - Chapter VIII "Flies and Spiders"

Middle Earth is New Zealand!

"Question everything, embrace the bad, and hold on to the good."

(This post was edited by Owain on Feb 17 2012, 4:15pm)


Feb 18 2012, 4:42am

Post #59 of 72 (1843 views)
Agreed! [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry I missed this post yesterday. I came to the same conclusion last night, with the help of those commenting in the blog.

"Meals to be provided (or not) at the sole discretion of the Director,
with due respect for ..., ...., or any special dietary
requirements not disclosed at the outset"

Note additional words in italics are potentials, but not certain. Might be worth a re-look with food oriented words in mind. My own mind is too lazy right now, and I'm loving this community effort!!

I agree once you start to recognize a tricky letter it is worth going back. Amazing how the word "special" in the paragraph above appears to be missing every other letter due to the angle.


Feb 18 2012, 4:51am

Post #60 of 72 (1847 views)
I had enough trouble with English! [In reply to] Can't Post

I will have to leave the runes to the experts for now. It's all chicken scratches to me!


Feb 18 2012, 5:09am

Post #61 of 72 (1826 views)
Sympathy from a modern audience? [In reply to] Can't Post

The insistence on actually signing a contract seems, to me, to be a way to get modern audiences to feel for Bilbo's predicament. Most of us have had to sign something that appeared to be asking for more relinquishment of rights than was necessary, but we did it anyway because we really wanted/needed that resource.


Feb 18 2012, 6:51am

Post #62 of 72 (1867 views)
Very interesting discussion here! [In reply to] Can't Post

I do not claim to be as well-informed as Shelob's Apprentice or Squire about the details of either dwarves or hobbits. You will have to forgive my simplistic viewpoints after all this intense examination of the whether the content of the contract is more dwarven or Shire-like. As it turns out, I've been convinced by both sides. I can see the contract (short Tolkien version, or long WETA version) to be either intentionally written with a hobbit in mind, and taking pains to use very hobbit-appropriate terms, or to be oblivious to hobbit writing styles, and actually be from a dwarven mind. The dwarves of the Blue Mountains were in dire straits compared to those of preceding centuries. Even if they were well-fed and living in relative peace, the lack of gold and gems meant they were unable to make things they could be truly proud of. These dwarves lived by trading with their neighbors, the men and hobbits of the Shire and Bree (and perhaps others) and it makes sense they picked up habits, as well as modes of speech and business, from these trading partners. For all we know, the contract may be in the style of Men, with whom, I'm going to guess, the dwarves traded with more than hobbits.

The other reason I am inclined to accept both of your views is because I believe Tolkien changed his opinions about dwarves from the early Hobbit days, to the later Rings era (and even from the beginning of The Hobbit to its end). The dwarves of the "Unexpected Party" are very much ridiculous, though fun characters, yet by the end of the book (and with only a micron of character development to explain the change) they become grim and effective warriors. The story as a whole becomes more serious, dealing with issues that actually affect the real world, such as racial conflict and greed, rather than a fanciful dragon. Thorin's speech becomes less casual, more archaic, and loses its pedantic tone in favor of a stern nobility. When researching the character (see my post "What sort of Thorin will we see in the Hobbit film?"), this inconsistency was most distracting. I feel there is a disconnect between these two representations of dwarves simply because Tolkien decided more than half way through writing the story that he wanted to increase their nobility factor. The character of Dain, as well as the later writings about dwarves in the "Appendices" and the "Quest of Erebor", are of the latter mould.


Feb 18 2012, 4:58pm

Post #63 of 72 (1847 views)
Excellent point [In reply to] Can't Post

There in the second paragraph, DarkJackal.

Tolkien's view of his mythology developed during (and after) he wrote the Hobbit, and the dwarves certainly do change over the course of the story.

