In Defense of Thorin Oakenshield

*Spoilers for The Hobbit to follow*
Thorin is often criticized for the choices he makes after the death of Smaug, and the average reader is rarely sympathetic with his refusal to share the treasure with the people of Lake-town. But when I read the story, I find it hard not to side with him. This essay is an attempt to justify my reaction. [Note: This is based on my reactions to the original Hobbit story only, without factoring in the material from the Appendices, Unfinished Tales, or the film.]

In Defense of Thorin Oakenshield:
A Journey from Hero to Villain, and Back Again
by DarkJackal

Thorin, by Anke Eissmann

While he is never entirely a villain, Thorin Oakenshield becomes temporarily cast as one due to circumstance. From the beginning, the character possesses a strong sense of self-importance, and a gruff impatience which is not entirely endearing. By the time the dragon has been destroyed, it is already clear he is an inconsistent hero, occasionally brave and heedless of danger, but just as often shirking the riskiest activities, and letting a small hobbit face them. After the Lonely Mountain is reclaimed, his character becomes even less appealing. Because of pride, and an unwillingness to bend to the will of outsiders, he commits his followers to a desperate battle. At one point, even Gandalf stands against him. Given the wizard’s status, readers know the dwarf must be doing something wrong if he has earned this stamp of disapproval. What appears to be a flaw in his character culminates in a deadly rage against Bilbo. But exactly how did the exiled king shift from protagonist to antagonist?

To answer this question, it is first important to note that although Bilbo may be the main character, it is actually the lesser protagonists who move the plot along. The quest is organized by Gandalf (who has his own hidden motives), while the journey is driven forward by Thorin’s desire to reclaim his kingdom. Bilbo goes along for the ride, partly to live up to Gandalf’s recommendation of him as a burglar, but mostly because he is seeking something intangible; a connection to his ancestors via a discovery of his more adventurous self. Thorin is guided even more strongly by ancestral expectations, but his goals are very tangible. He wants the Lonely Mountain, the horde of treasure that lies within it, and the heirloom Arkenstone, as well as the restoration of his people to their rightful home. A keen sense of pride is linked to each of these goals, and we find out he is unwilling to settle for anything less than achieving all of them.

Smaug, by Jon Hodgson

To say Bilbo is the hero of the tale, and Smaug the villain, oversimplifies matters. Bilbo is not initially possessed of heroic qualities, but bravery and self-sacrifice come to him over the course of the book. There are many antagonists that serve as foils to Bilbo. Practically everything harries the hobbit, including trolls, goblins, Gollum, wargs, and spiders. After having bested these opponents, Bilbo must face the dragon. His own triumph over fear (manifested in their face-to-face conversation) is more important to his character’s growth than the actual slaying of the beast, and it is left to Bard, a more traditional human hero, to stand before the villain. But although Bilbo is not directly responsible for Smaug’s demise, his discovery of the dragon’s weakness (passed along to Bard by the thrush bird) plays an important part.

Bard of Lake-town, by Shockbolt

With the death of Smaug, the role of chief antagonist is left vacant. The greedy Master of Lake-town is the first to take on the mantle, but, being the tricky fellow he is, he quickly passes it along by pointing out how stirring up the dragon, and the subsequent destruction of Lake-town, would never have happened had not the dwarves returned. This turns the opinions of the Lake-men against Thorin, and begins the process of undermining the dwarf’s status with the reader. Thorin may have waited a lifetime to regain his birthright, but without the bravery, skill, and luck of Bard, (not to mention Bilbo’s insider information) he would still have the dragon standing between him and that goal. It leaves the reader questioning whether or not he deserves all that he demands.

The armies of Bard and the Elvenking (a character who starts out with avaricious intentions, but who ends up being unsullied by greed) march toward the Mountain in hopes of availing themselves of a treasure free and clear of dragons and dwarves. Roac, the raven, warns Thorin that elves and men are coming to seize his gold, and the bird even mentions the unsettling detail that carrion crows follow in their wake, hoping for a battle feast. In this way, Thorin is already prejudiced against the “delegation” that later arrives at the Mountain. This is an important point, since part of the criticism lodged against him is his unwillingness to trust other races.

Though loyal to the dwarves, the raven views the situation from a tactical perspective, recognizing they are at a disadvantage. He advises Thorin to trust Bard, and choose peace over gold. But wrath blazes in Thorin’s mind at the suggestion. There is never a moment afterward that he thinks of anything but defense, and if that fails, war. Although it cost the dwarves nothing in blood to retake the Mountain and its treasure, they will give their last to keep it.

Roac, son of Carc, by John Howe

When scouts arrive at the Gate, they are surprised to see it blocked, and more so to see Thorin and Co. alive. When he questions them, they retreat without word. Their silence betrays their disappointment that the King under the Mountain still lives. Thorin is wise enough to know they would have been happier to find thirteen charred corpses blocking their path to the treasure, rather than a massive stone wall.

As the music of elf harps begins in the valley, Bilbo briefly imagines leaving the dour dwarves, and even a few of the dwarves think longingly of a peaceful resolution. But Thorin remains unmoved. Perhaps in an effort to maintain solidarity, his company craft their own song about the glorious recovery of the Mountain throne. It works to appease Thorin, but Bilbo finds the song, and the attitudes behind it, distasteful.

Up until this point, the hobbit’s main concern was dealing with the dragon, and to him, the death of Smaug should have been the end of the conflict. Thorin’s assertion, that battle is preferable to compromise, strikes Bilbo as insufferable (hobbits have not been embroiled in warfare for many generations, and while there are greedy hobbits, there are none who would choose battle over peace just for the sake of gold).

The same traits Thorin exhibited as a prisoner in the dungeons of the Elvenking, such as stubbornness and distrust, are now in conflict with the wishes of the chief protagonist, and he is no longer seen as the victim, but as a miser. In this way, he becomes the antagonist by opposing the goal of the hero, even though his own goals never change; he never makes a secret of his desires, nor a promise that he will be generous with the treasure. As it is, the original contract between the dwarves and Bilbo is very specific on the matter of shares. By being protective of the treasure, Thorin is safeguarding all of the Company’s interests. Looking at it from the standpoint of the dwarves, one could say Thorin remains true to his nature, and everyone else becomes antagonistic toward him.

The delegation of men and elves arrives at the Gate, and Bard’s speech is as condescending as it is accurate. As slayer of the dragon, and heir of Dale, Bard can be excused for exuding some pride, but he lacks diplomatic skill. He speaks as one who knows he has the advantage, being less concerned with coming to an agreement of equals, as he is with getting what he wants.

Having listened to Bard’s argument, Thorin does offer to make modest reparations, but not on their terms. Had the Lake-men been in less of a rush to force the dwarves into agreement, they might have avoided escalating hostilities. Putting aside the matter of rights to the treasure (which are complicated by Smaug having used the Mountain as a storehouse for things he stole from many races), perhaps Thorin should not be judged so harshly for denying the claims of what he sees as an army come to plunder his treasury, for that is indeed what it is.  Would his heart have softened had just Bard appeared, pleading the case of the Lake-men, and might he have sought to reestablish the old alliance their people shared? Perhaps, but the presence of the elf army stirs up old hatred.

Thranduil the Elvenking, by ~CG-Warrior

The Elvenking’s longstanding desire for dwarf treasure is infamous, but his purpose has shifted from taking the treasure for himself, to backing up Bard’s claim, showing that he is capable of sympathy for those in great need (and making Thorin appear that much more selfish). But Thorin has not forgotten how the Elvenking detained them for weeks in Mirkwood with little cause.  With nothing at his command but twelve dwarves and a hobbit, he would be at their mercy again, were he to let his guard down. But he knows he has a chance to even the odds if his cousin Dain can arrive with five hundred soldiers from the north, and refuses to discuss terms as long as the elves remain.

When messengers return to reveal Bard’s terms—peace will cost the dwarves more than a twelfth of the treasure—Thorin replies succinctly; by shooting an arrow into the messenger’s shield. He is finished with the pretense of parley. Some readers will likely see this act as a prime example of bad form, but he had warned them he would not negotiate while the Elvenking’s army remained. For a character who likes to hear himself talk, this wordless reply is more poignant.

Gathering of the Clouds, by Alan Lee

The messenger declares the Mountain besieged, promising that armies will remain until hunger changes stubborn minds. Bilbo sees it all as insanity, and wants out, and even some of Thorin’s people are not enthusiastic about his choice. Kili, Fili, and Bombur do not support the decision, but dwarves are nothing if not loyal to their own kind, and no words of dissent are spoken. While it may not have an impact on Thorin’s plan, the fact that not all the dwarves are behind his decision (including his own heirs) has a powerful effect on the reader, and marks Thorin as an unreasonable king.

Taking matters into his own hands, Bilbo sneaks out with the Arkenstone (like a true burglar), and plans to force Thorin into giving up a fourteenth share of the gold to Bard. Here, Bilbo is to the dwarf like the thrush was to Smaug, appearing unexpectedly in the enemy camp, and revealing Thorin’s weakness to Bard; “This is the Arkenstone of Thrain, the Heart of the Mountain, and it is also the heart of Thorin.” Not only does he hand this over, but also ruins the element of surprise that Dain’s army might have had. But unlike the thrush with Smaug, Bilbo does not want to see Thorin and Co. fall into disaster. A complex traitor is Mr. Baggins, since he then returns to the Mountain out of a sense of loyalty to friends.

Heart of the Mountain, by Ted Nasmith

What Bilbo did might incur revenge from folk less war-prone than dwarves, for it is not merely the stone’s value that is at stake. The Arkenstone is of personal significance to Thorin as a symbol of the House of Durin. Letting it remain in the hands of his enemies would be a severe blow to his pride, and this is one thing dwarves cannot accept (think of Gimli, ready to die instead of allowing himself to be blindfolded by the elves of Lothlorien).

Gandalf has been missing for a large part of the book, and only now does he return to the scene. Yet he has chosen not to return to the dwarves, who he encouraged and aided up to this point, but sides with Bard and the Elvenking. His beliefs are aligned with those of Bilbo, and when Bard returns to reveal the Arkenstone as leverage, it is Gandalf in disguise who presents it. It is a mystery why the wizard does not try to encourage peace by talking to Thorin directly. He must have an idea how well Bilbo’s bargain will be received.  His actions toward Thorin are less like those of an ally, and more like a parent waiting for a spoiled child to learn their lesson.

When Thorin demands to know how the stone came to Bard, Bilbo is compelled to tell the truth, presumably believing it will help quench his fiery resentment. The hobbit may not live to see the result of his good intentions, as Thorin is about to hurl him from the walls for the betrayal. It is at this moment the dwarf comes closest to graduating to true villain-hood. But Gandalf reveals his presence at the last second, redirecting Thorin’s rage.

Furious, yet powerless, Thorin is left isolated from what is becoming, from the reader’s perspective, the good guys’ side.  “You all seem in league,” he accuses his former allies.  And he is correct, as men, elves, wizard, and hobbit stand united against his interests. In his darkest moment, he asks Bilbo viciously, “What have you to say, you descendant of rats?” revealing he has not lost his initial disdain for hobbits, despite all that Bilbo has achieved.  Even if his reactions to the betrayal are understandable, his prejudice attitude, and lack of gratitude, is not.

Dwarves of Middle Earth, by Ian Miller

When Bilbo explains how Thorin has been beaten by a technicality, the dwarf must concede the point (though he never accepts Bilbo’s claim to the stone as the promised fourteenth share). Outwardly, he agrees to the terms, while inwardly, he is hoping to stall long enough for Dain to arrive. He lets Bilbo go back to Bard with a curse, and Gandalf chides him, “You are not making a very splendid figure as King under the Mountain,” and the reader would find it hard to disagree. Whether or not one supports his denial of Bard’s claim to the treasure, the disrespect he shows to Bilbo, after all the hobbit has done for them, is ungracious. Not all of his company are as hard-hearted, and some regret the poor treatment of Bilbo, but none speak against their leader.

We leave Thorin in this less than honorable state, and watch as Dain’s grim and well-armed soldiers arrive. After a brief and unproductive parley with Dain’s messengers, Bard realizes they are a genuine threat, and wants to attack before they can give support to Thorin. But the Elvenking (now standing firmly on his moral high ground) refuses to make the first move, hoping instead that peace can be reached. But Dain has been kept up to date on events via raven messengers, and knows the time for discussion is over. Sensing hesitation in his foes, he launches into battle. [It should be noted that Dain, who is later revealed to be generous to elves and men (in contrast to Thorin), is more than willing here to fight them both without another thought.]

Before the armies clash, Gandalf appears with unpleasant tidings: A vast host of goblins and wargs is coming. Elves, men, and dwarves unite without hesitation, and all fight valiantly against this common enemy. When next we see Thorin, his status reverses from vaguely villainous to truly heroic, though it is arguable he is still unchanged, and it is only circumstances which have shifted.

