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Old 05-13-2019, 07:39 AM   #1
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
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Pipe The economy of Arnor (as seen in The Hobbit)

To put this bluntly: what in Arda is going on up in Arnor at the time of The Hobbit?

“That would be no good,” said the wizard, “not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary).
I assure you there is a mark on this door — the usual one in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward, that’s how it is usually read. You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do. It’s all the same to us.
Thorin and company clearly expect that both Warriors and Heroes should be available for hire in Arnor, and consider Expert Treasure-Hunter to be an established trade. Why, then, do we never hear of any of these things later on?

(Obviously: because The Hobbit is children's fantasy and wasn't intended to be set in Middle-earth. But besides that.)

Warriors are the easiest to accept - Gandalf could well be referring to the Rangers. It wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that they occasionally took work for hire, as individuals or groups. But 'fighting each other' gives me pause, as does 'distant lands'. Could it be that Dunlending warriors are also for hire, and that there was a border squabble going on down around Tharbad? The Rangers would surely do their best to prevent raiders from crossing the river.

As for Heroes - forget who they would be for a second, what do they do? It sounds like Gandalf intended to hire one, but the likes of Aragorn (were he not 10 at this point) would hardly sell their swords to the highest bidder. The theory might be that if you tell a heroic type 'I'm off to kill a dragon and avenge my dad', he'll probably tag along out of a sense of noble justice - but even so, that doesn't sound like anyone we meet in Middle-earth.

There is a glimmer of sense, in that Gandalf says 'in this neighbourhood', not 'nowadays'. The dwarves' understanding of the world comes from their days in the Lonely Mountain and the Grey Mountains, which are a far wilder area even than Arnor. The people up that way are related to the Rohirrim, who seem like they'd be all over the 'wa-hey, let's go get some vengeance!' thing. (This does suggest that when Gandalf says 'hero', he really means 'blond'. )

And then, the Burglar. How in the world is 'Expert Treasure-Hunter' a common job description? Well... two possible answers:
  • In the Grey Mountains, there's a long history of dragons stealing gold. It could be that going and getting it back (without rousing the dragon) is a viable, if high-risk, industry. Fram of the Eotheod certainly thought so.
  • Alternately... well, Arnor is a realm in ruins, and they can't all be haunted by Wights. Venturing out into the wild places to see what you can find is actually pretty viable - though why someone of that ilk would hire themselves out is another question entirely. Possibly simply because, thousands of years after the Fall of Arthedain, there's not a whole lot left to steal.

I don't know, though: all of this is very tenuous. I'm hoping someone else can come up with some firmer answers.

(One last random thought: is 13 an unlucky number for dwarves because it's one less than 14 - ie, twice 7, the number of Fathers of the Dwarves? If we accept the idea that each Father was set to sleep alongside his wife, then 13 would be 'and one of them was alone'. Dwarves are pretty ritualistic; that might bother them a lot.)

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