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Against Bilbo Baggins

[ 25 ] April 8, 2011 |

Interesting claim:

And then he goes on to estimate the mass and coverage of gold, diamonds, and other treasure for a current street value of $8.6 billion. So Bilbo Baggins, having received 1/14th of the treasure, did very well for himself on that little adventure.

Hurm. $615 million isn’t chump change, although assaulting a dragon’s fortress is a chancy enough endeavour even without the long journey through wild territory. The willingness of the relatively prosperous Bilbo to engage in extremely risk-acceptant behavior must be measured against that of the dwarfs, who were both impoverished and had a serious political grievance. Gandalf’s persuasive abilities notwithstanding, it seems to me that Bilbo falls comfortably within the archetype of wealthy, playboy mercenary, willing to sell his skills to the desperate at extraordinarily high cost. That he has only the barest notion of what the mission actually entails only reinforces the irresponsibility of the agreement. And lets be brutally frank; would you really want Erik Prince to be in possession of the One True Ring?

Comments (25)

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  1. Malaclypse says:

    the total value of a pile of ancient weaponry is probably no more than a rounding error in a fortune measured in the billions of dollars.

    The mithril coat of armour, which was one of at least several, was valued at “greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it.”

    Given that our own Brad Potts has established that the Shire is a fortunate land filled with prosperous, libertarian hobbits, the value of a coat worth more than the Shire itself must be inestimable.

    • JP Stormcrow says:

      That was my thought as well when I read that. But then I remember the mithril valuation in particular because it is probably the most annoying of the always annoying Shire-deprecation lines in the books.

      • Lurker says:

        I’d like to respectfully disagree. The humans and halflings of the Middle-Earth is an agricultural society with a rather limited technological base. Mithril is an elven metal which is unattainable to the human technology of Middle-Earth. In fact, due to the decay of the Elven culture, it is practically unattainable even to the Elves of the moment. Think about it: The reforgin of the Andúril is depicted as an exemplary feat of technology, even though a (magic) steel sword is much simpler an object than a mithril coat of armor.

        In an agricultural society, good, technologically advanced craftsmanship can command surprisingly high premiums. For example, in Northern Europe of the 15the century, a well-copied manuscript codex could routinely command a price of tens of marks of silver, which was a price of a medium-sized farm. Thus, the concept of a supremely fine suit of armor being around the net worth of a largish village is acceptably realistic.

        Military equipment is surprisingly expensive. Even now, the price of a B-2 bomber is more than the net worth of a large rural community.

        • Malaclypse says:

          Mithril is an elven metal which is unattainable to the human technology of Middle-Earth.

          No. Mithril was found only in the dwarvish stronghold of Khazad-dum, or Moria, which fell in the year 2799 of the Third Age. At the time of the Fellowship, no new mithril had been mined for 219 years. Elves never mined mithril themselves.

          Thus, the concept of a supremely fine suit of armor being around the net worth of a largish village is acceptably realistic.

          But Gandalf said the armour was worth more than the value of not a single village, but the entire Shire.

          • elm says:

            And Gandalf would never exaggerate or obfuscate anything!

            It’s definitely a mistake to simply exclude the arms and armor from a computation of the value of Smaug’s horde, but we also shouldn’t simply take Gandalf’s word on anything.

        • JP Stormcrow says:

          Point taken. It is really the ongoing insistence on the insignificance and backwardness of the Shire (although even more so those feisty little tougher-than-you-think Hobbits* themselves) that began to really irk me after the nth reading**. But this way lies the whole “economy of Middle Earth” madness.

          *It was while watching 2012 that my daughter informed me that in her disaster movie all the children would die, “because they are slow and weak”.

          **Protip: If you are young and might yet have kids don’t read Tolkien to saturation–leave a buffer.

  2. Thers says:

    Gandalf’s persuasive abilities notwithstanding, it seems to me that Bilbo falls comfortably within the archetype of wealthy, playboy mercenary, willing to sell his skills to the desperate at extraordinarily high cost.

    You’re setting up a joke, but at the expense of the book. Bilbo doesn’t know he has any valuable skills to sell to start out with. Also Bilbo is remarkably uninterested in monetary gain from the adventure. He gives away all the troll-gold. And though he surely had a sense of just what the mithril coat was worth (he was a scholar of Elvish languages; Gandalf’s condescension on this point is unpersuasive) he did not mind lending it out to Michel Delving. Also, he could easily have just made off with the Arkenstone if it was all about the gold pieces — got a fat payoff from Thranduil and wandered off… and then ultimately surely have gotten ensnared by the Necromancer at Dol Guldur, who, it need hardly be pointed out, turns out to have been none other than Sauron, second in evil only to Morgoth his own bad self.

    Sheesh!

    Rob Farley’s reading of The Hobbit here is so wrongheaded and indeed contrary to true progressive values that I’m now convinced that soullite was right about LGM all along.

    • John R. says:

      You’re forgetting that The Hobbit is the version of the story from Bilbo’s diary, and that it has already had one major fabrication exposed and corrected. Are you really naive enough to take it at face value?

    • J. says:

      I agree with Thers. The dwarves were hardly desperate, Gandalf was essentially planting his spy with the group to keep track of them. Gandalf convinced the dwarves they needed another member as a “lucky number” and the dwarves had no thieves(not that Bilbo was by trade a thief). So the parallel to Erik Prince is sadly lacking in any justification.

  3. He Dog says:

    But what did Bilbo do with all the money? At the end of LOTR, he gives Sam a little sack of gold, saying “Almost the last of the Smaug vintage.” Where did the rest of it go? Dwarf hookers and pipe weed?

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  5. jackd says:

    Clear enough to me where the money went:
    “The return of Mr. Bilbo Baggins created quite a disturbance….The legal bother, indeed, lasted for years.”

    I’d bet Smaug’s gold kept every law firm from Michel Delving to the Marish in pipe weed and oak paneling for years, a windfall unmatched until it was time to straighten out the mess created by Sharkey’s visit and abrupt eviction.

  6. RedJenny says:

    Wasn’t Bilbo basically into joining the expedition? He seemed more coerced than bought. He’s the drafted farm boy (so what if it was a nice farm) who stumbled on the Nazi gold.

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