As the tide of battle turns in favor of the goblins, Thorin and his twelve followers abandon the defense of the Gate, and rush into the fray. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in attitude, swiftly cutting through the enemy. Thorin rallies men, dwarves, and elves around him, then charges against Bolg, the leader of the goblins. By summoning all three groups to him, Thorin goes part way to being absolved of his earlier prejudice. It is at the moment of greatest need that he finally shows himself to be worthy of the respect of all. His group fights on until they are nearly broken, at which point Beorn, the shapeshifter, rages onto the scene, and beats down Bolg. To some degree, Beorn represents nature and power in its raw state, and his unexpected aid of Thorin can be read as a mark of elemental approval for the dwarf’s actions. It works to reestablish Thorin’s status with the reader.

Beorn Finds Thorin, by Tulikoura

Many reviewers incorrectly assume that Thorin’s less appealing traits are the reason for his downfall. If anything, it is due to courage that he comes to his end, being mortally wounded leading the charge against Bolg, not because of any particular greed or pride. This is not to say that he remains unaware of his own flaws.  Before his death, he recognizes his treatment of Bilbo was ill-mannered and undeserved.  It is not specifically stated that he regrets all his choices involving the treasure, though the reader who scorned him for his actions earlier will probably see these words as an admission he was in the wrong; “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

The conflicting feelings the reader experiences, as they follow the journey of a character like Thorin, are due to expectation.  Tolkien waits more than half the book before he makes it clear “dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.” The dwarven heart is little motivated by altruism. Their loyalty takes time to develop, and once set, it remains firm, but the connection must be established through a history of common hardship, or mutual gain. After the Battle of Five Armies, Dain is more than willing to embrace both elves and men as comrades, but only because they have proven worthy of the honor; by fighting alongside the dwarves. Thorin has no such experiences to influence him when he is making decisions.

Some will forever brand Thorin as greedy, but unlike the Master of Lake-town, he does not seek wealth only for himself. Despite being their king, his share of the treasure is no higher than the rest of the Company (including Bilbo). The exception to this is his claim to the Arkenstone, which is his by right of inheritance. Even when Tolkien describes Thorin as having an eye for the beautiful things in the treasury, he makes certain to add the appreciation goes beyond the monetary, and that around each item “were wound old memories of the labours and the sorrows of his race.” The treasure was, in many cases, made by dwarves, with ore they mined or traded for. They do not simply lust over other people’s wealth, but over that which they, or their ancestors, put their hearts into.

The issue of Thorin’s bravery is equally complex. There are many passages where it appears he and the rest of the dwarves are behaving like cowards, insisting Bilbo go first into some unknown danger. Tolkien explains how Thorin believes these are the jobs for which he hired their burglar (though even Bilbo is skeptical how so many events could be covered under one contract).  But if there were ever a final question of Thorin’s courage, one need only recall The Battle of Five Armies: In contrast to the Master of Lake-town, who attempts to leave when the going gets rough for the Lake-men, Thorin gives everything to change the tide of battle, and recapture the glory his people once enjoyed. The fact that he ultimately succeeds in his quest shows that his fate is not a tragic one resulting from hubris, but instead serves a noble purpose.

Source: Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Hobbit.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

275 thoughts on “In Defense of Thorin Oakenshield”

  1. I have to say this is one of the most well thought-out essays I’ve read on Tolkien in a very long time. Good show, sir!

    • That would be “good show, ma’am” but I thank you all the same! 🙂

      • To understand Thorin, you HAVE to be evicted from your house and live in the subways for a day or two. Puts things in perspective.

      • starlight said:

        Stumbled on your site while looking up further info on BoFA. Your essay on defense of Thorin was articulate insightful and very in tune with my own thoughts on him! I will be so sad to see the final film and leave middle earth . Thank you for a wonderful intelligent site.

  2. Excellent essay and very well argued indeed. Gives me a chance to rethink Thorin a bit more before reading The Hobbit again and then watching the movie. Thank you for this piece.

  3. Ricardo Gabriel said:

    You made me want to read the book again and pay close attention to Thorin’s behaviour. This was indeed a great essay, altough I must stress that in any situation I will take sides with Gandalf, since I assume he is the wiser among everyone in the middle-earth (maybe just Elrond could be as wise as he).

    • That’s understandable 🙂 But the greatest mystery to me is why Gandalf lets the situation escalate instead of going to Thorin directly and giving advice. Without the pressure of a whole crowd fueling mistrust, it might have been possible for Gandalf to change Thorin’s mind.

      • I have to think that (at least in the larger scope of things) Gandalf’s role as an Istari prevents a kind of direct intervention. He can set the board, so to speak – but he can’t move the pieces.

        • KingFaldin said:

          Also, in “The Quest for Erebor” as laid out in “The Unfinished Tales”, it sets the ground that Thorin already has…trust issues…to say the least. If Gandalf had tried to speak to Thorin at the Gate of Erebor, after he already deserted them twice (even though he saved them both times), insisted that they take a flummoxed hobbit on their journey, and then stood on the side of the men, and worst of all the elves,against him, it’s pretty clear to the reader that Thorin wants nothing to do with Gandalf period.

          • Well certainly, presentation would be very important there. Gandalf would have had to appear like he was acting independently, rather than just relaying a message from Thorin’s enemies. Of course Thorin dismissed Roac’s advice (I don’t know whether he valued the bird’s council more than the wizard’s, perhaps so 🙂 ) so it might not have done any good.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        Another point is why Gandalf doesn’t have words with Bilbo about pocketing the Arkenstone; why doesn’t he have words with Bard about bringing an army and making demands of a king? In short, why does he upbraid Thorin *only*, when others haven’t behaved well or diplomatically either? Trying to shame him in front of his enemies and friends alike is a bad move (as you say, “more like a parent waiting for a spoiled child to learn their lesson”), and I do wonder if subsequent recklessness in reclaiming his honour is fuelled by that. (It seems to me that part of the problem is a clash of honour-codes: differences between Human and Dwarven ones, and I’m not entirely convinced Hobbits even understand the concept at all…)

  4. This is an excellent analysis of Thorin as a personality. I only want to say that when I read this story as a young teen my sympathies were all with Thorin and my outrage at the “betrayal’ of Thorin by Bilbo and Gandalf immense. Interestingly as an adult with teen sons of my own my sympathies are more inclusive. I am able with the wisdom of experience to see the nobility in all the characters and to understand thier choices even when not able to agree with them all. It is my understanding that The Hobbit is basically a “coming of age” story. The timeless and familiar quest for self. When viewed in this way my reactions should differ with age and experience. Gandalf in his role as “father” is interacting with All his children and guiding thier distinct personalities towards growth with unconditional love. I find the greatest thing about Tolkien is his ability to create characters that maintain thier uniquely individual characteristics througout the story. It is perhaps for this reason that these stories remain pertinant and endure the test of time.

    • I hate to say it now, but when I read this as a child my sympathies were with Smaug! In fact I sort of lost interest once the dragon was killed, and don’t recall what I thought of the whole argument over the gold and the stone.

  5. Great job with the essay! And like jmurray I want to say that as a reader it’s not necessarily so that you don’t sympathize with Thorin. I was a child of ten when I first read the Hobbit and while I did agree that the treasure ought to be shared I was outraged by how arrogantly Thorin was treated by his (former?) allies.

    In retrospect I think this one of the reasons Tolkien’s work is so great. Like in the real world, nobody -not even the greatest heroes- are flawless. For example are the Elves usually depicted as quite grand and amazing -but they also have a tendency to be insufferably snooty and downright racist.

    • I think you are right about that. Even the Wise make mistakes and choose poorly from time to time, and heaven help those who are less wise.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Elves are pretty, but chilly; the Dwarves seem more warm-hearted and vital.

      • swordwhale said:

        I think the Elves come off rather Vulcan in the films (OK, Spock was my favorite character back in the old Trek series). It is not the impression I had reading the book. I fell in love with some blond guy with a bow in an illustration (OK, maybe he’s going to be a jerk…let’s wait to see what sort of character he is) back in 1978. I liked Legolas… then he started doing and saying everything I’d like to have been doing and saying (most of it having to do with a strong connection to the natural world, hearing the stones speak, running back to the Huron wood because he saw eyes in the trees, getting the sea longing). Then he was handed a “smaller but restive and fiery” warhorse named Arod, tossed the bridle and saddle (“I need them not”) for such was the Elvish Way With All Good Beast.

        That did it, right there. I trained my half-Arab gelding to work sans gear and picked up a bow. And started singing the “to the sea, to the sea” song every time I went to the beach. Works pretty good as a rowing song on a Viking longship too. Or a kayak.

        I think Tolkien left enough spaces in his characterizations for us to fill in the blanks with our own experience and longings. But his Elves always were first and foremost tied to the natural world. My one beef with the film portrayal is they are often too cool. Legolas came off as rather emotional actually, in the book, sensitive and empathic. After all, he talks to horses.

        Now the Dwarves, when I first met them in the book, seemed stoic and stout and hardy, (maybe a bit grumpy) and pragmatic… like most of the local people (including my family) I knew. Stout, hardworking folk with no time for that talking to trees nonsense!

        Then Peter Jackson made the Hobbit. 13 terrific characters who blow apart every fantasy stereotype ever created since the Hobbit was published.

        I don’t think I’ll give up my membership in the Woodelof party club, but there are a few Dwarves I’d definitely invite…

        • Great, human comment, I love it. Also thanks for sharing the information about your custom of singing “to the sea-song” and filling in the blanks with own ideas :). Because this is just the way it works! Enriching our lives, adding another dimensions.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          To me, Elves are very typical Daoine Síth: very beautiful, very powerful and potentially very dangerous. I still think “Never trust an Elf” is good advice…

  6. My sister and I were quite bereft when we saw the movie on opening night, because Peter Jackson managed to pull another Boromir on us, with Thorin. Over 35 years of reading and re-reading the four main Middle Earth books, neither one of us could stand Boromir, nor Thorin, seeing them both as prideful, aloof, and overbearingly arrogant, with little to no true justification for such an attitude. Then we watched the FotR movie, and both of us outright cried when Boromir died, because he had been made human, his nobility and his caring nature brought out to counter his arrogance – everything he did, even down to trying to wrest the Ring from Frodo, was truly intended to protect those he felt responsible for, like the young hobbits and his war-ravaged people back home. After bawling like a baby at seeing Boromir die like that, I went home and re-read the trilogy, and lo and behold, all those shining traits were actually there in print, but I had missed them as a reader for three and a half decades. Likewise with the Hobbit movie, when we were both brought near to tears by seeing Thorin’s true nobility, his humility in doing whatever work was available to build a better life for his people, and his willingness (after the trees) to admit when he’d been wrong, while all the while, we know what his ultimate fate is. This has left both of us feeling … not cheated, exactly, but angry at Peter Jackson and at the actors, for making us fall in love with these doomed characters we couldn’t stand before the movies came out. And while we curse Peter Jackson’s name for doing that to us, we love him all the more for it, and watch the movies over and over again, still in awe at the joy they bring us both.

    • Well said! I would say that in the first film, the last (and completely invented by Jackson) scene between Bilbo and Thorin is rather like a dress rehearsal for the final scene between them in the third film. It is a huge departure from the book, but ultimately it acts to speed up the process of showing that Bilbo can be brave while Thorin can see the error of his ways without having to wait another year and a half for it.

      • A dress rehearsal for The Moment – I like that way of looking at it. Of course, I didn’t have any problems at all with that scene, even if it wasn’t the best writing in the history of the world. I sincerely doubt that Thorin won’t fall back into his old ways of thinking about Bilbo, and probably very quickly, when things begin to go wrong for them in Mirkwood, and especially if they use the bit where Bilbo climbs up to see no end to the trees, and gets to enjoy fresh air and sunlight while the dwarves are all too heavy to climb that far up, and resent him for it. I’m sure there will still be plenty of things for Thorin to resent about Bilbo, and we all know how long Thorin can hold a grudge if he feels he’s been wronged. Even though Thorin has admitted that he was wrong to doubt Bilbo, and is now very glad that the hobbit is with them, that certainly does not exclude future discontent; it only makes Thorin more rounded, more complex, more like a real, live, living, breathing human being, like all of us out here in the real world who sometimes snap at those closest to us for the wrong reasons. Another reason to feel more deeply about Thorin – he’s flawed and imperfect, just like me, and I can relate to him better because of it. Book-Thorin was always too distant from me to allow me to relate to him at all.

        Of course, the fact that, while he’s not the prettiest dwarf on the screen (Kili holds that spot, I feel), he is by far the most charismatic as well as the sexiest of the bunch certainly doesn’t hurt at all, does it?

        • Valandhir said:

          As the newcomer here, I apologize for speaking up. But I do not believe PJ will make Thorin become all that resenful of Bilbo again. Why? Imagine how hard Bilbo’s decision regarding the Arkenstone will get, if he and Thorin actually went along quite well ever since Carrock? It’s the material for strong character drama 😀

          Honestly I am happy that PJ pulled another Boromir on us. I had my issues with Thorin when reading the book at first as a teen, but I absolutely love the interpretation the movie gave us.

