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“You Shall Not Crucify Mankind Upon a Dragon of Gold”

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Liked the second Hobbit movie better than the first, and while I didn’t hate the first, I wouldn’t say that it’s improved upon subsequent viewings. The Desolation of Smaug probably has the fewest “coming of age” moments in the entire Jackson-Tolkien cycle, and since I find the iteration of these moments pointless and exhausting (I mean seriously, how many times does Sam have to realize his own worth?), the story could take center-stage. I also found the Tauriel character mildly less annoying than I expected, although I expected to be extremely annoyed.

With respect to Matt’s point, I think that the in-universe answer would run as follows; the death of Smaug leads to the restoration of the Kingdom Under the Mountain, the Kingdom of Dale, and the dominion of the Beornings. It also helped open access to Mirkwood by making Thranduil less paranoid. These developments substantially increased the opportunities for trade in the north, while also (in combination with the destruction of goblin strength in the Battle of Five Armies) helping to create reliable expectation of future stability. Trade increases, investment increases, and the massive supply of gold (literally) pouring out of the Lonely Mountain provides the monetary foundation for a strong, bustling northern economy.

The four allied dominions prove to be a pillar of Western strength during the War of Ring, requiring significant diversion of Sauron’s allied forces. And so really, the Hobbit is mostly about Gandalf attempting to generate economic growth by loosening monetary policy.

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  • rea

    Kind of like the Spnish conquest of Peru, with a bit less genocide.

    • MD

      Less genocide? Tell that to the goblins.

      • wengler

        In fairness, the goblins were asking for it.

        • Woodrowfan

          that’s what the winners always say about the losers…

  • Hear Hear.

  • Hogan

    And so really, the Hobbit is mostly about Gandalf attempting to generate economic growth by loosening monetary policy.

    I love you so much.

    • Grumpy

      And to legalize pipeweed.

      • Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq.

        This reminds me.

    • Sly

      Helicopter Mithrandir.

      • Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq.

        I think they use giant eagles for this in middle-earth.

    • Anonymous

      Aren’t the Dwarves kind of big on the hoarding scale themselves? Maybe not dragon class horders, but close.

      • agorabum

        Did you see how much they ate at Bilbo’s house? These guys are grade A consumers. But when the money is rolling in so big, it just seems like they are hoarding, since that pile keeps getting bigger.
        See also, Laketown was booming back in dwarf days, Detroit with Smaug.

  • LeeEsq

    My opinion is that Jackson and the Hobbit production team should not have raided Tolkien’s notes and appendices to turn one relatively short but very good book into three movies. The Hobbit could have been satisfactorily made into one good movie if they kept to the canonical text.

    • dmsilev

      Brought about, of course, by the vast piles of gold associated with making three instead of one film.

      Perhaps the dragon’s hoard is a self-refrential metaphor instead?

    • wengler

      Yes. The real problem is the attempt to make a short children’s novel into the equivalent of the epic scale Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    • Rob in CT

      I actually think that 2 movies could have worked pretty well, with judicious use (more judicious than Jackson has been) of stuff form the appendicies to LOTR, etc. There is, IMO, a natural stopping point when they all set off from Beorn’s place into Mirkwood. Though I’ll admit it might feel “wierd” to movie viewers because movie 1 wouldn’t end with a big battle or whatever dramatic moment. *I* would’ve liked it, though.

      I almost hated Hobbit 1. The overdone goblintown battle scenes that looked like amusement park rides, the totally invented warg battle, Bilbo acting the heroic warrior to save Thorin… ugh. It’s nice to hear that Hobbit 2 might be a bit better.

      • LeeEsq

        I guess the non-judicious raid on the appendixes is my real problem with the Hobbit triology. I enjoyed the first instalement, even watched it twice but the second time was because it was available for free on a Delta flight I was on. It struck me as being too fannish though, rather than trying to entertain a general audience. I suppose it was inevitable but it seems like Jackson and company are trying to stuff everything in to please every fan. That isn’t good movie making.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I enjoyed the first instalement

          but then Time withered it?

        • Manny Kant

          As annoying as the non-judicious raid of the appendices is the decision to extend every action scene into a 20 minute extended set piece, and to add two to three extra action scenes that have no counterpart in the book, and change each of them into 20 minute extended set-pieces.

          • Eric

            In fairness to Jackson, he did quite a bit of this in each LoTR film, and he was rewarded with hundreds of millions of dollars and a number of Oscars.

