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Old 10-20-2012, 10:54 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Sting Hobbit2 - Chapter 15 - The Gathering of the Clouds

In this chapter the story deviates from the usual fairy tale pattern - no "happily ever after" follows the killing of the dragon, but misunderstandings and hostility. That's a lot like real life!

The speaking birds do belong to Faerie, and their first task is to bring the good news of Smaug's death to Thorin, Bilbo and companions. But instead of being happy and thankful, Thorin lashes out aggressively against Roäc's good advice. He prepares to defend the mountain rather than actively seeking peace.

In the following parley with Bard and the messenger from Esgaroth Thorin not only avoids generosity but is unwilling to give in to just demands. Returning the treasures that were stolen from Men would seem to be a reasonable request that would not have diminished the wealth very much, but greed has closed Thorin's heart. He is under "the power that gold has upon which a dragon has long brooded" as well as his "dwarvish heart".

Shooting an arrow at the messenger (admittedly aimed for the shield and not intended to kill, but still...) may not be quite as bad as MovieAragorn's beheading of the Mouth of Sauron, but it is certainly a breach of etiquette in a parley.

Though the majority of the dwarves seem to side with their king, we read that Bilbo was not the only one who was dissatisfied with Thorin's decision. Even his relatives and apparent heirs Fili and Kili do not agree with him. And Bilbo takes the parting words of the messenger seriously, that gold will not satisfy their hunger. His complaint that cram is sticking in his throat is certainly meant to be understood figuratively as well as literally.

How does this chapter make you feel about Thorin and the dwarves? Do you sympathize with them? Do you enjoy reading the passages about the caves and their fortifications and preparations? Do you think that Bard's demands are just?

I once heard a lecture about this chapter, claiming that Thorin could not have acted differently according to medieval code and custom. Unfortunately I don't have it in printed form and don't remember the details. Was he acting correctly? Could he have avoided the escalation of hostility by acting differently? Was he even capable of changing his attitude? And can we see an influence by one of the Great Rings behind all of this?

Here is the link to the previous discussion.
'Mercy!' cried Gandalf. 'If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?' 'The whole history of Middle-earth...'

Last edited by Estelyn Telcontar; 10-20-2012 at 11:04 AM.
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Old 10-25-2012, 10:56 AM   #2
Faramir Jones
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Narya Thorin in the wrong, but not by as much as some think

I'm particularly fond of this chapter, due to its complexity and sophistication, with its blend of law, politics and morality, that would vex many present day diplomats!

My view is that while I agree that Thorin is in the wrong, particularly in firing the arrow at the messenger, he and his people were considerably provoked.

We have, I feel, to look at the political background of the chapter. Lake-town has been destroyed, with the survivors, helped by a certain speech from the Master, having a belief that the dwarves were responsible for the death and destruction caused by Smaug, and that they should therefore pay some form of compensation. It's fair to presume that the ravens would have given Thorin and the others this intelligence.

The dwarves and Bilbo end up facing two armies, one of Lake-men led by Bard, the other of Wood-elves led by the Elvenking, the person responsible for imprisoning all of them except Bilbo. The newly re-established Kingdom under the Mountain has to face the prospect of having two potentially hostile forces on its borders.

When Thorin and Bard begin talking, Bard makes two claims. The first is personal, divided into two parts. The first part is that he is the slayer of Smaug, the implication being that he (as the good fairy-tale dragon slayer) deserves a reward for this. The second part is that he is the heir of Girion, Lord of Dale, whose wealth is part of Smaug's hoard. The second claim is on behalf of the Lake-men, he still being the servant of their master. He asks if there is any thought for their 'sorrow and misery', they having earlier aided Thorin and his people.