          • Interesting point. They might not have a falling out again until the matter of the Stone. I could see that.

          • Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy, too, that PJ pulled another Boromir on us with Thorin. I curse and bless his name for it, because he has taken a pair of arrogant jerks and made them real and human and understandable and loveable arrogant jerks with good hearts, that the writing never truly illuminated, even though it was all there all the time. And these arrogant, proud, noble, good-hearted men are the ones to die painful, tragic and needless – indeed, futile – deaths! Aaaargh! I want to be able to write characters like this, who are real, rounded, good and bad, noble and base, kind and cruel, strong, brittle, understandable, loveable, and relatable, so that when I have to kill them off, my readers will mourn their loss and curse my name. 🙂

            • I so agree on wanting to be able to write like that! Unfortunatly I am not that good, might as I try. And all the more I do love and admire the stories that do. Of course… it is the fact that we know Thorin and Boromir to be doomed, that we want to hope with every step they take that the story might end differently… and of course it doesn’t. I think it is this very point that makes us feel so strongly about them. They are as you say: “eal and human and understandable and loveable arrogant jerks with good hearts.” and we still know they are doomed and fell all the more strongly about them. If we knew they’d survive… I am not sure if we’d feel quite the same.

            • LOL! Goals to work toward.

        • Tammy,
          I completely agree with all you have said about how they really brought Thorin to life in the film. I have to admit that I was not a fan of Thorin, or the Hobbit in book form at all when I first read it almost 15 years ago. I originally thought LoTR was a much better bit of writing. But like you, the film the Hobbit has really caused me to pause, go back, and find those nuanced bits of character development I missed when I read it before. Its amazing how I am not angry at PJ at deviating so much from the book but appreciate how amazingly it complements Tolkien’s original vision.
          I had seen the Hobbit for the third time when I came home late and finished reading the end of the book. I couldn’t believe that I had actually forgotten what happened at the end. I was absolutely crushed when I realized that Thorin, this character that I had begun to become so deeply attached to was going to die at the end of the trilogy! I actually spent days in denial trying to believe that PJ would not allow audiences to become so attached to the character only to kill him off, and that the ending would be changed. But I realized that the death of Thorin is part of his fate, its part of who he is as a tragic figure. Accepting it has brought up a lot of personal issues for me.
          I can’t believe I am admitting this here! But it seems that you all also have similar feelings of dread for that last bit of the third movie. It will be truly difficult to watch, but doesn’t make me love the story any less.

          • Yes, the final movie will be the hardest to watch, knowing what is to happen to these dear dwarves we’ve come to know and love (all the Heirs of Durin). Fili and Kili were my favorite dwarves in the book, but only because they were said to be so young. There really wasn’t much characterization of most of the dwarves in the book – of course, its intended audience doesn’t really care about characterization at that age, so that’s fine. But what PJ has done in finding the characters hidden between the lines in print, and expanding them and bringing them out on screen is just wonderful! And I can understand your denial, truly I can. Thorin and the boys certainly don’t deserve to die – they deserved long lives rebuilding their re-won kingdom, and ruling wisely and justly, as we know they would have done. This fact makes their end even more tragic, and while I know I’ll watch the other movies several times (saw it the sixth time last night), I also know I’ll be bringing tissues each time, and will have to work hard to see the ending through the tears I know will be filling my eyes at Thorin’s death. I’m wondering if we’ll actually see Fili and Kili fall defending him, or if that will happen offscreen, as it did in the book. We’ll probably get a good, front-row seat for that action, knowing PJ. Aaaargh!

            • mmgilchrist said:

              Of course, this is why fanfic exists… ;-D
              And having a long-standing weakness for scenarios that involve getting my favourite characters out of trouble with lots of hurt/comfort… This is going to send me into overdrive!

              • I do enjoy a good ‘they didn’t die, after all’ fanfic. You’ll have to let me know where you stash yours! 😉

                • mmgilchrist said:

                  Well, I’m starting one which at least saves one of our Dwarves… who possibly may wish otherwise (at first), given that he has an equally thrawn and tough-minded little sister ordering him not to die because he owes her the blood-debt of her children’s lives… I’ll let you know when I start posting it.

                • Well, if you are interessted in one where Kili survived and Boromir may get through the Ringwar alive…


                  • mmgilchrist said:

                    Thanks, I may look at that later! Rescuing Boromir was always on my list of priorities! (I never warmed to Aragorn or Faramir at all.)

                    But I think with The Hobbit, it makes more sense to me to save Thorin. He has made it off the field alive and survived the night, and we know Dwarves are very tough physically (they don’t get illnesses or infections), so he should heal well, with time… Also, given that he’s had a few life-lessons out of what’s happened, surely it would’ve been more satisfying to see the effects of that in practice? It surprised me that Tolkien didn’t do that, to show him as a sadder but wiser King. ;-D

                    • Oh, I agree that it would make sense for Thorin to survive the battle of the five armies. And I am tempted to try my hand on such a story, but for the purpose of this story it would have been stretching plausibility to claim that he was still alive and kicking 80 years later… well enough to get himself entangled in the Ring War. So I had to go another route.

                  • mmgilchrist said:

                    Here’s the beginning of mine:
                    His little sister is taking charge of him.

    • Tammy, you make an excellent point!. I find myself pending between anger towards PJ for making so many changes in the plot, but at the same time I must admit, that the characters, which he’ve created, are far more alive than all I could imagine myself. So, there is joy in the end of this thought process and that is good 🙂

      • Yes, the classic ‘love/hate’ relationship with a good writer, be it of book or film or play, though with films and plays the author has to share the relationship with the actor who brought his work to life. That’s okay, there’s more than enough love/hate in my heart to spread it around to PJ and the actors for their fine work! 🙂

        I had a friend in an online group who found herself sitting behind Joss Whedon at a screening of his ‘Firefly’ movie, ‘Serenity’. She said that, when a certain beloved character died suddenly, she wanted to lean forward and smack him upside the head for it, but didn’t do it. We told her she should have – he would have taken it as a compliment! Likewise, I feel that PJ and RA would both be overjoyed to hear us complaining about Thorin this way. 🙂

    • That’s absolutely what I think about Jacksons movies! Thank you for expressing it such accurately, Tammy!

      • Thank you, Elke. 🙂

        When I first watched FotR, I was amazed at how PJ had interpreted Middle Earth – it was as if he (and his crew, of course) had opened my mind and peeked inside to get his visuals of Middle Earth. It was uncanny! But the most amazing thing was the characterizations. When reading the Lord of the Rings, I could never tell Merry and Pippin apart – they were always just ‘the younger hobbits’. Even when they were separated and taken to Gondor and Rohan, I still couldn’t keep straight which one was where. Thanks to the movies and the excellent work PJ and Co. did with the characterizations, all the confusion of who was who is long gone, and not just because I have faces to put to the names, but because they were DIFFERENT from each other, distinct people, with their own foibles and quirks, virtues and faults. And all of this characterization we got on the screen can be found in the text; it appears that none of it was added by PJ, merely mined from the text, refined and polished, and presented to us on the screen.

        Of course, with Thorin and Co., there wasn’t much characterization in the text, beyond Thorin, really. The most memorable ‘characterization’ for Bombur was that he was fat. Most of the others were just names, though Balin had some good text time. Fili and Kili were almost always dealt with as a unit, with the only distinguishing detail between them being that Fili had a longer nose. Hood colors are not characterization. Of course, we must remember that the book was intended mostly for children, who don’t care about deep and subtle characterization, anyway. On screen, though, these dwarves are all distinct individuals and I love it! I don’t have access to all the source material PJ has access to (like the Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales, which I don’t possess, let alone Tolkien’s enormous collection of unpublished notes), but I came to trust PJ’s characterizations in LotR, having proven them to myself by re-reading the books and finding all sorts of hints at characterization I had long missed, and I am quite happy to trust his characterization of the dwarves this time around, even if he did have to add things to make them real. They are no longer just a long list of similar-sounding names with different colors associated with them – they are now a group of individuals, even if we haven’t really had the chance yet to get to know all of them individually as well as we would like.

        I am feeling Gimli’s pain much more, now, at seeing Balin’s tomb in Moria, because now I have come to love Balin, too, as a dear, kind, wise old uncle with the most fabulous war stories. Knowing him more makes the loss more real. Of course, I never disliked Balin the way I disliked Thorin in text, when he was flat and shallow. Now, Thorin rounded and deep, and very, very real, and the pain of his loss is haunting me already, 18 months ahead of time.

        It will be a very, very sad day each time I see him die. I suggest buying stock in Kleenex. 😉

        • Kleenex stock, yeah, me too. I have been very Elf-centric since I first read the books in 1978 (nature spirits and all that). The Hobbit has fleshed out the Dwarves wonderfully. They’re all terrific, but I have a warm spot in my heart for Bofur (and the Hat), and Balin. I will never be able to read LOTR again, and enter Balin’s tomb the same way.

          • Oh, I know! I *love* Bofur! AND the Hat! 😀 And you’re right, the Hat deserves to be capitalized. I got a real kick out of the fact that they appear to wear longjohns, too, or at least, that’s what it looked like when they were trussed up on that trollish spit over the fire.

            And dear, sweet Ori, with his slingshot and his wild boasts of what he’ll do to Smaug. Sweet kid, ain’t he? And Dori, ever so helpful, always trying to make folks comfortable. And the relationships between brothers is wonderful. Bofur and Bombur, Oin and Gloin, and especially Fili and Kili (such lovely boys). I am very eager to see what we’ll learn about the dwarves in the next two movies, and I am VERY happy that they are taking the time to flesh out these too-generic characters on the big screen.

            It will feel entirely too long until the DVD comes out, with subtitles and a pause button. But this seems to be drifting from a defense of Thorin Oakenshield to a gushfest for the characterizations, so I’ll step back now for a bit.

  7. I’ve never seen Thorin as a villain. To me, he’s more like a best friend who you see making some terrible, terrible decisions and eventually you (Bilbo) are forced to take a stand for what’s right.

    As a kid I agonized with Bilbo over that decision and wondered if I would be able to do the same under similar circumstances.

    • I wouldn’t call his decisions terrible. You have the ELvenking who turned his back on Thorin’s folk returning with an army and standing *against* the dwarves, claiming treasure.
      If I were in Thorin’s place, I would have probably chosen the diplomatic solution, but I can definitely see why Thorin would take the radical stance. Technically, it sounds like madness but given what the dwarven company has been through, coming all the way only to find the same people who turned their back in your hour of need and later tried to delay you to get a free hand at pillaging your heritage … nuh-uh, that doesn’t bode well.

      • I agree that there was greed and pride on both sides. I also think Thorin was justified somewhat in his pride. Thorin and Co. may not have killed the dragon themselves, but they were the only ones with the courage to stand up to him.

        As it is pointed out in the article above the humans and elves DID think he was dead and were coming to help themselves to the gold.

        Each party was basically looking out for themselves first. It is human nature, but it’s the ugly side of human nature. Thorin lost the opportunity to be the bigger man…err…dwarf…and end the cycle of greed and prejudice.

        • Indeed, everyone was looking out for themselves. Thing is, if anyone really disappointed me, it was the Elvenking. I always believe that Tolkien was leading the idea that elves were the most noble creatures of ME. The fact they didn’t help the dwarves when Smaug came while at the same time running for the opportunity to claim the treasure under threat of battle proves that he was, well, human.

          • Certainly there is a reason the elves live in middle earth and not in the undying lands across the sea. Even if they appear divine (especially in Jackson’s adaption) they have their flaws…ESPECIALLY the Silvan Wood-Elves.

            • A poster TV Tropes explained it very well. Essentially, they pointed out that the elves are not all good, nor are they the most noble, but they are the longest-lived, and most of the elves left in Middle Earth have lived through some of the most devastating events in the Silmarillion, many of which were caused by the actions of other elves. In that light, it makes sense that the remaining elves largely seem better than the other races, because they’ve had more time to learn and very good reasons to be cautious and not live through those screw-ups again.

              That book, generally speaking, definitely goes far to debunk the idea that the elves are the best race. They are moved by different things, as all the other races are, and in some ways, their emotional downfalls and bad decisions can cause even larger outcomes than those the other races. Arguably, this depth got added after “The Hobbit,” but I believe that Tolkien was continually retconning and remaining his works to make it all fit into the ME mythos, so it’s valid to apply the content of later works to previous works.

  8. sherminyang said:

    Additionally, does anybody think the SparkNotes analysis of the Hobbit is ridiculously biased and somewhat inaccurate?

  9. I was just taken aback because SparkNotes seems (to me) to normally be pretty unbiased and unobtrusive in their analysis. Out-and-out making Thorin’s purpose being to make Bilbo look better seemed to be really shoddy analysis, and I’ve seen them handle other works with moral complexities with far more nuance. I was also taken aback by their explanation of the races (elves are always good, dwarves are doomed to be greedy, etc.) when to me it seemed like the Mirkwood elves certainly weren’t “all good.” In fact, when I first read LotR as a child after reading the Hobbit, I was slightly surprised by how good the elves were in the latter, because the Elvenking had been so questionable at times in “The Hobbit.”

