Referred to hereinafter as 'Burglar'
January 18, 2013 10:50 AM   Subscribe

A lawyer provides a detailed analysis of the contract between Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves in The Hobbit.

Contract may not be legally binding. Contract may not be real, may instead be commercial product officially licensed from 'THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY'. The value of your pipe-weed portfolio may go down as well as up. Your hole in the ground may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage. IANAL. IANAH.
posted by Wordshore (46 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"We've got a cheap lawyer an' we're not afraid to use him!" ~ Terry Pratchett
posted by Fizz at 10:54 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Needs "Metafilter's own..." designation...

cf. Law and the Multiverse.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2013


(I can't fucking believe it: I just clicked on this article on my other tab)
posted by growabrain at 11:07 AM on January 18, 2013


Inspector.Gadget: "Needs "Metafilter's own..." designation..."

Bilbo's a Mefite?
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bilbo's a Mefite?

Yup.
posted by Fizz at 11:44 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bilbo's a Mefite?

No, but Jedicus is.

Was thinking about posting this myself, but wanted to wait until the series of posts was complete.
posted by jbickers at 11:45 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another case of the movie not following the book and yours truly not caring for it.

Sorry, I'll be quiet now.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems an opportune time to link to Gandalf: A Venn Diagram When Facing Foes
posted by bouvin at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Thorin and Company to Burglar Bilbo greeting! For your hospitality our sincerest thanks, and for your offer of professional assistance our grateful acceptance. Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all travelling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for.
"Thinking it unnecessary to disturb your esteemed repose, we have proceeded in advance to make requisite preparations, and shall await your respected person at the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, at 11 a.m. sharp. Trusting that you will be punctual,
        "We have the honour to remain
                "Yours deeply
                        "Thorin & Co.

"That leaves you just ten minutes. You will have to run," said Gandalf.
"But--," said Bilbo.
"No time for it," said the wizard.
"But--," said Bilbo again.
"No time for that either! Off you go!"
Whatever is hard to understand about that? The movie makes the contract much longer, which is not only an unnecessary touch but also liable to be made completely moot as the company runs into all sorts of trouble that are likely to ruin such a sheet of paper, at the latest when they escape from Mirkwood, and possibly long before that.
posted by JHarris at 12:11 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and why don't Gandalf and the hobbits travel everywhere via eagle? Couldn't he just, like, fly Frodo over Mount Doom so he can drop the ring in?
posted by jbickers at 12:14 PM on January 18, 2013


Give the ring to the eagles and make them drop it. Eagles don't wear rings, so they can't be tempted by its evil shininess. Unless the ring is stolen by magpies.

Alternative: Mount Doom-raised homing pigeons, or kamikaze pigeons trained to dive-bomb volcanoes. It worked for B.F. Skinner!
posted by nicebookrack at 12:24 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Couldn't he just, like, fly Frodo over Mount Doom so he can drop the ring in?

By the time everyone realized that the ring had to be destroyed, it had gained enough power that it likely would have corrupted the eagles and they would have eaten Frodo and taken the ring for themselves.

At the time of the Hobbit, the ring is still relatively weak, so the eagles could handle picking up Bilbo and dropping him off with the ring in his pocket.

Also, something about blah blah, eagles don't like to interfere with the mundane groundwalkers, blah blah (but they will do favours for Gandalf all the time because silmarillion-something-or-other).

All of that fanwank being said however, I think I remember a quote from Tolkien where he admitted that he hadn't though of "the whole eagle thing" at the time, and it probably would have been a really good idea.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:24 PM on January 18, 2013


The movie makes the contract much longer

And the book handles it so much better; that extract is lovely.

I didn't see anything immediately relevant on tvtropes, but it feels to me like the comically-long contract is somewhat of a slapstick movie trope.

And that also feels to me to be symptomatic of the movie's tonal problems: it chooses to indulge in slapstick a lot more readily and often than the book does.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:27 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


And that also feels to me to be symptomatic of the movie's tonal problems: it chooses to indulge in slapstick a lot more readily and often than the book does.