            • Anonymous

              The most faithful movie, Fellowship, was the best by far (it’s not even really close IMHO). Granted, it probably didn’t make the most money, and the Academy
              cynically “saved” the Oscars for the final film.

            • Manny Kant

              That’s fair, but I think that technique worked better for LOTR because it’s actually a story on an epic scale. The Hobbit isn’t. The orc stuff in The Hobbit just feels totally extraneous. On the other hand, I like some of the expansion we get to the worlds of the Wood Elves and Lake Town, because they’re important to the story in a way that this random band of orcs isn’t.

      • Appalachia

        You hit the nail on the head.

      • Manny Kant

        Hobbit 1 almost gets as far as you say movie 1 of 2 should have gotten. If you hated it, it’s hard to see why you would think that a two part movie, with the first getting only to Beorn, would have worked.

  • You can’t overlook the fact that Gandalf and Bilbo conspired twice to redistribute wealth away from Smaug and Thorin to the people of Esgaroth and to Thranduil’s people. Obviously both were socialists.

    True conservatives would root for Smaug.

    • Robert Farley

      Smaug is the classic night watchman. Sleeps for centuries, then obliterates the countryside when terrorists show up.

      • Frank Somatra

        I believe the appropriate terminology is “burninating the countryside.”

        • Mike L.
        • NonyNony

          “burninating the village”

    • I’m pretty sure true conservatives *do* root for Smaug, as well as for Sauron and Saruman. I mean, fuck, we know they are rooting for Scrooge and Mr. Potter.

      • Warren Terra

        You forget the extent to which Thorin is bravely fighting against the cruel injustice of the Death Tax – in this case, imposed by a cruel and terrible beast that descends from above, invades a homeowner’s demesne without a warrant, and imposes both the death itself and the accompanying 100% Estate Tax. If that’s not a perfect metaphorical representation of a Conservative’s view of the Government, I don’t know what is. Smaug is the original Clawfooted Thug.

        Thorin, meanwhile, is the plucky freeman the Conservatives all aspire to be. A natural leader, he eschews the corrupt hand of government redress and takes Justice into his own hand. He is out to reclaim his rightful patrimony, that shining mountain cast into smoky shadow by the alien usurper. It is true that he is forced to employ a dubious and rather shiftless fellow to act as a burglar (and to take on most of the peril, obviously), but (per Wikipedia) at the end Thorin rightly snubs this hairy-footed layabout, before relenting and condescending to let him leave with part of the pension he’d been guaranteed by contract. He is the true Conservative Ideal – he’s like Mitt Romney, in fact, only shorter and with inferior hair (though more of it).

        • Another Holocene Human

          Nailed it.

        • Lurker

          On the other hand, if Smaug would bother to get a rubber-stamp warrant from a symphatetic judge, the death would, at most, be a lamentable accident that even the most trained and professional dragons cannot always avoid. Nonetheless, the homeowner had it coming. He was guilty, after all. Otherwise, Smaug would not have needed to come. The subsequent asset forfeiture is simply be a natural way to take the profit out of the crime.

          • Smaug was, after all, merely asserting the rights granted him by the I’m Going To Take Your Castle Doctrine.

            • Say what you want about Smaug as a super predator, at least he understood the importance of self protection and the right to bear the arms of our choice.

        • rea

          Thorin? Private enterprise? Hell, he WAS the Dwaven government, being King and all. And he was fairly generous with Bilbo–that mail coat, we are told, was worth as much as the entire Shire and everything in it, not to mention a whole donkey-load of gold–giving him anything more would simply have caused runaway inflation and left Bilbo broke.

          • Warren Terra

            You’ve misunderstood the facts. Much like the Tea Party, Thorin is not in fact the Dwarven government – he is the rightful Dwarven governmnt, in exile, and is not a creature of the beltway lonely mountain (unlike a certain other creature). He is merely a noble citizen seeking to uphold the sanctity of private property rights, and particularly inheritance, with minimal regard for the disastrous effects these have on the neighbors and those downstream; he is the Charles and David Koch, if you will. Surely there can be no greater accolade.

            As to your vile assertion that Thorin rewarded his dumpy foreign contract laborer richly: isn’t this always what is said by the outsourcers and their defenders? “Yes, we barely gave our worker the shirt on his back, and we didn’t give him the equal profit share set forth in his contract – but you have to remember, in his quaint economy that one shirt is worth as much as the entire valley!”