  10. Incredible good work! It’s so really good that I’m thinking about translating it to Russian for russian roleplayers to read and remember (we’re making Hobbit-based game this summer, by the way, and it’ll be dead useful for our Thorin to read such an essay).
    You’re forgetting one important detail, which shows us Thorin more like betrayed by hos own heirloom that a greedy and way too proud king: it’s dragon curse. Tolkien writes that all the hoard was under dragon enchantment even after death of Smaug – and that Thorin got under it’s charm because he spent too much time in the hoard. That’s mainly why he was so reluctant to give “his” gold away, but clearly elvish army was a very important cause too.
    About Dain’s unquestionable desire to attack men-elvish army: he was practically bound to do so. Thorin was the senior descendant of Durin’s line, and Dain was next to Kili and Fili in it. So it was a word of king to come and help – and to betray this word was to be dishonoured. And on top of that was dwarvish solidarity: when Thrain, Thorin’s father, call for all the dwarvs of Middle-Earth to come and avenge the death of Thror and to restore honour of Londbeards, many other dwarfkins sent their soldiers, but they were not obliged to do so. And by the way dwarves have very tight family tidings, and Thorin and Dain were close enough related to feel the need to help.

    • Valandhir said:

      You make a good point about the Dragon’s curse. I wonder if Tolkien was inspired by the curse of the Rhinegold.

      • This can surely be – Tolkien was very fond of early European epic stories, and we see similarities in “Simarillion”, for instance.

        • Tolkien was indeed inspired by the Volsunga saga and Norse mythology in general. Smaug was modeled a bit after Fafnir, and as such so was the dragon curse on the horde. He took the names of all the dwarves in the Company from Norse mythology, as was Gandalf’s. The latter nature of the Ring was influenced both by the ring of Gyges (Plato’s The Republic, Book 2) and the cursed ring of Andvari (in the Volsunga saga).

    • I tend to be undecided about just what the “dragon sickness” really is. Is it all in the mind, where anyone can develop it in the right circumstances? Or is it more of a hereditary thing, where certain families, such as Thorin’s, are prone to it? Or is it really caused by dragon enchantment?

      • We know that Master of Esgaroth got under dragon sickness too, but it was an extreme case: he ran off with all the gold that he could carry and died in the Wild from starvation. So we can surely see that dragon’s enchantment touched men as well as dwarves.
        We also know that Tolkien thought of dragons as highly magical and also very wicked creatures: Chrysophilax from “Farmer Jiles of Ham” was very intelligent and very dangerous at the same moment, and also was Glaurung the Golden, first of the dragons of Middle-Earth.
        I suppose it was in the nature of gold itself that dragons can affect it with “sickness” without any encantations. In “Morgoth’s Ring” Tolkien says that gold was the only metal suitable for “chanelling” Morgoth’s evil will. So maybe that’s why all the troubles dwarves ever have had were chiefly because of gold, wield in beautiful and somehow magical things (Nauglamir, for instance) or owned by Morgoth’s creations – dragons. For instance, dwarves killed Fram, killer of Scatha, great nothern worm, because he refused to give them their gold, stolen by Scatha. We don’t have any description whether dragon sickness was influencing someone in this case, but I presume it could be.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        I think it’s an authorial cop-out. There’s nothing in Thorin’s (or Thráin’s) cracking-up a bit that isn’t explicable as a reaction to the horrible experiences and pressures they have been under. PTSD. Thorin achieves his goal after considerable hardship and suffering, only to be met with a hostile army and betrayal. Who wouldn’t lose it? I think he would have been perfectly justified in throwing Bilbo from the gate.

        The Master of Laketown has always been a crook, so no surprises there.

        • I cant see in Thorin the same problem Thror had. Its completely different and I tend to the same explanation like you, mmgilchrist. Thorin was never attracted by gold, he rescued Thror out of the treasury without one thought of the gold nor the Arkenstone. In the SEE we even can see a Thorin who is upset about the broken alliance to the elves caused by that jewels. And as we know out of the book he offers a big part of the treasure for the Arkenstone, what was beyond all worth for him….beeing the sign of the rightful king, a kind of szeptre, definetely an immaterial worth. Thorin was hoping to be accepted as king owning that heirloom, forging new alliances and having the safety of his position. And then he found himself at the gate…seen not as a king by Bard the bowman, getting no honor, but beeing threatened and forced, and betrayed by Bilbo. All he believed in, all he yearned for, all he fought for was falling to dust at this moment and the burdens of his past became stronger than himself there. I guess what he searched for was not the gold nor the stone but his peaceful Erebor out of his youth …what he couldn`t find anymore…it was lost for him, and so entering the mountain brought no satisfaction but desperation and loss again. All of that leaded to that point at the gate.
          Thror surely had the “Dragon-sickness”, too much love for gold, about Thrain I am not sure, but I dont think it is greed what we should see in Thorin, more of a desparate holding on to the precious things made by his kin…the last remaining things of Thorins beloved old Erebor…

          • mmgilchrist said:

            I don’t even think there’s much wrong with Thrór, either: he’s just an old Dwarf, who loves gold as Dwarves do. There are problems with Tolkien’s treatment of the Dwarves (they love gold and they’re quite technological, which makes then ‘bad’ in his rather skewed world-view). But what is it with Dwarves and gold? Well, we’re told they were originally carved from the rock. They are from the earth. Metals and jewels are, effectively, their siblings. They value craftsmanship: what they can make with metal. Members of my own family were stonemasons, sculptors and smiths: you’re passionate about your materials; you don’t like to see them messed up by people who haven’t the skill or love for them. It’s not greed.

            Thráin has lost his father and his younger son in horrific circumstances: anyone might run off after that.

            Thorin goes through ordeal after ordeal to win back his kingdom, only to then be faced with an armed force of opportunists at the gate, making demands (not requests). Bilbo then betrays him quite contemptibly, having already pocketed the Arkenstone without telling him he’d found it.

            • Thats right. I always saw the dwarvish love to precious things as a love to their own work. They created the most beautiful jewelry in Middle-earth…the Nauglamir…and they forged the mightiest weapons such as Narsil. In whole of their race is something of the creative power of their creator Aule or Mahall the Maker. Beeing out of rock and stone all share their love to metals, gemstones and the things made of that. That fact I dont see as greed too…also the Elves love precious things…sometimes too much (I mention Thingol and the Silmaril at the Nauglamir) But with Thror it was simply a bit too much, I guess, too much also in the opinion of Thorin who followed him sorrowful into the treasury, who disagreed when Thror broke the alliance to the Elves for that jewels…Surely in that family was a mental problem to increase a passion for something into an obsession when things go wrong, thats the similarity. But if someone of them was greedy at all it must have been Thror, never Thorin.

              • mmgilchrist said:

                Thrór I would describe as having a bit of an OCD: given Dwarves’ usual attachment to gold (because they, too, come from the earth), it’s not enormously beyond the normal range. Thráin and Thorin are, to varying degrees, affected by PTSD, which is an entirely different matter. Thráin breaks just a few years after losing his father, and then his younger son Frerin and his second-cousin Fundin. Thorin especially wants to cling to the security he has finally found (home at last; what the gold means in terms of heritage of craftsmanship – the book tells us he sees it this way; and resources to rebuild Erebor as it was), after over a century of hardship and struggle. He needs time to get settled back in before anyone started issuing threats: he’s basically exhausted and at the end of his tether, but the pressure is built up on him yet again…

          • mmgilchrist said:

            And Thrór also probably has been traumatised: as a boy he lost his parents, a brother, and home in Ered Mithrin to a cold-drake attack, and led his people back to the old capital of Erebor. The gold, for him, is a security blanket. Then his world is shattered again, by Smaug. That family has been hit by far too many blows. It’s not ‘dragon sickness’: they’re just sick of dragons.

  11. Anjy Roemelt said:

    I much enjoyed reading tis article and it made me think about my experiences with the Hobbit from a rather new angle. I have always, since I first read it at age 15, been outraged with Bilbo for stealing the Arkenstone. How could he! He KNEW that gem was more than a precious stone to Thorin. He knew it was “his heart” and he still just pocketed it long before any need for using it in a bargain arose. Just like the stole the ring from Gollum. Actually, I was never a Hobbit-lover and have only grown to like them after I saw Bag-End in the movies. I’d like to live there, but Hobbits are trying my nerves. To me Thorin’s behaviour was absolutely understandable and rightful. Bilbo had no right to use the Arkenstone the way he did and Thorin could have killed him for treason on the wall instead of letting him go.

    Almost 40 years later and after reading The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and countless other things written by Tolkien, books, letters, essays, articles, I find my attitude unchanged. I see no villain when looking at Thorin. Yeah, the grocers, the calculators, the Hobbits, the “good guys” (Gutmenschen) who value peace over everything, they might think Bilbo’s actions sensible, diplomatic, solution-oriented (arrgh!), everything the head tells you to do. But what about the heart? Do they have one at all? Did they ever loose a home, half of their people to something like a dragon? Do they know what it is like to be an outcast, not belonging anywhere, and above all knowing your old home is still there and obviously anyone’s for the looting?

    For neither the elvenking nor the master of lake-town nor even Gandalf seem to understand what belonging means. Erebor belongs to the dwarves much as the dwarves belong to Erebor. Not for nothing speak their old tales about the Valar Aule (Mahal) carving them from stone. They ARE from the mountains and their home is not for sale. (Of course, it used to be the Gundabad-mountains first and those were stolen by the orcs. I wondered when I heard Gandalf say in the movie “these are Gundabad-wargs” if PJ was aware of the meaning that name carries? )

    The dwarves have been wronged more than once, more than a dozen times. They are the adopted children, not made by Iluvatar, barely acceoted by both men and elves, the “real” children. Their race and fate is separate from that of other races in middle-earth and those do not understand their hearts. Nor did – in the beginning – Tolkien himself. We must keep in mind: he didn’t work on his books like J.K.Rowling did, setting out the plot almost in every detail before actually writing the books. Tolkien did not invent much of the things he wrote, he discovered them. The text “The Quest for Erebor” in the Unfinished Tales shows an example for his “finding out” new details about what Gandalf was really after, what role the ring played, why Bilbo had to be involved. And it’s not accurate to say that Tolkien hadn’t thought of that at the time he wrote the Hobbit. His work is really like Bag-End, you turn round a corner and find something new and unexpected. And so did he when writing and re.-writing, and discovering new things and bits of information. The dwarves were thoroughly sinister in the beginning and even in league with evil, but they turned into victims very soon and then slowly revealed their true heroic and separate nature. When Tolkien wrote “The Quest to Erebor” we meet a Thorin who is not so very different from the version we see presented by Richard Armitage.

    Especially after reading the previous posts I must admit I am surprised myself that after so many decades of not only reading Tolkien but raising four kids to teenage, too, I still am not more sensible and rational and inclined to understand Bilbo’s motives. My heart still goes out to Thorin who has been betrayed all his life as have his forefathers. This mountains is THEIRS, it is his as is the Arkenstone, his in all his forefather’s place. Of course he will defend it with his life. And of course he will come to the other races’ help. There is no “narnianish” “The dwarves are for the dwarves” about him. After all his people, Dain’s men, were in danger. Did anyone think Thorin Oakenshield would stand and watch his people die? And as for the other races – well, nobody deserves to be slain by orcs for that would mean to grant the orcs a right to existence. Not with Durin’s folk, dear sirs and madams.
    I now know for certain what I should have guessed at age 15: I am in fact a dwarf in all but size.

    • Valandhir said:

      You add some really good thoughts here, Sir Dwarf. And the Gutmensch comparison fits quite well. I always thought that the people of Lake Town might have used their heads and prepared for trouble. They knew the Dwarves were going after the Dragon, and they ought to have known the Dragon to be a dangerous foe. So they could have planned for an attack – yet they blindly sat there.

      I always felt Thorin should have been magnamious and helped them. Not because he had to, but because he could. But that’s about it. Bilbo’s theft of the stone upset me too – especially as it was because he was eager to get out of the impending battle. Had he done this to prevent Thorin to needlessly throw away his own life – a life that is worth more than all the gold in the Erebor – I might have seen him in a different light.

      • Anjy Roemelt said:

        i’m still trying to figure out Bilbo’s motives. Re-reading the book I wonder a) why he returns to the dwarves after giving the arkenstone to Bard and b) why he prefers to stand with the Elvenking in the final battle? He comes over as a curious mixture of loyalty, love of comfort and peace, cunning and nobility. He DID nick the arkenstone in the beginning just because of its beauty, halfways against his will. He DID keep it when Thorin openly stated this one gem was his and not the finder’s for the keeping, If ever he was a burglar it was that moment. Then he goes and gives it away fully knowing the immense weight of this deed and, by the way, relinquishing every claim of a reward for himself by it, and then – still knowing he gave away Thorin’s heart – goes back to the dwarves so as not to get old Bombur into trouble. That he parts with the dwarves on less than friendly terms shouldn’t have surprised him, but in the following battle – which all his tricks did not prevent – he sides with the Elves. Why? Maybe I am too much of a dwarf to understand how a hobbits’ heart and brain works.