Only to almost immediately swing back to EPIC VIOLENCE. Man, did that movie rub me the wrong way, and I really like Lord of the Rings (the movies).
posted by adamdschneider at 12:36 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


In general, the movies tend to make explicit a lot of things that are only alluded to in the books. It's not just enough that Galadriel be tempted by the ring, she had to use her Photoshop Spell while being so. And it's not enough that Thorin come to accept Bilbo's contributions through being proven time and again throughout the adventure, Bilbo has to measure up to them on Thorin's terms by saving his life during that fight with Orcy McExtrason. I really hate how it refuses to question movie-Thorin's macho, martial warrior pride, an extremely unwelcome addition to the film in my opinion.
posted by JHarris at 12:43 PM on January 18, 2013


We are also supposed to believe that Mt. Doom is the only volcano. Other volcanoes or even magma at the levels of Moria would work. They explicitly state that dragon fire could melt the ring so there isn't anything special about Mt. Doom.

About the treasure. I know Forbes did a piece on how much Smaug's treasure was worth. I think they vastly underestimated it. In LoTR, Gandalf states that the Mithril shirt Frodo wears is worth more than the entire Shire. That is just one small Mithril shirt.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:55 PM on January 18, 2013


I will say that a lot of people are bothered by the temptation of Galadriel scene in the film, but I'm not. It doesn't seem all THAT much heightened from the text:
'...And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of a Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love me and despair!'

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

'I pass the test', she said. 'I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.'
That said, I completely agree that a repeated failure of the movies is making explicit all allusions and/or taking the wrong tone (as mentioned above, either too slapstick-Gimli-or too violent-Paths of the Dead).
posted by Chrysostom at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


why don't Gandalf and the hobbits travel everywhere via eagle

I've always seen Gandalf's role as more custodial than active: his job is to enable heroism in others, not to be heroic himself. So they have to do it the hard way so that the heroes can experience their journey.

So that's why they can't fly there: because Gandalf won't solve all their problems for them. He'll pull their feet out of the fire if they get into serious trouble, but otherwise it's up to them to overcome their obstacles.

I've no idea if this is canon, mind you.

Dramatically, Gandalf presents a superhero problem: his abilities are so much greater than the rest of the Fellowship that unless he's restricted the rest of the Fellowship never face any true peril. So he falls into flames and that gives Aragon and Frodo (and Boromir! and Pippin and Merry!) space to develop.

Tangentially to all this: I hated the movie Hobbit's version of the troll scene, which is funnier and smarter in the book with Bilbo speaking from the shadows. (Also: "floaters"? "I've got parasites"? Hell no.) But anyway: it seemed to me that the movie played it more as Bilbo bumbling and Gandalf turning up to save the day, whereas the book credits it much more to Bilbo's cunning. (Does the book hint that Gandalf's been quietly observing for a while before noting DAWN TAKE YOU ALL? I forget.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:00 PM on January 18, 2013


Ad hominem: "We are also supposed to believe that Mt. Doom is the only volcano. Other volcanoes or even magma at the levels of Moria would work. They explicitly state that dragon fire could melt the ring so there isn't anything special about Mt. Doom."

This is not correct.
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.
Dragons cannot destroy the One Ring.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:02 PM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dragons cannot destroy the One Ring.

Damn, maybe it is time to re-read them.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:04 PM on January 18, 2013


But the thing is, in the book that's just a couple of paragraphs, but making it visible on-screen is garish. Tolkien magic tends to be more subtle than that; it was Jackson's choice to give Galadrial the photographic negative treatment like that. And I gave that as just one example: I could just as easily have pointed to LOTR Bilbo's GRAAR moment with the Ring in Rivendell, or the pan-zoom room darkening whenever Gandalf want to convince someone he's actually a wizard.

Does the book hint that Gandalf's been quietly observing for a while before noting DAWN TAKE YOU ALL? I forget.

In the books Gandalf is actually the one who delays the trolls until dawn by imitating their voices and getting them to fight each other.
posted by JHarris at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2013


Gandalf states that the Mithril shirt Frodo wears is worth more than the entire Shire. That is just one small Mithril shirt.

One imagines that perhaps Gandalf may have been exaggerating, slightly, for dramatic effect.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:16 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


JHarris: "But the thing is, in the book that's just a couple of paragraphs, but making it visible on-screen is garish. Tolkien magic tends to be more subtle than that; it was Jackson's choice to give Galadrial the photographic negative treatment like that. And I gave that as just one example: I could just as easily have pointed to LOTR Bilbo's GRAAR moment with the Ring in Rivendell, or the pan-zoom room darkening whenever Gandalf want to convince someone he's actually a wizard.

Right, I agree in general, it's just that the Galadriel bit has never bothered me.

Does the book hint that Gandalf's been quietly observing for a while before noting DAWN TAKE YOU ALL? I forget.