However, I also think that has to do with the simple fact that the dwarves are travelling from the relative peace and mundane parochialism of the Shire, to the "Wild." By the time they are in Erebor, in the heart of the Lonely mountain, their journey from the ordinary and routine life to the very center of the wild in the dragon's lair (and the center of their dwarven being, an ancestral underground hall full of treasure) is complete. So it makes narrative sense for these two different versions of the dwarves, and Thorin, to exist (and it is no accident that the dwarves originally came from "the East.")

In the kindly West, the dwarves became soft, and perhaps, as you suggest, adopted some of the habits and speech of their soft, "grocer" neighbors. In the wild East, they become hardened again, literally returning, as they do, to their heroic (mountain) roots.

In this sense, the contract is either an attempt by Thorin to appeal to his hobbit host, or an indication that the dwarves have grown a bit hobbitish. In both cases, however, the style is not what one would describe as "dwarven."

(This post was edited by Shelob'sAppetite on Feb 18 2012, 5:02pm)


Feb 21 2012, 5:48pm

Post #64 of 72 (1756 views)
Well put [In reply to] Can't Post

Shelob, you've managed to turn the annoying discrepancy into something that is canonically acceptable (at least to me). Many thanks! I will probably be referring to your post in future!

The mention Thorin makes of the "child of the kindly West", at a moment when words should not be wasted, supports your argument. It became important enough to point out that not just Bilbo, but the entire region he is from, is markedly different in temperament from where they now reside. Thorin's people were guests of the West, but never its children. The description Tolkien gives when introducing Dain's people shows what dwarves untainted by the West are like, namely fierce and grim. I suppose it surprised me that Thorin & Co. could undergo a change so quickly, but perhaps it is not so quick after all. The time they spent in Lake-town, in sight of the Mountain, could have been when the process began.


Feb 21 2012, 7:44pm

Post #65 of 72 (1778 views)
Update on the Contract [In reply to] Can't Post

Due to the wonderful efforts of many people, lots of blanks have been filled since last week, and I'm sure there will be more to come. For ease of discussion, I'm posting what we have so far. If you want to scrutinize the source (probably a good idea!), or help identify more, then by all means visit the blog. Lettering of the parts below is just for identification and indicates absolutely nothing about anything. Tongue

Part A [the contract is folded over making it impossible to read much of the beginning]
(?) agreement or undertaking....
and witnessed below as set forth hereunder:
[very fine print]
I, the undersigned, [referred to hereinafter as Burglar] agree to travel
to the Lonely Mountain, path to be determined by Thorin Oakenshield, who
has a right to alter the course of the journey at his so choosing, without prior
notification and/or liability for accident or injury incurred.

Part B
The aforementioned journey and subsequent extraction from the Lonely
Mountain of any and all goods, valuables, and chattels [which activities are described
collectively herein as the Adventure] shall proceed in a timely manner and with all due
care and consideration as seen fit by said Thorin Oakenshield and companions,
numbering thirteen, more or less, to wit, the Company.
[fine print]

Part C
Burglar holds harmless and without blame in perpetuity the Company
and its successors for..................................or...............................
Note: Plenty more, but too dark to read.

Part C - Bonus section
Funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives
if occasion arises, and the matter is not otherwise arranged for.
[fine print]
Note: Having done some tweaking of the image, I'm now confident the "Funeral expenses" section is accurate. One of the words in the middle of the undeciphered part above it also looks like "expenses". Might that be the "traveling expenses" line?

Part D
Burglar shall choose.............................................
[bend in page]
squatter in said home shall not necessarily earn any additional monetary or fiscal
reward, but will definitely guarantee Burglar (if he survives) and Burglar's family
the undying gratitude and promise of service (?) (?) and forever of the
Company and its successors.
[two lines very fine print]
[one line fine print]

Part E

Eviction or elimination of any undesirable guardian of Company's
property, goods, or premises or holdings, shall take priority over the recovery of
said property, goods, premises or holdings, should such (?) be encountered.
Elimination shall take priority over eviction in any and all cases.
[two lines fine print]
Note: Suspect the last word is "guardian" again.