            • Malaclypse

              Exactly. Thorin is the exemplar of the Night Watchman State, except that his watchmen got sleepy. Takers, the lot of them. Smaug is the Leviathan State, unjustly confiscating the fruits of the labor of others. And need I point out that Smaug is an associate of Ancalagon the Black? Wink is as good as a nudge, I hope.

              • Malaclypse

                Dammit, tag fail. Either way, Smaug is taking Thorin’s gold and giving it to Blah People Dragons.

    • TrexPushups

    • Anonymous

      No way, Smaug is an endangered species. The conservatives are the ones who want to wipe him out just to promote free enterprise.

  • Murc

    Matt, alas, is trying to find a Watsonian explanation for something whose real reason is Doylist; namely, Smaug’s gold hoard is so preposterously, stupidly large because Jackson wanted to shoot ten minutes of Martin Freeman sliding down it.

    However, Watsonian explanations are fun, so…

    Part of the problem with that much gold is that there just isn’t that much to spend it on. People continually miss this point, but it bears repeating; western and northern Middle-Earth as of the 30th century of the Third Age is basically an apocalyptic wasteland with a few tiny oases of developed civilization. The various elf-kingdoms and enclaves (the Woodland Realm, the Grey Havens, Imladris, and Lorien) practice a form of highly efficient autarky and don’t want much in trade or interaction with outside realms anyway, and are really very small.

    Gondor has been massively depopulated and reverted from the highly efficient realm of imperial splendor into a shell of its former self; five hundred years ago they actually gave away a third of the Kingdom to a group of federates in order to create a buffer state, and they are very, very luck that Cirion had the power to enforce magically binding oaths on Eorl; the real-life history of states that invited outside cultures to settle on their borders to fend off other outside cultures is not a happy one.

    Arnor was ground into nothing about a thousand years ago, leading to the near-wholesale depopulation of Eriador; only Bree-land and the Shire remain as remnants of the North-Kingdom.

    The dwarves had their greatest nation destroyed by a Balrog, then they had the successor state to that nation destroyed by a dragon, and THEN they went through an apocalyptic revenge-driven race war against the orcs that had an appalling body count.

    There are some other cultures kicking around, like the men of Dunland, the Lossoth, and the Woodmen, but they tend to be much less developed than the cultures and nations named above, even after years of those nations getting the shit kicked out of them.

    So where will Thorin and Company SPEND this gold, even once they get their hands on it? Esgaroth can only absorb so much gold, and after that… well, nobody else even lives anywhere near Erebor. In the context of the books, Erebor and Dale manage to rebuild not because of the immense amount of wealth contained with the Mountain, but because Erebor and Dale occupy prime real estate and with the removal of Smaug spurs a massive amount of immigration, and that labor is used to develop the land.

    • Aren’t dwarves hoarders? I suspect they’d like to work with and simply enjoy gold rather than spend it.

      • Malaclypse

        Sure, type faster than me.

        • If his type were faster, wouldn’t it be italic?

          • My type was so fast it went through italic and back to plain.

      • Manny Kant

        The Dwarves will hoard most of the gold, but they will also spend more of it than Smaug did.

    • Malaclypse

      So where will Thorin and Company SPEND this gold, even once they get their hands on it?

      Dwarves don’t view gold as a medium of exchange, but rather as a necessary component for their art. Thorin isn’t planning on spending that gold, any more than he wants to sell the Arkenstone. He’s going to have the smiths make beautiful things with it.

      Thorin is way too punk rock to sell out his art for money.

      • Murc

        He’s going to have the smiths make beautiful things with it.

        Like the hundred foot high statue of his grandfather? :)

        Seriously though, Thror was having hundred foot high statues of himself made out of solid gold made? He DESERVED to be killed by a dragon.

        • Malaclypse

          Seriously though, Thror was having hundred foot high statues of himself made out of solid gold made?

          STILL BETTER THAN THOMAS KINKADE. OR BAD MORMON ART.

        • Warren Terra

          Maybe it was a deflationary measure, decreasing the gold in circulation?

          After all, just because they’re the dwarves of the lonely mountain doesn’t mean they aren’t also basically the gnomes of Zurich.

          • Aha – a new conspiracy theory.

            Well played, sir.