In the books Gandalf is actually the one who delays the trolls until dawn by imitating their voices and getting them to fight each other.
"

Right, Gandalf comes back just as the trolls have finished their argument about how to cook the dwarves.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:24 PM on January 18, 2013


I always kind of felt sorry for the trolls there. Sure, they were going to cook and eat our heroes, but one of them felt sorry for Bilbo. While practically everything else that's supposed to be read as evil in the books is presented as irredeemably cruel and violent.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2013


One imagines that perhaps Gandalf may have been exaggerating, slightly, for dramatic effect.

Maybe, but probably not, actually. It's come up in another MeFi thread, actually. A huge chunk of the value of the mithril shirt is not the mithril itself, but the value of manufactured mithril, as the ability to craft and forge it is basically gone in the Third Age. I believe, back in the days of regular extraction and manufacture, the value of mithril was about 10x that of gold.
posted by absalom at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2013


(And then the movie goes out of its way to add gross-out jokes with the trolls, like this was Barth's Burgers from You Can't Do That On Television or something. Ugh.)
posted by JHarris at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2013


Re: Conflict of Laws
If I were Bilbo's attorney, I'd argue that the laws of The Shire apply here because the Dwarves don't technically have a home jurisdiction, at least at the time the contract was executed. I'd like to know two more things:
1. Is The Shire a First Restatement or Second Restatement jurisdiction?
2. Would any of the judges adjudicating, be they Hobbits or Dwarves (in my forum shopping analysis I would have insisted on elves because RIVENDELL but whatever) be inclined to apply renvoi?
posted by Dr. Zira at 2:04 PM on January 18, 2013


No, because they don't have French.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:09 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


in the books Gandalf is actually the one who delays the trolls

Oh dear. Looks like I'm overdue for a reread.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:13 PM on January 18, 2013


The movies are, at the end of the day and back again, the movies and not the books. Due to the nature of the medium, shouldn't we forgive them visual emphasis like the Photoshop Spell and the comically long contract? It is after all a two-hour film and not a ten-hour book.

But some of the other changes were *criminal*. Have your wacky contract, but why on middle earth would you cut out the 'ten minutes' exchange when you're trying to make a slightly comic film, and you have Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman at your disposal?
posted by forgetful snow at 2:54 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, though, props to the prop designer if he really did come up with this singlehandedly.
posted by forgetful snow at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2013


The movies are, at the end of the day and back again, the movies and not the books.

Lots more people come in contact with movie adaptations of books than the books themselves, and by calling it The Lord of the Rings instead of The Kick-ass Adventures of Gandalf and Gollum, they are opening themselves up to comparisons with the original. This cannot be escaped.

Due to the nature of the medium, shouldn't we forgive them visual emphasis like the Photoshop Spell

But this isn't a minor thing, it happens all the time, the movies are depressingly literal about lots of things.

and the comically long contract? It is after all a two-hour film and not a ten-hour book.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is 169 minutes long. Multiplying that by three and dividing by 60 reveals that by the time we're done it won't be ten hours long, but it will be 8 and 3/4ths hours.

But that moment of the book is one of the briefer, punchier moments, and all the more humorous for it. It doesn't need to be stretched out or made slapstick.
posted by JHarris at 3:20 PM on January 18, 2013


why on middle earth would you cut out the 'ten minutes' exchange when you're trying to make a slightly comic film, and you have Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman at your disposal?

I do notice they still took a moment, while Bilbo is running across the Shire, to have this exchange:

Random Hobbit: Where are you going?
Bilbo: I'm going on an adventure!

GROAN.
posted by JHarris at 3:23 PM on January 18, 2013


Couldn't he just, like, fly Frodo over Mount Doom so he can drop the ring in?

Well, Gandalf is less powerful than Sauron so they can't storm the place head on. As he says to Elrond, "Even if you chose for us an elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him". This is the same Glorfindel who had already slain a Balrog and came back from the dead.

Secondly, Gandalf's ring of power is meant to have indirect effects. "For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill".

Thirdly, the whole point of sending a group of nine and keeping a low profile is so that Sauron won't find out about the mission to destroy the ring. The Nazgul would presumably make short work of Frodo flying on an eagle.

TMI.
posted by ersatz at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


How The Hobbit Should Have Ended.