Thorin's response is that Bard put his worst cause last and in the chief place. He said that no man had a claim on the treasure due to the destruction of Smaug; because the treasure wasn't Smaug's to begin with. While they would 'fairly’ pay for the goods and assistance the Lake-men gave them, they would give nothing under threat of force, while an armed host 'lies before our doors'. He then asks the very pointed question about how much of the treasure Bard and his allies would have given to their relatives, if they had found it unguarded and he and his people killed. Again, we can imagine him being influenced by the reported grumbling from the Lake-men about being compensated for their suffering by the treasure.

Bard sidesteps this question from Thorin, saying that he and his people were not dead, and he and his allies 'not robbers'. He then said that the wealthy may have 'pity beyond right' to help the needy who befriended them when they were in want. Also, his other claims remained 'unanswered'.

Thorin replies that he would not negotiate with armed men at his gate, still less with the people of the Elvenking 'whom I remember with little kindness'. He then tells Bard to go 'ere our arrows fly!'

From a legal point of view, Bard has a valid personal claim. As slayer of Smaug he would be entitled to a reward from those who benefited the most from that dragon's death. Also, as the heir of Girion, he would have a valid hereditary claim to the relevant parts of the treasure that were his ancestor's. It's interesting that Thorin refuses to discuss this claim, therefore admitting its great strength.

In terms of whether some treasure should be given to the Lake-men, Thorin concedes that he and his people will pay fairly for the goods and assistance given them; but he refuses to agree any other legal liability, pointing out quite correctly that Smaug had no right to the treasure. For that reason, the Lake-men could not legally claim any part of it as compensation for Smaug's destruction.

But while Thorin is legally correct, Bard points out that the Lake-men helped Thorin and his people when they were in want, without asking for anything in return, appealing to their pity. This is a good point; and it would not only be the morally right thing to do, but also good politics, ensuring the goodwill of many towards the re-established Kingdom under the Mountain.

My own view is that Tolkien is showing that Thorin is morally, as well as mostly legally, in the wrong. It would be the morally (as well as politically) correct decision to give something to help the Lake-men, who had helped him and his people without asking anything in return. However, Tolkien gives as a reason the influence of the dragon-infected gold on Thorin, as well as the aggravating factor of the presence of an army on his doorstep, partly made up of Wood-elves. There is the maxim 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'. One could here twist it around to mean 'The friend of my enemy is my enemy', viewing the Lake-men in a hostile light for being friends with those elves who had imprisoned him.

Things later get worse, due to a mistake by Bard, although it is, ironically, part of an attempt at a compromise. An ultimatum is given by a messenger, to 'consider well the claims that have been urged, or be declared our foe'. Then Bard offers a possible compromise, suggesting Thorin deliver 'one twelfth portion of the treasure' to Bard, as the dragon-slayer, and as the heir of Girion. Out of this, Bard would 'himself contribute' to the aid of the Lake-men; but, more pointedly, if Thorin wanted 'the friendship and honour of the lands about', as his ancestors had, 'then he will give somewhat of his own for the comfort of the men of the Lake'.

Thorin, as we know, shot an arrow at the speaker, which hit his shield, leading him to declare the Mountain beseiged. There was, I feel, a particular reason for this arrow; the messenger, at the start of his message, deliberately insulted Thorin and the dwarves, referring to him as 'Thorin Thrain's son Oakenshield, calling himself the King under the Mountain'. (My italics)

This questioning of Thorin's title to be king is a surprise; because, from reading The Hobbit, the legitimacy of his title is shown as unquestioned, with everyone, including the Lake-men, accepting this. By questioning his title to be king, Bard is questing the legitimacy of the re-established kingdom, and the title of the dwarves to the treasure.

This is very dangerous; because if this is correct, then Bard's claim to be Lord (or King) of Dale, due to being Girion's heir, and therefore to some of the treasure, would be equally suspect. It reminds me of King Edward III of England's claim to the French crown, which began the Hundred Years War, with his insulting challenge to King Philip VI of France, referring to him as 'Philip of Valois who calls himself King of France'.