      • Manny Kant

        He’s not planning on spending all of that gold, but he will certainly spend some of it – mined gold will be used to buy food and other necessary goods from the Elves of Mirkwood, from Esgaroth and from rebuilt Dale.

    • dwayne stephenson

      I kind of wonder just how empty Middle Earth is. Gandalf, for instance, indicates that Frodo’s mithril chain shirt was worth as much as the Shire-I’ve always assumed that indicated a much more robust economic situation than one can extrapolate from the maps and the lore. Obviously, Tolkien was more interested in philology than economics. But we never get a complete picture of the world, so there’s room for interpretation here.

      So the question is just, who could afford the Shire in this world? Maybe some Dwarf from the North. Some Gondor nobles? Not even sure how to assess the economic capacity of any of the Elven enclaves, but presumably it would be pretty substantial. We need better census data than the books provide.

      • Murc

        I’ve always assumed that Gandalf was using that as shorthand, given that the topic came up in the context of an item Bilbo-from-the-Shire owned, to say that the mithril shirt was so valuable as to be reckoned beyond mere monetary worth.

        I mean, totaling the value of the Shire to begin with is difficult. It’s about 21,000 square miles of land (bigger than Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island put together) that has been very heavily developed and has a robust infrastructure.

        Nobody can afford to just straight-up buy that. Even all the wealth of Erebor might not be enough to do that, and that was the wealth of a kingdom, not just one single person.

        • Saruman was able to buy up most of the Shire and begin the building of infrastructure which could have lead to the Age of the Hobbit, with advances in water- and steam-powered factories.

          • Murc

            Literally none of that statement is true.

            First of all, Saruman did not “buy” anything. Lotho owned quite a large slice of land but not anywhere near “most” of the Shire. Lotho, and Saruman after him, obtained most of their control over the Shire by direct conquest. And they didn’t even control the whole thing; the Thain remained free and in control of at least his own demesne.

            Second of all, Saruman was not engaged in the building of infrastructure, he was engaged in the destruction of it.

            • I’m not so sure that is correct. Saruman clearly extends capitalist control, using abusive hiring/firing practices and wage theft, he destroys the social network that protects the elderly and infirm, and he basically encloses and exploits the common lands. He also builds some kind of foundry or charcoal works for his foundries. Hacking down the forests for sale and use is why the Party Tree is cut down. Tolkein is describing a proto-industrialist controlled hell or an extractive economy like that in some colonies.

              • Malaclypse

                Tolkein is describing a proto-industrialist controlled hell or an extractive economy like that in some colonies.

                Tolkien is a pastoralist at heart, for whom the Enclosure Acts were a tragedy. While Sharkey is building factories, I don’t think Tolkien would call that infrastructure.

                • Yes. Maybe Tolkein wouldn’t call it infrastructure and would lament it-I mean, obviously he would. But factories and roads are infrastructure, nonetheless. But I agree that Tolkein’s representation of what happens to the shire is very much a lament for a lost world. And that is why, she said, getting even more excercised than usual, I still hold it against Jackson that in three interminable films he couldn’t spare enough time for a serious look at the cleansing of the shire and what it meant.

                • Manny Kant

                  It’s really unfortunate that the Scouring isn’t in the films, but I still think Jackson had to cut them, because they simply wouldn’t work cinematically. The biggest complaint about the ROTK movie was already that it has 12 different endings. You can’t insert a whole half hour plot line, long after the main plot is over, and expect that to work.

        • (bigger than Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island put together)

          Gandalf is obviously a rep from Southern New England Telephone and Magic.

        • njorl

          Land was cheap. Even prime agricultural land was allowed to lie empty. The value of the land was the cost of the labor to transform it into active, productive farmland. The actual land had no value at all due to scarcity.

          So Gandalf was saying that the mithril shirt was more valuable than the labor necessary to transform about 20,000 square miles of fertile wilderness into farmland, pastures and villages. That’s probably 100,000 to a million man-years of labor.

          • Anonymous

            Hobbit-years, surely? Which raises the question of how many dwarf-years of labor went into the shirt, and the relative value of the labor of different races — since, unlike “races” of our own species, Tolkien’s really were created unequal. Actually I don’t even remember who created the hobbits or why.

  • dmsilev

    I like the update at the end of Matt’s post. Is this the first time he’s acknowledged a spelling error?