Part F
Burglar hereby accepts.................................
[three lines fine print]

Part G
Meals provided (or not) at the sole discretion of the Director,
with due respect for availability, season, or any special dietary
requirements not disclosed at the outset.
[three lines very fine print]
[two lines fine print]

Part H
The Principles agreeing to this contract, namely the Company, [as
represented by Thorin Oakenshield] and the Burglar, and known collectively
henceforth as the Parties, shall signify their agreement to all clauses
contained herein [the Conditions of Employment] by signing or making their
marks in the spaces provided for so doing, and affixing seals if applicable.
The (?) to the Contract.............................whose (?) marks or seals
................................and before their understanding and endorsed
agreement to all that is contained herein.
[three lines fine print]

Part I

Confidentiality is of utmost importance and must be strictly
maintained at all times. During the course of his employment with the Company,
Burglar will hear, see, learn, apprehend, comprehend, and in short, gain knowledge
of particular facts, ideas, plans, strategies, theories, geography, cartography,
iconography, (?) tactics and/or policies, whether actual, tangible, conceptual,
historical or fanciful. Burglar understands and agrees to maintain this knowledge
in utmost secrecy and confidentiality and to neither divulge nor make known
said knowledge by any means, including but not limited to speech, writing
demonstration, re-enactment, mime, or storage and retrieval within means
or apparatus currently known or unknown, or as yet unthought of.
[one line fine print]

Part J
Early termination of this Contract shall (?) (?) early termination
fee to be determined by Thorin and Company at their sole and absolute
discretion. All clauses contained herein shall survive such termination and
remain enforceable in all countries whether existent now or in the future,
throughout the known world.
[three lines fine print]

Part K
Disputes arising between the Contract Parties shall be heard...
[the page bends and the rest, which is a large amount, cannot be seen]

Part L [this section is a folded over bit which comes at the end of a larger section, none of which can be seen]
This agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties, and replaces
and supersedes all prior understandings and agreements whether written or oral, with
respect to the subject matter described and set forth herein.
Except as is set forth in the key provisions, Burglar [page bends]
permit or allow any distribution of the recovered goods of any kind whatsoever(?) without the
Company's written permission, which may be granted [or not] at the Company’s sole discretion.
Note: Not sure about italicized words here.

Whew! That's all for now.


Feb 21 2012, 7:59pm

Post #66 of 72 (1736 views)
Thanks for the update DarkJackal! [In reply to] Can't Post

You're doing a super job, and we all greatly appreciate it! I hope they release a prop or something in the future (after the films) so we can find out!


Feb 21 2012, 8:15pm

Post #67 of 72 (1757 views)
Wouldn't it be annoying if the next image they release... [In reply to] Can't Post

...is a detailed scan of the contract Evil

"...For if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth"


Feb 21 2012, 8:54pm

Post #68 of 72 (1757 views)
And then... [In reply to] Can't Post

decide to scrap the contract, and re-film all the scenes with just the letter from Thorin (as in the book)! Tongue


Feb 21 2012, 9:29pm

Post #69 of 72 (1732 views)
You are so bad! [In reply to] Can't Post

Of course I would be delighted to have all our hard work proven completely accurate! Laugh DE-lighted.


Feb 21 2012, 9:32pm

Post #70 of 72 (2141 views)
Ah, even better! [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, please. Please do that...Mad


Oct 1 2012, 1:45pm

Post #71 of 72 (1630 views)
New picture of Bilbo's Contract - anyone cares to decypher? [In reply to] Can't Post

Now here is a very large picture of Bilbo's contract which could be more easily deciphered than the original first shot, I guess:


Russian LotR/Hobbit Site:

Henneth-annun.ru - the Russian LOTR site


Oct 1 2012, 3:20pm

Post #72 of 72 (1698 views)
You're lucky if anyone stumbles across this post again! Probably worth a new thread ;-) / [In reply to] Can't Post


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