        • He also stayed with the dwarves until they sent him away, even after he had “betrayed” them. I think he would have rather stayed with them through the whole ordeal if he could have.

          • Anjy Roemelt said:

            Well, he could have in the battle. But he preferred the Elvenking to the King under the Mountain, for reasons best known to himself.

            • This is part of why I find Bilbo’s choices so maddening: because he seems so undecided and wavers in his loyalties.
              Also, what I realize I failed to explain fully in my other post was the reasons I believe that Bilbo may have some indirect blame at least, in Thorin’s death. I feel that if he had just relinquished the Arkenstone, then Thorin might have been appeased and more likely to talk things over with the Elves and Lake Men. Then they might have had time to formulate some sort of alliance or get themselves somewhat more ready for the oncoming battle with the goblins and orcs. Instead, they were distracted by the unfolding drama that Bilbo created.
              I know this depends on several factors: that Thorin’s more healthy attachment to the Arkenstone would win out over the ever looming threat of the dragon sickness. That he would then feel more confidence and a sense of victory over finding his lost legacy and that would counter his sense of being threatened by Thranduil, the Elves and Lake Men. He certainly, at least, would not have felt that everyone was against him. That then maybe Gandalf could have talked a little more sense into him so that they could come to a tentative agreement before the hordes arrived. And not to mention that even if they were more united and organized when the battle began, that sheer numbers wouldn’t have made the cause completely lost anyway.
              Yet it seemed the timing was one to create a perfect storm, of sorts. I think a lot of this hinges on the deciding factor of the maddening greed overtaking Thorin if he possessed the Arkenstone. But I don’t feel that it was something that Bilbo considered when he made the choice to hand over the stone to the Elven king.

              • mmgilchrist said:

                It certainly does have some bearing on causing Thorin’s death. When Gandalf insults his honour before friends and foes alike (“Not such a fine figure as King Under the Mountain” indeed!), how else can he regain his honour publicly than by hazarding his life?

            • I must be remembering the book wrong. I thought Bilbo stayed with the Dwarves until he was forced away by Thorin. After that, He stayed with the Wood Elf king because Thranduil had been kind to him and because he felt responsible for the battle.

      • (Let me first say I found this article , kudos to the author!)
        I also have problems with Bilbo’s choices, but if I remember correctly (I haven’t read The Hobbit for ages), Bilbo probably DID give away the Arkenstone to prevent Thorin from throwing his life away (well or at least it was one of the reasons). Had he just wanted to stay out of the battle, then why come back to the dwarves once he had betrayed them? He could have just stayed with the elves like the Elvenking had advised. Instead he came back, knowing he would have to face Thorin’s wrath. It wouldn’t make sense, to give up the stone to avoid a battle and then come back to get yourself killed anyway. But then again I still have troubles finding the true motives behind Bilbo’s actions.

        • Thanks for your insight, there are a lot of comments on this board and I’m glad I’ve found yours.

          There seems to be a bit of Bilbo-hate on this board, which makes me thing people don’t understand what Tolkien was trying to say about the power of greed affecting everyone. And the fact that good people can disagree, and good people can make bad decisions.

          The Hobbit may be a simple story, but a lot of the themes in it are complex. No one in this story is untouched by pride and greed…not even Bilbo (although he is ultimately the most resistant to it).

          It’s not about who’s “Right” or “Wrong”, it’s about who is going to give up pride for the sake of peace.

          • mmgilchrist said:

            No: it’s possible to understand what Tolkien was trying to say – but to disagree with him vehemently. I like his world-building, but I do not like his values. I also think they fit badly with much of the world he paints: Victorian Sunday-School moralising imposed on an Early Mediæval Scandinavian landscape.

            • Really? The moral themes are what drew me to the book. It was so refreshing to have a critical look at what is usually considered “heroic”. Boromir vs. Aragon. Thorin/Bard/Elven King vs. Bilbo. These are the heart of the story.

              I’ve read that Tolkien himself considered Sam more of a hero then Frodo. I guess he had a completely different idea of what it means for a person to be a hero then most people today.

              • mmgilchrist said:

                Yes. I first encountered The Hobbit and LotR as a small child, and for me it was just a warm-up act for ‘the real thing’: Snorri Sturluson, Egil Skallagrimson & c.

                For Tolkien, Sam was the embodiment of the WW1 officer’s batman: that was why he loved him as a character. Depends how happy you are with those sort of paternalistic class-relations.

                My problem with his notion of heroism is that he cannot really decide where he stands: he tries to write in the Norse vein, but his invention of Hobbits jars against it and pulls him back to Victorianism. They are anachronistic in that world. Their values don’t fit, on the whole, and that is part of the calamity in The Hobbit: a clumsy Victorian village squire blundering around in the universe of Beowulf and the sagas.

                • A good point indeed, I feel too the Shire does not really fit into that world full of proud kings,honour as a must-have, wars to reclaim treasures and fights caused by missunderstanding or insults. It is a rough world, an old world full of ancient values and most of the characters act fitting to that canon, but not Bilbo, or Sam. For sure their deeds have moral, but its a moral out of another, later time. And for that it quarrels with the deeds of the medieval characters such as Thorin, Thranduil, Theoden or Denethor. From THEIR point of view they are right: for instance at the gate of Erebor: Bilbo gave away the Arkenstone, the “szepter” of the KIng under the mountain, and he told Bard about Dain and his army. Bilbo is surely and clear a traitor in the eyes of Thorin, as he would be in the eyes of every ancient king too. In the right-system of the medieval age Thorin would have had the right to judge the traitor immediately and no one could say something against it. But seen that deed from Bilbos point of view it is different, also seen with OUR eyes in our modern time. For Bilbo…and also for us…one cannot punish a traitor with killing him. But for a long, long time in history that was common and normally. So it does not need madness to react like Thorin did. It is really a huge divergence between the values of the hobbit Bilbo and the rest of the characters of the book. Maybe therefor is is an endless discussion about right or wrong, mistakes or not, guilty or not….

                  • mmgilchrist said:

                    Exactly. They operate according to different cultural/historical codes.

                    I’m a Mediæval Historian by academic training, and one of the things which drew me to it as a university subject was having grown up reading mediæval literature and history for fun. I find these characters easier to understand and care about than the Hobbits: they’re like the people I’ve studied, and also like the people in the traditions I grew up with, with my Dad’s North-West roots. I ‘get’ them completely, and I love them for what they are and don’t want them to have to become something else in order to meet the author’s approval.(And I’ve said before, there’s no way I’m going to take lessons in morality from someone who supported Franco’s military rebellion in Spain! One of the moral litmus-tests of the 20C, in my view, and Ronald Tolkien failed it.)

                    I’d tear my hair out living in Hobbiton, but if Thorin needs someone to write poems and songs for him, I’m more than happy to oblige… ;-D

                    • Tolkien may have used nordic-sagas as a backdrop, but that’s hardly what the stories are about. I’m more reminded of the World Wars of Tolkien’s day, I think that was the heroism he was trying to convey.

                • “Their values don’t fit, on the whole, and that is part of the calamity in The Hobbit: a clumsy Victorian village squire blundering around in the universe of Beowulf and the sagas.’”

                  And that is also the heart of its charm.

                  • mmgilchrist said:

                    It’s a ‘charm’ to which I am immune, and in the novel’s own world, the culture-clash has calamitous consequences.

                    • Sorry you can’t appreciate it at all. I find the absurdity of Bilbo’s situation to be one of the highlights of the book.

  12. I am in love with your blog. I haven’t read The Hobbit (I tried to, but I keep on falling asleep on the first 3 pages… I love the movies, the story; I just couldn’t get into Tolkien’s writing :(( ) and I love it more than LOTR.

    “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

    I wish more people gets this out of watching/reading The Hobbit.

    Thank you very much! Finding your blog made my day. 🙂

  13. I totally agree with you! I am SO glad someone sees things MY way! Well done lady, very well done!

  14. Wonderful insights!

  15. Well written, nicely analyzed. One of the finest i ever read. My bows and well done.

  16. Tammy,
    smacking PJ and RA upside their heads might be a nice and intimate moment to tell the grandchildren about, but I’m afraid will never get a chance to do it, which is probably good thing after all…
    This world is not perfect, we have both dragons and orcs of our kind, but most wonderfull thing is, that some of us (J.R.R.T.) can weave on canvas of reality such marvels as Middle Earth. Then on Tolkien’s canvas PJ does his part, then on PJ canvas we do ours. Currently I am working very hard on happy ending of our favourite dwarves. And I’ve made some progress, I can tell you that!

  17. Anjy Roemelt said:

    oops, just had an inner picture of that canvas after the threehundredth artist had her go. No offense meant but … LOL

  18. Excellent essay AND comments!
    To add a bit of my own insight, I can tell you that I’ve even sympathized greatly with the Thorin in the book. No flaw of his would ever be so great to make it unworthy of ‘salvation’, but I understand that Tolkien wanted to make a moralizing children’s story in the end. Now, the problem lies here: Jackson and Armitage took Thorin to an even greater level, so that there’s endless sympathy for him at this point. What could this character possibly do to make me detest him? maybe only if he tore out the guts of all dwarves in his company… No, no matter what would Thorin do in the coming movies, I consider there’s already too much that makes him a hero and a deeply ‘human’ character. No other seems in such a desperate situation as he is. Believe me it is extremely surprising to me that I got on this side, as I’ve been an elf follower 100%. Now I’m all for the dwarves (that was also because I didn’t really pay attention to this race when reading Tolkien, I was already hooked on elves due to the Norse mythology).
    Well, I perfectly understand why the movie had to portray a greater Thorin… but it feels like cruelty if he is invested with a ‘dark’ side that would somehow justify his elimination.

    • And here you touch a nice problem – does a dark side to a character justify elimination? Yes Thorin has serious flaws and issues in the book and some of those flaws are also visible in the movie. He also has strong virtues. In short: good and bad both live in him, as they do in all people. But nothing he does in the book – not even in his meanest, darkest moments – is so bad or evil that it would justify elimination. Thorin may be mean, he may refuse to help the Laketown people, which certainly is cruel – but he does neither commit murder nor crimes. Even the dragon flying up and attacking the city is more due to a slip of Bilbo’s tongue mentioning the barrel ride, which leads Smaug to the conclusion the city is up to something.

      Strictly speaking – for all his flaws and mistakes Thorin certainly did not deserve to die. He valiantly threw himself at an enemy helping to turn the battle around. He died bravely but he most certainly did not deserve death.

      • I never thought that Tolkien killed Thorin because he deserved to die, but to me, he came full circle:like Boromir, he was vindicated by his final actions, and so, he can move on. Perhaps is also a cautionary tale, on how sometimes we can be consumed by one desire or motivation.

        • Anjy Roemelt said:

          I guess it just fits the myth. The hero has to die to complete the circle and make way for the next generation. There are rules myths abide by and you can be sure Tolkien knew them all. He just fooled around with Gandalf coming back from the dead a bit ;-). As for Thorin, I wouldn’t underestimate the power of pictures nor the ability of Jackson & Co to make use of them. They led the female audience a pretty dance with the Armitage-version (AND Fili and Kili) and most of us – myself not excluded – dance happily to the tune. But he’s going to get competition, Thorin is, when Bard and Legolas appear on the scene. Still, I deem it a great achievement that the film managed to make the dwarves into individuals. In the book they are very often just “the dwarves”. In The Lord of the RIngs, Gimli is the only dwarf we meet “face to face” and we learn much less about him and his race even in the Silmarillion. What they look like, except for height and beards, or what they felt like. We know pretty well about what Elves and Men feel like, but Dwarves are sadly underrepresented. They weren’t even entirely good in the beginning, so Tolkien himself wasn’t too sure about them. They developed, so to speak, in the very direction Jackson and Armitage show us now: the norse warrior, the war-like hero. If only in “The Quest to Erebor” in Unfinished Tales, also, maybe in History of MIddle Earth (haven’t read the volume yet), so it’s not entirely out-of-canon what we are viewing – and enjoying – now.
          As for his flaws – Thorin is a pretty hard case. Who would like to have him for a boss? But I happen to know just such a specimen in real life. He is absurdly sure of himself, can be a real ass*** in treating people – but he’s a leader (in this case a choir-director 😉 ), he knows what he’s doing, he’s doing it with all his heart and people love him. I wouldn’t follow Thorin because he’s flawless, but because he’s my king. Loyalty is a form of love, take it or leave it :-).

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Well, the film has drawn on the Unfinished Tales and the LotR Appendices to expand the character from a children’s-book figure to the epic character that Tolkien clearly later saw him to be.

      Regarding his death, I think recovering from his wounds would have been dramatically more effective: losing his nephews, and surviving as a sadder and wiser King. The boys’ self-sacrifice is made utterly pointless by Thorin dying.