    • eweb

      No, spelling errors are a common footnote update in many of Matt’s, and for that matter, all of Slate’s posts.

  • joe from Lowell

    I feel cheated.

    Where’s Tom Bombadil?

  • Todd

    Smaug is white. Everybody knows it.

  • Malaclypse

    Somewhat off-topic, does anyone play Lord of the Rings Online?

    • Murc

      I’ve been know to dabble, although it’s been some months. (Honestly, I’m kind of waiting for Gondor at this point. I got nothing against Rohan, but…) But I’ve spent my share of time in Moria and Carn Dum. Why do you ask?

      • Malaclypse

        Gladden server, should anyone want to meet up.

        And yea, the idea of mounted combat was cool. But it was kind of a massive nerf bat for tanks.

        • Barry Freed

          You bastards, can’t you tell when a man is trying to write a thesis?

      • potsherds

        I stopped playing partly because of Carn Dum. That place was such a frustrating raid for a middling healer like myself. LotRO is the only MMO I’ve ever played for years instead of months. I think it’s highly underrated.

        • potsherds

          Er, whoops. I was thinking of Dol Guldur’s raid. Not Angmar’s.

          • Murc

            Mirkwood as a whole is very side-questy. I mean, props to them for filling in that part of the map, but…

            LotRO is being developed and written by giant huge Tolkien nerds, guys who can not only cite chapter and verse from the canon, but are familiar with the ancillary materiel Iron Crown produced for MERP and with their own ideas for the space as well. It is really quite an excellent game. I’m not really playing it right now, but that’s not because it isn’t good. In particular, it was rather jaw-dropping how they actually made Dunland interesting.

            I really can’t wait until we get south of the White Mountains. I want to wander around the Ringlo Vale, and visit Lond Ernil, seat of the Princes of Dol Amroth, and fight the Corsairs on the quays of Pelargir.

            • Malaclypse

              Also, Ithilien. I want to see the Dead Marshes, and tank an Oliphant. And Morgul Vale. But in general yea, it is an amazingly well-rendered world.

            • Rob in CT

              Oh God. Like I need another computer game to suck me into. Civilization (IV, not the joke that is V) is enough.

              • Rob in CT

                I need to forget I read all that. Seriously.

    • sharculese

      It’s the only MMO that’s ever held my attention (because LOTR) but it still only did so briefly.

      • Western Dave

        You people are trying to get me fired for not doing my work, right?

        STOP IT, STOP IT RIGHT NOW!

    • Medicine Man

      I’ve heard good things about LOTRO but after playing WoW on and off for seven years I’m now trying to stay “clean”.

  • how many times does Sam have to realize his own worth?

    Well – the Erebore monetary expansion policy was never implemented in the Shire, and the Hobbits xenophobic trade policies were also primitive and parochial*, so his worth was significantly depressed.

    *Wasn’t Old Toby actually smuggled out, or am I misrememberating?

    • Murc

      You are entirely misremembering. Lotho Sackville-Baggins faced some local censure for exporting all of the good stuff and leaving none for Hobbits to buy (or at least, none at prices they could afford to pay) but there was nothing illegal about his massive financial empire. Bilbo imports a lot of exotic foreign goods for his 111th birthday party.

      And just off the top of my head… the Shire had no real good mining country contained within its borders, so local smiths and metalworkers would have needed to import their bar stock from somewhere, most likely buying it from the dwarves. Many people have posited that after the fall of the North-Kingdom and of Moria, the Shire and the various dwarf-holds of the Ered Luin had a mutually productive trade relationship, with the dwarves exchanging stone and metal and other finished goods for the massive agricultural abundance of the Shire.

      • You are entirely misremembering

        Shit!

        • Anonymous

          Trombone steals your memory, iirc …

      • Another Holocene Human

        Wonder how all these crazy wars never cause ripple effects like economic disruptions, refugee problems, or the spread of disease.

        Ahhhh, overthinking it again.

        Like in fellowship, wondering how they go to the bathroom. I mean JRR went into excruciating detail about everything else!

        • Murc

          Wonder how all these crazy wars never cause ripple effects like economic disruptions, refugee problems, or the spread of disease.

          Er… they did?

          Tolkien doesn’t do a complete cultural survey and economic/social history of his world, but actions do have the kind of consequences you state there. Just off the top of my head, the entire reason Rohan exists is because years of plague and warfare served to almost entirely depopulate Calenardhon, leaving lots of excellent but unsettled land that Cirion could bestow upon Eorl.