This may also explain why the dwarves take their king's side, although some, particularly Bombur, feel he went too far. This attack on their king's legitimacy is also an attack on the legitimacy of the re-established kingdom, and on the sacrifices and suffering they endured. This would reinforce the belief, one existing in modern states, that now is not a good time to question the government's policies when the very existence of the state is under threat.

I certainly think that Thorin's assault on the messenger went too far. He could have perhaps:

i. Stated that he would not negotiate with someone who did not recognise his title as king, or the legitimacy of the kingdom, or
ii. Offered one fourteenth of the treasure, on the grounds that as Bard did not recognise his claim's legitimacy, he did not recognise his to be ruler of Dale, or heir of Girion, and any claim on any share of the treasure resulting from this.

I certainly feel that Thorin should at least have offered something to help the Lake-men, and something to compensate Bard for killing Smaug.

What do people think about this? Do you think that Bard annoyed Thorin unnecessarily, even if the latter went too far in response?

Last edited by Faramir Jones; 10-25-2012 at 11:17 AM.
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Old 10-26-2012, 01:54 AM   #3
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Faramir Jones’ discussion and explanation of Thorin’s legal position and Bard’s legal condition appears to me to be very complete.

To add to it I will only note that Thorin may legitimately see this as an attempt by two large armies, one of desperate Men who have lost their town and ¼ of their number to the dragon, to bully him who has only 13 companions.

Thorin’s question about what share of the treasure would have been paid to Thorin’s heirs if the Men had found him dead is evaded by Bard. Thorin is implying that the Men (and Elves) would have paid nothing but have simply confiscated the treasure. I suspect Thorin is quite correct.

From Rateliff’s The History of the Hobbit, page 656:
After Fram of the Éothéod [Horse-folk] one of the ancestors of Eorl the Young, kills ‘the great dragon of Ered Mithrin’ [Grey Mountains], the dwarves claim his hoard, which had been stolen from them by the dragon (as evidence of which, note that Merry’s horn, which came from that hoard, ‘was made by the Dwarves’; LotR.1014). Fram ‘would not yield them a penny, and sent to them instead the teeth of Scatha made into a necklace, saying, “Jewels such as these you will not match in your treasuries, for they are hard to come by.” Some say that Dwarves slew Fram for this insult. There was no great love between Éothéod and the Dwarves.’ – LotR.1102.
Thorin certainly could have acted differently according to medieval custom. A counter-offer somewhat less than Bard’s ultimatum would have indicated willingness to parley without appearing overly weak. But certainly Bard might have, at first, been less obviously cocky. Perhaps Thorin’s insistence that he would not negotiate with an overwhelming army was an attempt to open negotiations with a smaller number, although I doubt it. Bard still might have tried to take Thorin up on it, but he didn’t.

Bilbo notes, “these were fair words and true, if proudly and grimly spoken; and Bilbo thought that Thorin would at once admit what justice was in them.” It seems that even Bilbo with the phrase “what justice was in them” thinks that Bard is going a little too far, although Bilbo is more shocked by Thorin’s refusal to negotiate at all.

The Great Rings I do not see as an issue. Thrain’s Ring had been long ago stolen by the Necromancer (Sauron) and is not in Thorin’s possession. Also when he first wrote this Tolkien had not yet invented the Dwarf rings.
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Old 10-26-2012, 10:10 AM   #4
Faramir Jones
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Sting Bard not behaving well as Lord of Dale

Thanks for the compliment, jallanite!

I agree with what you said, and will just add a couple of more points. First, Gandalf later pointed out (correctly) to Thorin that he was 'not making a very splendid figure as King under the Mountain'. The same could be said to Bard as prospective Lord of Dale, in his refusal to recognise Thorin's title. Second, after the arrival of reinforcements from the Iron Hills, led by Dain, the Elvenking is less eager than Bard to fight: 'Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold'. Here, I think, speaks the voice of an experienced ruler, even if he is greedy and imprisoned Thorin and Company.
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