      • Late comer to the party,

        A part of me wants to see Thorin restore Erebor for that exact reason. Kili and Fili died to see their Uncle on the throne… but then again it plays on the idea of parallel with WW1 and waste of life seen in that war. A whole generation was wiped out without cause just as Kili and Fili die in vain.

        Isn’t this story just amazing? So many ways to look at it!

        • mmgilchrist said:

          But then, this *isn’t* entirely without cause – the Dwarves have got back Erebor. I don’t think the WW1 parallels are as relevant to ‘The Hobbit’ as they are to LotR – the Norse saga influences are stronger.

          What irks, I think, is that Daín – whom we hardly know as a character – gets to reap the benefits of their sacrifice; that Erebor is basically to be ruled by the King of the Iron Hills, no longer an independent kingdom in its own right.

          And why put Thorin through the hard lessons he has to face, if he doesn’t get the opportunity to put what he has learned into practice? It seems to me a bit of a failure if JRRT was wanting to make any kind of moral point for young readers, as he clearly believed he was doing.

  19. Very well said indeed!

  20. Ariana Deralte said:

    Thank you for this essay. Like many people commenting here, I had my own opinions of Thorin formed by reading the books as a kid (namely, that he was a bit of an arse), but I also tended to ignore everything after Smaug died because it was a very dissatisfying story after that point. (I think it was more Tolkien’s experience with the wars that led to the ending of the Hobbit because the ridiculousness of the fight very much parallels WWI.) I used to have to force myself to read onwards because I would (and still do) cringe in visceral embarrassment over Bilbo’s actions with the arkenstone. The annoying thing about it is it’s a cop out on Tolkien’s part – both Bilbo’s and Thorin’s actions are explained as being influenced by the magic of the arkenstone and the dragon’s gold respectively but Tolkien’s so bad at characterization, it’s impossible to tell which actions fit with their actual characters. There are so many holes in the story by that point too – Tolkien says the point of the expedition was to get the gold, not kill Smaug or reclaim Erebor, but he also states that dragon’s count every piece of their treasure and Bilbo stealing just one piece makes Smaug go crazy so how exactly were they going to steal the gold or were they going to reclaim Erebor but just didn’t tell Bilbo? Maybe the whole plan was to hope the dragon had died? I honestly prefer the motivation in the movie of reclaiming their home since at least that makes sense. And if Bilbo was willing to give up his whole share anyway, why didn’t he a) just tell Thorin to use that to pay Dale or b) offer it to Bard himself? Why go for the kick in the nuts that is handing over the arkenstone? I could actually rant for a long time about how much I dislike pretty much everyone (with the possible exceptions of Bard and Dain) involved in the Battle of the Five armies.

    Tolkien always seemed a bit confused by the dwarves himself. He never makes it clear why they are so determined to reclaim these ancient halls and doesn’t have the sympathy he always shows towards the elves. It was refreshing to see PJ flesh that out in the movies, though I’m curious what he’s going to do with Thorin now because while he handled Boromir very well PJ massacred Denethor’s and Faramir’s characters in LOTR.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      A few further thoughts: I think you’re right about a “cop-out”. I daresay it’s partly because he was writing for children, also because the conclusion has the feel of a rushed ‘botched job’, anyway; but I have never been convinced at all about ‘dragon-sickness’. To me, in a fantasy setting, it’s especially important to keep the psychology ‘real’. Suspension of disbelief about other story aspects is easier to sustain if the characters are psychologically plausible. I see nothing in Thorin’s breakdown which is inconsistent (especially in the movie-verse) with PTSD: every blow and burden he has accumulated since the loss of Erebor – and then he has to face an army making demands with menaces and betrayal by his one of his team.

      To me, it’s always seemed more about culture-clash, different honour-codes: mini-Norse warriors vs the frankly twee Home Counties Hobbits. As with his later adult works, Tolkien is pulled in different directions: his love for his Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon cultures and their world-view, and his middle-class, reactionary (even by the standards of his day) Catholicism. The Hobbits, it seems to me, reflect an inability to let his present-day self go in the largely early-mediæval world he creates. (They don’t convince me: 19-early 20C English squires and yeoman farmers somehow co-existing with the cast of Beowulf and the sagas, and I don’t like them.)

      The Dwarves, in many respects, are neglected stepchildren in Tolkien’s world. There are a number of reasons for that, and I think Rebecca Brackmann’s 2010 article from Mythlore, “Dwarves are not heroes”, touches on some aspects. (I’m not entirely convinced by Renée Vink’s response in Tolkien Studies in 2013, partly because I’m aware of the pre-Vatican 2 Christian supersessionist attitudes. The Mother Superior who was my mother’s headmistress was a lifelong friend and correspondent friend of Tolkien, and I know the nonsense my mother was taught at school at the time.)

      If anyone should have apologised at the end it was Bilbo. Ultimately, why should a Dwarf have to sign up to Hobbit-think to receive the author’s approval? A Dwarf is not a Hobbit. (And all the better for it.)

  21. Anjy Roemelt said:

    The Hobbit was written before WW II, so it can’t have been the wars in plural and I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the war experiences,. at least not more than he did himself. Other than A.A. Milne he did not come back a fervent pacifist.
    As for the Dwarves Tolkien certainly did not like them as much as he liked the Elves. In the beginning he even considered making them “bad folk” in league with the orcs. If you read The Children of Hutin, the petty-dwarf Mim comes over as rather a doubtful character. As for the Dwarves in The Hobbit they were some kind of garden-gnomes with their coloured beards and toally un-warriorlike appearance and behaviour. They didn’t even have weapons when they were captured in Mirkwood. But PJ certainly did not rely on The Hobbit alone when rehearsing his Dwarves. If you read The Quest to Erebor in Unfinished Tales there is more of the armitage-Thorin we are given to enjoy now and teher is also an idea of a plan to recapture Erebor. Gandalf calls it a plan worthy of a king or something to that meaning (don’t have the book handy right now).

    • mmgilchrist said:

      “he did not come back a fervent pacifist.”

      Indeed. I was pretty disgusted with JRRT’s stance on Spain, but fortunately it doesn’t impinge on his work.

  22. Wow! Am I impressed. This essay is well thought out and well written! I have about another year in college…would you like a job writing my papers? I bow to your skill and thank you for what I consider to be the best essay on all matters Tolkien I have ever read.

  23. this essay is a through analysis of Thorin okenshield the hero , the villan and finally the legend that he became, few points that i always wondered forget Gandalf who had his own business not letting Smaug join forces with sauron
    i always wanted to know wether the goblins and the wrags would have attacked if there had been no conflict between Thorin and others as the eagles had suspected of the attack , come to think of it Gandalf must have suspected such a behavior from Thorin and took a very great risk in creating a situation wherein the goblins and the wrags could be destroyed and thorin and co. where just a pawn in the bigger game played by the wizard

    • That’s interesting to mention Gandalf possibly knowing about the Goblin attack but letting it get to that point without telling anyone. Conspiracy theories anyone?

      • mmgilchrist said:

        I think there are some interesting questions to be asked about the ‘high political’ manipulations going on with Gandalf and co. Gandalf knows what makes the team members tick. As you say, he should have anticipated some of it.

        Another possibility, though, is that the Goblins may also simply have wanted to grab what they could of the gold once they realised that Smaug was dead. A dead dragon’s horde is the M-e equivalent of a Closing Down Sale. As soon as everyone hears, they all pile in and the customers start brawling with each other… ;-D

  24. Excellent essay and beautifully articulated. When I read the Hobbit, I remember feeling quite indignant about the demands made by the Lake-townies and elves, and while Thorin’s treatment of Bilbo was absolutely harsh and unkind, his reaction isn’t unexpected–Bilbo’s siding with the elves who turned their backs on the dwarves of Erebor must have felt like a slap to the face. It’s fantastic to read a carefully constructed argument that encourages a more thoughtful consideration of the character’s motivations.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Bilbo’s siding with the elves who turned their backs on the dwarves of Erebor must have felt like a slap to the face.

      Not to mention the fact the Elves had recently mistreated them in Mirkwood.

      There’s also the question of the Arkenstone. I do wonder (only half-joking) if Bilbo’s a bit of a kleptomaniac? He picked up and pocketed Gollum’s ring. He picks up the Arkenstone, hangs on to it without letting Thorin know he’s got it, then…

      I’d be worried about letting him wander around a shop unattended: he’s probably a shoplifter.

      • Anjy Roemelt said:

        The ELves in the book never had anything to do with Erebor. We must be careful not to mix up the two, since we do not know what the film will make of the scene at the gate. Book-Thorin had no more grudge against the Elves than any other dwarf save for the treatment he received in their dungeons – and the fact that they sided with the men of Lake-town who came for his treasure.
        The goblins and wolves were after the dwarves to revenge the goblin king, they fully intended to attack them. Gandalf had heard of Thorin&Co getting lost in MIrkwood and was already on his way to help, when the situation got out of hand. Allt his about him not wanting Smaug to side with Sauron is Peter Jackson’s interpretation to emphasize the link between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings simply didn’t exist, so there was no need to link the two. Later Tolkien tried to combine the two in additional writings (UNfinished Tales) and an attempt to re-write The Hobbit he abandoned very soon.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Book-Thorin had no more grudge against the Elves than any other dwarf save for the treatment he received in their dungeons

          That’s reason enough to be not best pleased with them.

          Allt his about him not wanting Smaug to side with Sauron is Peter Jackson’s interpretation to emphasize the link between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

          Only if you don’t treat the Unfinished Tales as canon… It’s in the story, ‘The Quest for Erebor’. I’m pleased it’s being used, and I’m sorry Tolkien abandoned a full re-write.

      • swordwhale said:

        Well, from the Elven point of view, they were wandering about in the forest, accosting Thranuduil’s folk at their feasting (and we know how messy Dwarves can be), not explaining why they were there (security! security! come take these away!!!) … and the author makes a point of saying how nicely appointed those “dungeons” were, and how well supplied with food. >D

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Elves: the sort of people who want to live on gated Yuppie estates…

        • mmgilchrist said:

          and the author makes a point of saying how nicely appointed those “dungeons” were, and how well supplied with food.

          I daresay that’s because it’s a children’s story in that version and JRRT didn’t want to make it too grim. A well-appointed dungeon is a contradiction in terms…

      • “Now I am a burglar indeed!”

      • Maybe he’s heading to the pawn shop after this adventure is over! 🙂

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Indeed! Well, his pocketing of the Ring sets us up for what he then does with the Arkenstone. He is a bit light-fingered…

    • Thank you much for reading it!

  25. Anonimousn1 said:

    Lol indeed Bilbo’s kinda of clepto but hey Thorin wanted to get a burglar at his own risk tell me of a single not-poor thief who wasnt a clepto?And about that dwarf-elf grudge,it goes a long when back to when both the dwarves and the sons of Feanor raided Doriath on the first age,that being said,their grudge was with the wood-elves and sindars,not with Elrond’s folk,as it is depicted in the first movie

    • Thorin is massively more prejudiced against all elves in the movie than the book. Book-Thorin never balks at going to seek Elrond’s advice, even though the elves are a bit ill mannered to the dwarves when they arrive. But as it says later in the story, the Longbeard dwarves had no particular grudge against Thranduil, until the Mirkwood incident.

  26. mmgilchrist said:

    Lol indeed Bilbo’s kinda of clepto but hey Thorin wanted to get a burglar at his own risk tell me of a single not-poor thief who wasnt a clepto?

    And to be fair, it was Gandalf’s idea.

    And about that dwarf-elf grudge,it goes a long when back to when both the dwarves and the sons of Feanor raided Doriath on the first age,that being said,their grudge was with the wood-elves and sindars

    Yes, it goes way back. They’ve had to telescope things and give us a more immediate cause for the film.

    • swordwhale said:

      It’s been awhile since I read the Silmarillion, but the Elf/Dwarf thing began with Aule’ jumping the gun and creating the Dwarves before Illuvatar (the Big Cheese Creator) could get the Elves online. He allowed Aule to keep his creations, gave them true life, but made it so they would awaken after the elves (his Firstborn). There is some line in that tale of how there would be conflict between the two races ever after…

      There was also the incident of that necklace, the Nauglamir, and the Silmaril it contained…

  27. Anonimousn1 said:

    LOL true about the Gandalf thing and just to make things clear,Doriath was actually an sindarin settlement few differences between woodelves and sindars though and the dwarves who raided it weren’t of Durin’s folk but since their cities got destroyed at the end of the first age and they migrated to Khazad-Dum(Durin’s folk biggest settlement at the time,later named Moria after it was deserted),and the survivors of Moria went to Erebor mainly,you can imagine how the quarrel goes on and on.(PS:In mirkwood the sindarin pureblood sindarins were mostly the realm’s nobles,i know,elves are a bunch of arrogant racists,blah,blah,heard it before)

    • swordwhale said:

      Oh, now I have to stand up for my favorite folk… I suppose there are some snooty tooty types of Elves out there, but I feel that stereotype has been overdone. What I love is the Nature Spirit aspect of them, the ability to connect with all living things easily. Tolkien says, somewhere in his letters, that they are not supernatural, but more natural than we are.