        • Lurker

          Wonder how all these crazy wars never cause ripple effects like economic disruptions, refugee problems, or the spread of disease.

          The War of the Ring is depicted quite well in the books, and it is relatively short. Most of the war takes place inside Mordor: Sauron’s army is massed there before marching it into Gondor as a single unit, and I would imagine that the process of amassing forces takes more than a year. Similar real-life 17th century armies took months to assemble, and Sauron’s army is massive and includes units from far-away dominions. The army is likely to have devastated the Mordorian areas close to the Gondorian border simply by existing. We never see the plagues and famines that the army suffered from and caused to its surroundings. We do see what happens to Isengard, the other enemy stronghold: its environmental and economic sustainability are destroyed by the process of assembling an army there.

          However, the final invasion is short and repelled fast. Gondor never suffers the full horror of a prolonged siege, and the invasion force is annihilated very soon. The Rohirrim assemble for the battle of the Helm’s Deep, fight a decisive battle there and move to Gondor to win another battle there, all in a space of a few weeks.

          The Western armies are constantly on the move, which also reduces casualties due to disease and reducies damage to the surrounding countryside. After the final victory, the army is disbanded quickly, which further eases the economic burden. The War of the Ring is very much an ideal medieval war as imagined by the Germanic-Nordic laws and customs: the King faces an invasion, takes his personal guard, calls upon his vassals, assembles the militia and repels the invasion. Thereafter, everyone goes home.

          Thus, for the Western economy, the War of the Ring is a traumatic, but survivable experience. The war frees large land areas for re-settlement, so the economic fundamentals gain a massive boost and massive population growth becomes possible, while the availability of land keeps the wages of hired labour relatively high.

  • wengler

    This film had its moments, but I liked the first one better simply because it was more in the feeling of the novel(it was a children’s book after all). The added Dol Guldur sequences I enjoyed, but the invented elf character and the pointless elf-dwarf romance, not to mention giving Legolas so much screen time, seemed like a waste.

    There was a lot of attention paid to action sequences in this movie as well. IMO the barrel one worked and worked well, but every subsequent sequence felt like filler in order to make the hundred or so pages the movie actually covered feel less stretched.

    • Another Holocene Human

      I know Tauriel is totally spurious, but it’s great to have a woman warrior character written by a woman. Nothing about the way she’s presented is insulting. She worries about the same notions of honor, loyalty, and duty as the men.

  • Walt

    This post is typical Farley. The main significance of killing Smaug is military: it removed Sauron’s chief air power asset for the coming war. But since Farley’s career goal is to denigrate the significance of air power, he has to invoke a far-fetched economic explanation to avoid the real truth. Smaug was Sauron’s Air Force.

    • catclub

      So the flying things the Ringwraiths rode were what? Chopped liver?

      Plus, Smaug is much more like Shelob, not particularly deployable.

      • Warren Terra

        I thought the things the wraiths rode were Air Transport, while Smaug is clearly for Strategic Bombing.

        • Lurker

          The ringwraiths should not be considered separately from their mounts. Used as a unit, the mounted wraiths are rather effective close air support. (Gandalf is an anti-aircraft unit that severely limits the effectiveness of the wraiths.)

          On the other hand, the failed effort of the wraiths to find Frodo and the Ring presents very nicely how difficult it is for air units to track a small party in covered terrain.

      • Murc

        Plus, Smaug is much more like Shelob, not particularly deployable.

        Walt is actually right about this. In the books, Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin really was by chance (something the movie annoyingly inverted) and provided a convenient catalyst to do something Gandalf had wanted to do for ages, which was do something, anything, about Smaug, who he worried that Sauron would use, in his own words, “to great effect.”

        I don’t get how you think Smaug isn’t particularly deployable. Smaug can fly. He’s incredibly deployable. Unless you mean you don’t think he’d be particularly tractable, to which I can only say that Smaug is a product of advanced genetic engineering; Sauron was standing at Morgoth’s right hand as he bred the winged dragons in his hideous pits underneath Angband. I would be willing to wager, and it would appear Gandalf would agree with me, that Sauron had ways of inducing Smaug to obey him.