I'm firmly in the "I liked the movie but it was wildly uneven and contained too many weird decisions like the stupid goblin kingdom and why did they change the troll scene?" camp, and not in the Christopher "Re-Animater of his Dad's Shopping List" Tolkien camp.
posted by Mezentian at 4:04 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


too many weird decisions like the stupid goblin kingdom

Uh-huh. Explain. Because I for one liked seeing an orcish race that wasn't all GRAAR and macho posing all the time. (Although The Goblin King's neck flub... ick.)
posted by JHarris at 4:16 PM on January 18, 2013


Yeah, the goblin king was overplayed, but what are you gonna do, it's a Hollywood movie. All I can say is, I'm not super excited for the remainder.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:11 PM on January 18, 2013


I loved The Hobbit movie but one-third of my excitement was preemptive glee for The Desolation of SMAUGLOCK, and I am not ashamed
posted by nicebookrack at 6:26 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, they just went ahead and made the extended edition straight off.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:17 PM on January 18, 2013


It just seems extremely weird to analyse this contract according to US contract law.
posted by robcorr at 8:23 PM on January 18, 2013


robcorr is right. I suspect application of US contract law is how Middle Earth ended up with all that ununionized orc and goblin labor.
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:40 PM on January 18, 2013


It just seems extremely weird to analyse this contract according to US contract law.

I tried to justify that on three grounds. First, the contract itself uses a lot of language taken from American law—probably from a film contract—which suggests that (in the movie universe and assuming that the contract is generally representative of the legal system at issue) American contract law is broadly applicable.

Second, American contract law, especially older common law rules, are not radically dissimilar from older English common law rules. For example, the Statute of Frauds, although now virtually non-existent in England, used to be roughly similar to the American version, both at the time the Hobbit was written and at roughly the period in English history that the Shire is (I think) meant to evoke.

Third, it's fictional anyway so who's to say exactly what the law is?

But ultimately these are more excuses than justifications. I am an American-trained lawyer, and no doubt there are parts of the contract that would be interpreted differently under English law, whether modern or pre-industrial. If there are any barristers or solicitors (or even Canadians :) who would like to offer their comments, by all means drop me a line. I'd be happy to publish any and all comments, corrections, or criticisms.
posted by jedicus at 10:27 PM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


jedicus, Did you have to actually buy the 5 foot replica for the text of the movie version of the contract, or is it available somewhere in non-prop form?
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:37 PM on January 18, 2013


Did you have to actually buy the 5 foot replica for the text of the movie version of the contract, or is it available somewhere in non-prop form?

I received the less expensive replica version as a birthday present, and that's what I used to write the articles, but it's my understanding that the text is floating around the internet in a few places.
posted by jedicus at 6:52 AM on January 19, 2013


sparklemotion:
By the time everyone realized that the ring had to be destroyed, it had gained enough power that it likely would have corrupted the eagles and they would have eaten Frodo and taken the ring for themselves.
The ring was made with that power; I don't think it really ever gained any. After all, it nearly single-handedly (sorry) won the great war for Sauron in the first place; losing the finger that bore it lost the entire war for him.

And Gandalf and Galadriel (as owner of one of the Elven Rings under it) surely new it had to be destroyed centuries beforehand; they simply didn't know where it was.

I'm with the "What if one of the eagles gets it on his claw?" group; putting that much power in the grasp of a mostly unpredictable creature of immense strength wouldn't be the safest route at all. By analogy: I might ride a horse, but I'm not sure I'd strap an A-bomb to his back and slap him on the rump, yelling "Go home, Trigger!"
posted by IAmBroom at 10:10 AM on January 19, 2013


We had a deal, Kyle:
I've always seen Gandalf's role as more custodial than active: his job is to enable heroism in others, not to be heroic himself. So they have to do it the hard way so that the heroes can experience their journey.

So that's why they can't fly there: because Gandalf won't solve all their problems for them. He'll pull their feet out of the fire if they get into serious trouble, but otherwise it's up to them to overcome their obstacles.
I view Gandalf as a sort of "guardian angel" for all of Middle Earth (along with his four peer Ishtari). Since there's so few of them, they're essentially cherubim in stature (and in Tolkien's hierarchy: they're Maiar, and fall directly beneath the Valar who are 2nd only to Illuvatar the Creator). Cherubim, BTW, are not silly little baby boys who have problems keeping their diapers up; they are the sort of badasses that drove Adam and Eve from Paradise with a flaming sword, and generally kick the ass of anything else but seraphim and H*mself.

But they don't keep man from committing sin; they don't correct Gomorrah, even if they get sent to destroy it. Their job is never to carry the ring, but to appear to Mary and say, "Yo, whattup, girlfriend? Yahweh's totes got plans for your babymaker, so don't be upset at the price of hotel rooms 'round here. Also, tell Joe I said 'hey'."
posted by IAmBroom at 10:24 AM on January 19, 2013


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