      Sigh. It’s going to get weird when the Hobbit films get to Mirkwood, because now I love BOTH sides….

  28. Anonimousn1 said:

    Gotcha man the last part was supposed to be irony although when it comes to elves my favourite ones are the noldor.

  29. mmgilchrist said:

    Oh, in a Ring War setting, yes, that makes sense. Thorin would be well on in his 200s by then – not impossible for a Dwarf (340 is their maximum, 300 very old – I estimate 3.5 human years per Dwarf year), but quite unusual, certainly for still being in fighting form.

    It’s a great fic, anyway! Well-written and exciting! And I always had my doubts re: Dain. Possibly the way he’s parachuted into the story by Tolkien has something to do with it.

    But yes, I’m going to have Thorin survive the Battle of 5 Armies.

  30. I was wondering what would have been the outcome of the Battle of Dale if both Thorin and Bard were still alive.Thorin seems quite bullheaded,so after Erebor itself was besieged,i’d say that he would have just sallyed at once,that being said,it would be before Sauron was defeated and ergo,the Easterling rout would be very unlikely.If Thorin had survived the fate of Erebor migth have been different,unless he learned from the Battle of the Five armies.Bard would be a good counterbalancement.He was also an archer division capitain,and a pretty good tactician he seemed to be.Some bardian marksman supporting dwarven infantry would have been a good enougth counterbalancement to Thorin’s bullheadness (remember the description of the battle of the five armies:there was some high ground around the mountain,perfect for archers.Some stakes and dwarven infantry and WHAM!):D

  31. Anjy Roemelt said:

    I’m sure Thorin would have come to his senses even if he hadn’t been fatally wounded. The way he parted with Bilbo shows that he DID have some sense, only partially clouded by revenge and greediness and old bitterness and hatred and love (t.b.c.). Also, Gandalf would have been there and he knew how to handle him. I think ,much would have depended on how the Lake-men and the Elves would have valued his contribution to the victory, if they’d played down his part or acknowledged him and his companions as a 13-men sixth army.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Yes: I think the question of how the humans would have handled the Arkenstone situation is of concern. Would they have decided to give it back freely, as a debt of honour for the heroism of the Dwarves? Would it still have to be haggled over?

    • mmgilchrist said:

      I don’t like the way he parted from Bilbo. Bilbo should have been the one apologising.

  32. Well,a good idea would be to count Bard as the 15fth member of the quest(after all,he slew the dragon) and to take 1/14 out of everione’s 1/14 to pay Bard’s 1/14 (the whole thing would be just to let Thorin keep his dignity,the real reason would be to pay the 1/14 of the treasure he demanded to rebuild Dale and Laketown).And i read the hobbit some time ago,so im not sure about the elves demanding something,but if they did,it was mere bullshit.What would they pay or indenize for?Crashing a party?Their hospitalities?Well,surely not their part in the battle,as they came to take the treasure on force,and they had pretty much squat of their treasures mixed up in there.

  33. That’s not quite it.He indeed got jewels,but they were from the stash of Girion,last king of ancient Dale,who Dain gave to Bard as a sign of allegiance,and who Bard (i’m betting Thorin would have taken it back if he was still alive and heard of it) gave to Thranduil.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Those were the ones he was given by Bard, yes; but if I recall correctly, we are told that in general, Thranduil likes jewels. (Elves can do metal-work, but as they don;t mine themselves, they need to get precious stones for their jewellery from the Dwarves.)

      • Anjy Roemelt said:

        The Noldor were pretty good at it, but they still needed the Dwarves to create the Nauglamir(-fring). Thranduil was given “the emeralds of Girion” (last Lord of Dale before the sacking of Erebor) by Bard in appreciation of his help after the raid of Smaug that destroyed Lake-Town. But it was said before, that the Elves have a weakness for silver and white gems (emeralds are green, though, I seem to remember). It’s interestinghow Tolkien’s dwarves developed from a rather doubtful race via the business-chaps in The Hobbit to the first glimpse nof our norse warriors in The Quest to Erebor. The Elves’ development is much more subtle. When dealing with other races they are almost always the good guys, but in the stories taking place entirely within the elf-community there’ more variety.

    • Just reread The Hobbit again. The necklace of Girion, Lord of Dale “made of five hundred emeralds green as grass, which he gave for the arming of his eldest son in a coat of dwarf-linked rings the like of which had never been made before,……” So it was given to the dwarves as payment for their work.

  34. Anonimous1 said:

    Hmm i didn’t recalled that but i’d say you’re rigth though.Even the more skilled elves didn’t surpassed the dwarves in prospectoring and the silvan elves,well…Were pathetic compared to them that makes sense.

  35. Anonimous1 said:

    I was thinking…In the end the goblin attack was a good thing,since that avoided and elves&manVdwarves war in the north,who would destroy Mirkwood,laketown and Erebor,and at the time the Easterlings invaded they would be wiped out,and perhaps even Eriador would be devastated.Funny thing to think that the Goblins saved the Shire…:D

  36. Natara Shepard said:

    This was really great! I remember reading The Hobbit as a young adult and thinking a lot of what you captured in this essay. Fantastic work, and well thought out. I commend you!

  37. Hello,

    I would just like to say that your essay is really great and I agree with practically everything you say. I’ve always felt that Thorin was such a misjudged character and its nice to see I’m not the only one.

    I especially love the fact that you viewed the betrayal from Thorin’s point of view as well as emphasize the fact that Thorin is not perfect. Instead, he is “human!”

  38. Keyla Boswell said:

    Awesome ~ a true King!!! Best version I have read in defense of Thorin ❤ I have my own version of Thorin in some fan fiction I wrote. It ended up being 130 pages by the time I was done titled, Thorin's Heart. Can't wait to share on here. Getting it polished up by an editor first. I have poured my heart and soul into it with no telling how many countless hours and the Arkenstone had a big part to play. I also added in one main character that shifted everything but kept him on track at the same time. Hope it moves you like this did me. Great Job!!!

  39. Mr. Unknown said:

    Wow, this essay really helped me understand more about Thorin. Good job on convincing me he isn’t taken over by hubris!!

  40. Judy75201 said:

    This really is a gem of an essay. Great job!

  41. Dear D.J., first of all let me express my greatest appreciation for this website. I find it amazing. I am really grateful for your work. Please also accept all my acknowledgement for your essay. It is so well composed and your aspect of looking at Thorin is very close to me. I have read it three or four times already. Very well prepared and your thoughts are just ten-strike. Thank you very much for it indeed.
    Please allow me to reflect to some of D.J.’s thoughts and also to add some of mine. But first of all let me note that English is not my first language – I am from Hungary – therefore let me apologize in advance if any mistakes appear in my writing. I still hope that what I mean to say will get through.
    I have never thought of Thorin as a villain. I have seen the film and have read the book but I could always understand Thorin’s decisions though may not have been the best sometimes or readers would have done differently. I absolutely agree with D.J. in saying that he was not only protecting his own but the property of his people as based on the contract claiming one fourteenth for each of the participants of the quest. Bard and the Elvenking came to claim the treasure for themselves. There are many reasons for which Thorin can be justified for not willing to share the treasure besides the above mentioned. They came armed, saying that if he does not give them a share of the treasure they would attack them. Is it really the appropriate polite and diplomatic way of negotiation? Absolutely not. I believe anyone would be annoyed by such arrogance. And also think of it this way: Thorin had been bearing such a great burden for so long of his past and the expectations of his ancestors, his people and himself to be the one reclaiming Erebor and his people’s treasure, and now that he finally achieved it – and with what difficulties -, there comes somebody and wants to take it. I would say in his place and from his point of view, no way. Furthermore, I also think that though the fact that the dragon stole treasure from Lake-Town and Dale is true, they would have never been able to get hold of it if the dwarves had not come back. They would have never ever gone near that place and the dragon. To rephrase it, it was only the 13 dwarves that went for it, and never Bard or the Elvenking, not even with an army. Therefore, their claim for it is not completely justified. Besides, the dwarves were not to be blamed for the dragon stealing treasure from anywhere, and the stolen part of the treasure was also in Erebor, in the territory and under the command of the dwarves now, so I do not believe they could be obligated by anybody by any right to share it. And remember, Bard and the Elvenking were not ASKING but DEMANDING. And Bard’s claim that he had killed the dragon and therefore he wants a share from the treasure, though true, is not perfectly justified either. He killed the dragon because it threatened his people and not for the intention to claim the treasure. Had not the dragon attacked Lake-Town – and had not the thrush told Bard how to kill it –, Bard would have never killed it and would have never got near any of the treasure. It was the fact that the dwarves came back that initiated all the process and provided any kind of possibility for anyone for the treasure. And if we want to blame anybody for the dragon attacking Lake-Town, then it may be Bilbo when he talked to the dragon and said such things from which the dragon could guess that the men of Lake-Town helped the dwarves, and not so much the dwarves. And I am also sure that if Bard did not kill the dragon, the dwarves would have found a way to kill it sooner or later, especially given the fact that Bilbo knew its weak point. Considering all the above, no one other than the dwarves had any kind of real right for the treasure, in my view (though Thorin could have made a decision to give them a share, but not because he had to, but because he could have). Even if the dwarves had been dead killed by the dragon as Bard and the Elvenking believed when they came to claim the treasure, they would have had no right for it, as it would have been the heritage of other dwarves then like Dain for example, but not in any way of men and especially not the Elvenking. And by the way, I am not convinced that Thorin would not have negotiated with Bard, had the Elvenking left as he requested. I absolutely agree with Thorin with respect to the Elvenking. How on earth could the Elvenking expect Thorin to even have a word with him, after having imprisoned them with no good reason? And in the film it is only emphasized and sharpened as their relationship is even worth if you think of the expression of negligence and contempt on Thranduil’s face when he turned his back on Thorin in Erebor and Thorin’s distaste for elves deriving from this event. And as for Dain being generous after Thorin’s death, it was much easier for him to do so, for the treasure was not his, it was not him going through such mental and physical struggle to reclaim it, and he gave something to those that fought together with him, that is, being his allies, while Thorin experienced the opposite, that is, them being his enemies, as D.J. said. So in this sense I do not think that Thorin’s unwillingness to share the treasure can be blamed on greed or dragon sickness. By the way, they may not have been considered as enemies from Thorin’s side, had not the Elvenking imprison them and had not they come armed, claiming war on them. In other words, I believe they were considered as enemies due to their own behavior and not for Thorin’s perception and Thorin is not to blame for that from this respect.

    As for Bilbo taking the Arkenstone, I cannot agree with his deed though I understand that his intentions behind it were good and he wanted to protect his friends from being killed by an army standing against only 14. Still, I believe that Bilbo had not the slightest right to take the Arkenstone. Not even as for it being his one fourteenth share because he knew very well that if something, then this was Thorin’s and Thorin even expressed and claimed it clearly. It was Thorin’s by heritage, and it meant a lot more to him than a ‘piece of treasure’. Besides being the symbol of the House of Durin as D.J. said and the symbol of his being the king under the mountain, it was the symbol of all his past, the symbol of everything he had lived for and gone through, and to let it remain in the hands of his enemies would have meant severe disloyalty to his past, to his grandfather and father and in a sense to his people who trusted him. Though let it be in excuse of Bilbo that he might not have understood all this, I am still angry with him for what he did as I strongly believe that he had no right to do it. And I perfectly understand that Thorin was furious as it was for the above mentioned reasons (for what the Arkenstone meant to him and I also understand that he considered it as betrayal). Maybe he really did overreact by almost killing Bilbo, but let us not forget that he is a passionate man, and that you would never expect such a thing from a friend (and Thorin from his own point of view could hardly understand Bilbo’s good intentions behind his deed). Please do not misunderstand me, I do not say that his reaction is totally justifiable and that that was what Bilbo exactly deserved, I only say that Thorin’s reaction in the heat of that moment is somewhat understandable as the only thing he could see in that moment is that the object that meant everything for him and was more precious with what it all meant than his life, was taken by somebody who he used to call friend. So it is not necessarily a fact of his lack of gratitude to Bilbo. And after their relationship worked out to be a friendship more or less, his former prejudice for the hobbit doing such a thing which obviously counts as betrayal in Thorin’s eyes seem from a certain aspect to be justified again. The fact that the other dwarves did not react that strongly and were sorry for the treatment of Bilbo may come from that the Arkenstone did not mean so much to them as it did to Thorin.

    Another thought on D.J. mentioning Thorin’s strong sense of self-importance. I believe this comes from also the way he was raised. He must have been raised right from his early childhood to be a future king and this self-importance was so to say beaten into him whether he wanted it or not. And it was only strengthened by the fact that he became king as a young dwarf and unexpectedly, when his father disappeared, and it was all trusted to him to build a new life for his people, and to reclaim Erebor and with that all the pride of his people. Without his acknowledging certain self-importance I believe these would not have been possible to do. The same stands for his pride in terms of him being raised so. And added to this is the natural pride of dwarves as a people. And he also deserves to be proud on his own right, being the one finding and presenting a new life for his people in Ered Luin.