        • Lurker

          It doesn’t really matter whether Smaug is deployable. We don’t know it, and that matters. In any war, an inordinate effort would be spent by the Western forces on countering the strategic-level air threat that Smaug represents. Smaug’s existence would, for example, mean that no concentrated troop movements or formations would be feasible, unless defended by strong magical or conventional (catapults, ballistas?) anti-air forces.

          In the War of the Ring, Smaug’s existence would have prevented the attack of the ents against Isengard, the ride of the Rohirrim to Gondor and the march of the Western armies to the Black Gate (depending on the effectiveness of Gandalf as an anti-dragon defence). In addition, it might have turned the tide of the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

          To understand the problems caused by the existence of Smaug, please familiarise yourselves with the concept of the Pentomic Division, which was supposed to operate in an environment dominated by a similarly capable enemy.

          • Fluttbucker

            Smaug is the “Tirpitz”!

            • sibusisodan

              It’s the Dragon-in-Being doctrine.

        • Rob in CT

          This. In one of the appendicies, I believe, Gandalf goes on about this. Destroying Smaug, along with the revival of Erebor and Dale, was a huge factor in keeping Sauron from overrunning the North (or at least the Northeast). With Smaug as a subordinate, or hell even as a neutral party!, Sauron would’ve had an easy job crushing Lake Town and Thangdruil’s elven kingdom. Instead, he facted a reinvigorated Dwarven mountain fortress backed by the power of a human kingdom, plus the elves. And even so his northern army almost won.

          Taking out Smaug was huge.

          • Manny Kant

            Gandalf discusses this in some detail at the end of “The Quest of Erebor” in Unfinished Tales:

            “Poor Thorin! He was a great Dwarf of a great House, whatever his faults; and though he fell at the end of the journey, it was largely due to him that the Kingdom under the Mountain was restored, as I desired. But Dáin Ironfoot was a worthy successor. And now we here that he fell fighting before Erebor again, even while we fought here. I should call it a heavy loss, if it was not a wonder rather that in his great age he could still wield his axe as mightily as they say he did, standing over the body of King Brand before the Gate of Erebor until the darkness fell.

            “It might have all gone very differently indeed. The main attack was diverted southward, it is true; and yet even so with his farstretched right hand Sauron could have done terrible harm in the North, while he defended Gondor, if King Brand and King Dáin had not stood in his path. When you think of the great Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the Battle of Dale. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador! There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now only hope to return from the victory here to ruin and ash. But that has been averted–because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring not far from Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-Earth.”

            • Rob in CT

              Right! I was going off memory and figured appendices, but it’s actually Unfinished Tales (which is on my nightstand alongside LOTR, The Hobbit and The Simarillion). Well-played with the actual quote.

        • catclub

          Yes, I meant tractable. As long as Smaug has his hoard of gold, he is not really motivated to follow anyone else’s orders.

          I will grant that having him there, even neutral – so no King under the Mountain, is huge. But he is no longer an Airforce, and the Mounts of the Ringwraiths are still not chopped liver.

          Smaug was taken down by a single arrow. So I guess Smaug is much more like the DeathStar than an Airforce.

          Aaaaaaand another thing. The Eagles were VERY effective as Airforce once Gandalf remembers to call them.

          • Rob in CT

            The Eagles, being Tolkein’s Deus Ex Machina, are embarrassing and we shall speak of them. Didn’t you get the memo?

            • Rob in CT

              Not speak of them, obviously. Sigh.

            • Col Bat Guano

              Yeah, the existence of the Eagles and their ability to fly into Mordor makes the entire quest to destroy the Ring seem poorly thought out.

              • Col Bat Guano

                Just to add, unless Sauron had air defense radar.

      • Walt

        Morgoth employed dragons in the defense of Angband.

        • Warren Terra

          Sure, portray strategic bombers as a defensive weapon. I bet the Air Force loves you.

          (Disclaimer: I have no idea what I’m talking about.)

          • I’d say dragons are also pretty good at strafing.

            • Paul Clarke

              Ground support is not a proper occupation for a self-respecting air force.

      • Sly

        So the flying things the Ringwraiths rode were what? Chopped liver?

        The AH-64 Fell Beast is far inferior at the kind of close air support that Sauron’s army needed at the Siege of Gondor, a role which would have been more adequately filled with tactical deployments of the A-10 Smaug.

      • Ahuitzotl

        So the flying things the Ringwraiths rode were what? Chopped liver?

        Well after Miranda Otto got to them, yes, decidedly chopped and probably quite liverish

    • Barry Freed

      But aren’t dragons CAS in that scenario?

      • Manny Kant

        Smaug could be employed as close air support or for strategic bombing. My understanding is that there were some serious doctrinal disputes between Dol Guldur and Minas Morgul over this – at Dol Guldur Khamûl the Black Easterling was a strong advocate of a strategic bombing mission for Smaug, while at Morgul the Witch King and his subordinate Gothmog thought his services could best be used for close air support. Sauron himself was inclined towards the Dol Guldur side of the argument, for obvious reasons, but hadn’t fully committed himself when the whole dispute was rendered moot by the disaster at Erebor.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      but where does the first rate prep school fit into all this?

  • Another Holocene Human

    So, I looked it up, and gold melts at just under 2KF or whatever that is in Centipede. Seems like it should have been dragon taking a gold bath with some crispy fried dwarves. I know Iron melts at a somewhat higher temp–at first I thought the molten gold was pig iron–but it’s the volume in the last scene that takes it way past my even-this-is-fantasy suspension of disbelief.

    It’s like the shitty original Battlestar Galactica, when they run a spaceship (no, not the death star, this is a dinky little thing) into a planet and the planet asplodes.

    • Dave

      Well, if you have, for example, a controlled-singularity-based warp-drive, catastrophic containment failure deep in a gravity-well could be… impressive.

      • zombie rotten mcdonald

        It could have been a performance by Disaster Area.

    • Book

      Dragon’s breath in Tolkien’s universe is in fact so strong that it, together with Mount Doom, has the ability to destroy the One Ring.

      • Malaclypse

        “It has been said that dragon-fire could melt and consume the Rings of Power, but there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough; nor was there ever any dragon, not even Ancalagon the Black, who could have harmed the One Ring, the Ruling Ring, for that was made by Sauron himself.” – Gandalf

        • Book

          Interesting. I must have forgot the last part I guess.

    • jackrabbitslim

      Yeah, the bit in the movie where Thorin rides a wheelbarrow along a stream of molten gold was a bit much. I do some hobby metal-casting and that whole sequence made my skin crawl. Molten metal runs like water and even relatively low temp metals like pewter are fucking HOT.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Ring theory, string theory…

  • I don’t know whether to call this the most adorable thread of all time, or to slot it in with the fantasy baseball posts I usually skip.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Smaug: greatest utility infielder of all time, or massive waste of gold? Discuss.

      • Basically. With Gandalf and Sauron as the Money/Coaching team.

      • rea

        He never lived up to his expectations, and was lousey at defense, so ultimately it made sense to trade him to Texas for a middle infielder.

        • Sauron

          If I owned Mordor and Texas, … wait a minute. I do!

          • Helmut Monotreme

            Insert joke about living in Mordor and renting out Texas right here.

            • Malaclypse

              With Louisiana playing the part of the Dead Marshes.

        • Col Bat Guano

          Smaug is obviously a DH, which makes him double the abomination.

  • Woodrowfan

    you know, all this discussion about Tolkien is STILL more reality-based than a similar discussion about the works of Ayn Rand. (Yes, I know that quote.)

    • sibusisodan

      If there were national politicians basing their political theory on Tolkien’s oeuvre instead of Rand’s, wouldn’t the world be an immeasurably better place?

      Or more hilarious, at least.

      • Malaclypse

        I’m just gonna leave this right here.

        Also, too.

    • J R in WV

      Tolkien created an alternate reality. Ayn Rand did not.

  • I hate to pick favorites but damned if I can think of a blog post and online discussion I’ve enjoyed more.

  • les

    god I love nerds.

  • Rob in CT

    If we’re going to go on about this, we have to acknowledge that Sauron was a terrible strategist.

    Why in the world would he divide his forces as he did? He sent a massive army against Minas Tirith with another in support (the one the Ents intercepted), which is fine. But he wasted 2 other armies on attacking Dale/Erebor and Lothlorien. Given that the Elves in particular only do static defense, this was moronic. The West isn’t going to concentrate its forces like it did in the War of the Last Alliance (though perhaps Sauron doesn’t know this?). You crush Gondor and mop up the rest later. The last places you hit are Lothlorien and Imladris (and then there’s Bombadil, but Sauron probably doesn’t even know about him).

  • So basically what you’re saying is, Gandalf = Krugman.

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