    Let me express one more thought on Thorin. Did you notice that he was given the most decent instrument? Harp is a sort of ‘gentle’ one. To give it to the most fierce, battle-hardened, fearless warrior king to me has an implication that Thorin must have another side as well, a not so harsh, a more gentle one, deep inside him, may well be suppressed by all he has been through. Actually I do strongly believe that it is there.

    • Anjy Roemelt said:

      Hi, Misty, I’m thrilled to learn you’re from Hungary. I was once promoted to “Honourable Hungarian” by a friend, a Hungarian, of course, but unfortunately the only full sentence I ever manages is “nem ertelek de szeretlek” whch is not applicable in many situations ;-).
      I’m thinking about the musical instruments, too. I’m not sure why Tolkien brought them in. He never mentions them again after the unexpected party, so it’s even possible the dwarves left them at Bag End. But you are right, the harp is odd.
      Now, Book-Thorin is not as much the warrior as film-Thorin, not in the beginning at Bag End. The first time he really comes over as a king and warrior is at Lake-town, that’s where he starts shedding the merchant. It is also the moment the dwarves are literally stripped of almost all their belongings.Not only musical instruments but also weapons – if ever they had some more noteworthy than knives – and gears. After all, Bilbo brought them there in barrels. So, even if they had brought the instruments, they would have stayed in Mirkwood. Their life at Erebor-regained really starts from scratch. They use instruments they found in the dragon’s hoard, harps among them, although there is no hint as to who plays them. Thorin doesn’t seam to sing or play at all. The songs, the book says, seemed to please him, so it looks as if he just listened to the others playing and singing. He is all king and sovereign lord, now, being entertained by his subjects.
      But this does make sense. The softer side you see symbolized by the harp has to recede in a time of danger and challenge. Those days at Bag End were merrier and more carefree days even for him.
      But I’m not entirely satisfied with this explanation, myself. The harp does indicate a soft and tender tune, but it is also an instrument for solos. If the harp speaks the others have to stand back – or the harp couldn’t be heard at all. Imagine a trumpet being played at the same time. Also, although Thorin obviously played a small, celtic-style harp, did you ever see a fully fledged concert harp towering over an orchestra? I have. It is usually covered by a richly embroidered velvet cloth, and though the contrabass my be larger that still looks like an overgrown cello while the harp doesn’t look like anything else. It’s literally queening over the others. So the choice of instrument for Thorin might indeed indicate both: the softer, more hesitant and subdued and open to others side and the kingly side simultaneously . It’s a pity we never saw him play – yet.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      He plays the harp because a Norse-type warrior prince would be expected to play the harp and make verses. It was a nobleman’s instrument, and an accomplishment to which men of high status were expected to aspire. Rognvald Kali Kolsson of Orkney wrote in the mid-12C, on the attributes of a nobleman:

      Chess I’m eager to play,
      I know nine skills,
      I scarcely forget runes,
      book and handicrafts are frequent,
      I know how to ski,
      I shoot and row serviceably,
      I know how to consider
      both harp-playing and poetry.

    • Thanks for this post Misty!
      Nearly the SAME words and thoughts I used in a German Tolkien-forum in defending Thorins deeds and purposes! The discussion there stayed over some weeks, about all of his character, thoughts, intentions and acts and most of the Tolkien-readers there did not understand that points you mentioned…especially the scene at the gate of Erebor, refusing to give Bard a piece of the treasure….and his fury about Bilbos traitment, what it was for him indeed thinking of the meaning of the Arkenstone for Thorin as a symbol of his kingly status. I can absolutely understand his reaction seeing stolen and given away the item which is behind all worths in the world for Thorin. And how should he understand the purpose of Bilbo?
      And about Bard I agree completely…not only that he had no real right to demand something out of the treasure for killing the dragon because Bilbo was the one finding out his weak point….the WAY he wanted to force Thorin with an army behind was arrogant and foolish same time….How could he expect Thorin would surrender to him? Beeing at the goal, fullfilled his legacy and wishes, should he give away what he took back with risking his life? Never…If I would have stand at his place in exactly this situation I would have decided same way, without any doubt! Not HE made them to enemies, the words od Bard to him spoke of war and foes first…this was such an affront…directed to a rightful king, a heir of Durin and Thror. Who would NOT refused in this situation?
      Speaking of the harp I also think it is connected with nordic and celtic tradition and its a kingly instrument. I would be really glad seeing Thorin playing the harp in Erebors halls in the movie, should be possible showing that in a way that its also possible with the prosthetics…why it must be a close-up??? It would be very fitting to him and his sofer side which I also see clearly…. I hope we`ll see such a scene, Tolkien choosed it with purpose I am sure…

      • Wow, this is such a nice sentence. If I were told that ’I do not understand you but I love you.’ (I suppose this was the original English version), it is so heart warming. Thank you on behalf of all Hungarians!
        You are right, I am quite influenced by the film I have to admit. Still, though I believe you are absolutely right in that it is not quite elaborated or not that much presented in the book how much of a warrior Thorin is and how skilled he could be in fighting or weapons, I still believe that he must have been, for reasons like:
        – He must have been brought up in a way to be a future king and I cannot imagine that he would not have been trained for war and fighting.
        – He did have Orcrist and it seemed he knew how to handle it. And he may not have even taken it with himself from the troll cave if he had not known how to use it.
        – He could use bow and arrow, which is presented when he shot the deer in Mirkwood and when he shot an arrow in the shield of the messenger when Bard and the Elvenking came to claim treasure.
        – He armed himself when he got into the dungeons of Erebor (and so did the other dwarves). And they used to make arms for other nations as well, it is stated in the book, and if they did, I am absolutely sure that they made for themselves as well.
        – And the most obvious proof of him being a warrior is when in the Battle of Five Armies he kind of lead the whole group of dwarves, men and elves (“To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk!” he cried, and his voice shook like a horn in the valley.”). He would not have been able to do that if he had no good skills in fighting (and let us not forget that Dain had an army, which also implies that dwarves were skilled warriors as well – then a king would surely be). And in the book it is also said that he fought as if he were invulnerable (“Thorin wielded his axe with mighty strokes, and nothing seemed to harm him.”) – that is, he was fearless and fierce.
        So though it is not explicitly expressed in the book, I still think that he – and the other dwarves – did have weapons even right from the beginning (the book only calls their accessories ‘tools, packages, baggages, paraphernalia’ which does not deny in any way that there were weapons also among them). As for them having only knives (mentioned in the book), I believe those were their only weapons that remained, but not because they have not had any, but because they were deprived of all their gears more than once by then.
        As for film-Thorin and instruments, I remember reading/hearing something that PJ skipped the instruments because they would have been too heavy to carry as the clothes and accessories of the actors were heavy enough without them already. But originally the idea was there, so even film-Thorin would have been given a harp. Please correct me if I am wrong and do not remember well. Unfortunately I do not remember where I had read/heard it.
        So to summarize it, we are back where we started, that is, though Thorin’s warrior side is not that much presented in the book (it was a book for children, after all), still one he is (as I see it) and the harp is paired with the mighty, fearless warrior.

        I really find your point with the harp for solos and queening the others while the others stand back interesting. I have never thought of that aspect. Thank you for making me to. Still, that ‘could not be heard at all’ does not fit Thorin.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Good post. Tolkien elaborated more on Thorin as warrior in the LotR Appendices and the Unfinished Tales, which have helped with the film characterisation and back-story. He didn’t get a by-name like Eikinskjaldi without earning it – and in his kind of society, there’s no contradiction between that and being a skilled musician/poet. A man of high status was expected to be fierce in battle, but also cultured.

          Again, in this kind of culture, the harp isn’t primarily “an instrument for solos” and certainly not for “queening it” over others. It’s a small, portable instrument (Thorin would have carried his in a bag slung across his back or on his pony), often a convivial instrument, for accompanying singing (solo or group) or joining in with others. We see this later in the book, when the Dwarves get self-tuning Elven harps (probably a bit bigger) from the dragon hoard, and basically have a ‘jam session’ on the harps, performing a new set of verses to the Misty Mountain song (and making Bilbo feel very uncomfortable). It’s nothing like a modern concert harp: here’s a good picture of a re-enactor in mediæval costume with harp:

          • Anjy Roemelt said:

            well, that’s what i said. “A small, celtic-style harp”. Though this is meant for solos. The celtic minstrels didn’t lead choirs. They were more like story-tellers accompanying themselves and it’s true, a skillfull warrior would have been expected to tell his deeds to music. Still, we have the threefold Thorin here, again. Book-Thorin is not a warrior for two-thirds of the book and the whole bunch looks more like a hiking-party than the norse-men the film presents us with. Film-Thorin is a warrior to a T and thus not entitled to play a harp – in modern days views. Unfinished-Tales Thorin could be both. ImhO Tolkien hadn’t entirely made up his mind about the dwarves when he wrote The Hobbit. Maybe because he focused on Bilbo as the main character. There is much about Middle-Earth’s races in The Hobbit that does not fit the whole work too smoothly. Remember the doubtful character of the Mirkwood-Elves. I wonder if it is really possible to get rid of the pictures the film provided us with in reading The Hobbit again.

          • Exactly as you say, mmgilchrist. Both in the Appendix of the LOTR (Durin’s Folk) and in Unfinished Tales it is mentioned that Thorin did fight in Moria, and it is also said in both of them that Thorin „thought of weapons and armies and alliances” (Unfinished Tales – The Quest of Erebor, Appendix – Durin’s Folk) and „was all for plans of battle and war” (Unfinished Tales – The Quest of Erebor) when planning to go to reclaim Erebor, both of them being obvious proofs of him being a warrior, only supported by the fact that four kinds of weapons are listed in The Hobbit in relation to him (sword – Orcrist, bow and arrow – when shooting the deer in Mirkwood and when shooting an arrow in the shield of the messenger), axe – when he armed himself in Erebor, and knife), which means that he must have been skilled in – at least – these ones. Another reference in the Appendix is when Thrain asks him whether he would go back with him to the anvil and Thorin answers: “To the anvil. The hammer will at least keep the arms strong, until they can wield sharper tools again.”, sharper tools being clear references to weapons. Therefore, though the fact of his being a warrior is not elaborated that much in the story of The Hobbit itself, it is clearly presented in the above mentioned sources, which makes book-Thorin to be, if not the same, very close to the character of film-Thorin in this respect, that is, the mighty, fierce warrior.

      • Thank you, Melian! I am so glad and it is so good to know that there is someone else also who sees Thorin and the presented situations as I do.

  42. hulalady said:

    Maybe a harp is just a harp, but what is primarily associated with them, could it be angels? Does the fact that this instrument is Thorin’s point to an angelic side to character ? Maybe Tolkien chose it for a reason. Just a thought. On screen it wouldn’t work. Thorin could never play a harp with the prosthetic hands Jackson provided for the film and it might not look very macho. But the “better angels of his nature” certainly come out at his heroic demise, which I am dreading. Also, my compliments to all the contributors to these discussions. It is intimidating to post a reply that is less than brilliant in this mighty company. But I had to do it.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      The harp was a traditional instrument in cultures such as the ancient Scandinavian ones which influence Tolkien’s portrayal of the Dwarves. A warrior nobleman was expected to have skills in the harp and poetry, as well as in fighting. (I’m thinking of a short poem by Rognvald Kali Kolsson, 12C Jarl of Orkney, which lists the skills expected of a nobleman.) I would expect Thorin to be as good with a harp as he is with a sword or axe.

      • hulalady said:

        Thank you for the education. Philistine that I am, I did not know the harp played so prominent a role with Vikings, and by extrapolation, MIddle Earth dwarves. But really, can you see Thorin playing a harp on screen? The only time I’ve seen that happen is when leprechauns are involved.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Actually, I can picture him playing.

          One of the things I love about the Dwarves is that I recognise so much of my own ancestors (Norse via far North-West Highlands and North-East England) in them – particularly the Gall-Gael (Norse but Gaelic-speaking) NW culture. In Gaelic song, the harp may be referred to in a Norse-type kenning as ‘the tree of strings’.

          • hulalady said:

            Perhaps he had to leave his harp behind when he fled Erebor. (Leave the harp, take the cannoli.) I am speculating on what is presented to us as average viewers of this film. No background material allowed, including your impressive scholarly analysis. In that context, music is obviously very important to the company of dwarves, demonstrated by their singing, both joyful and sorrowful. But Thorin pulling a harp out of his pocket (I don’t remember that he had to carry his own pack.) would be a little silly. Since he had been leading a nomadic life, a harp might just be too much to handle. Thank you so much for educating me on a subject that I admittedly don’t have a clue about.

            • mmgilchrist said:

              He hasn’t been entirely nomadic: he had a home and a forge in Ered Luin. I’m hoping we see the Dwarves get their hands on the self-tuning Elven harps from Smaug’s hoard – that would be the time to see him play.

              • I don’t think Thorin would touch an elven harp with a ten foot pole. Polluted with elvishness, as it were. Although he had no qualms about keeping Orchrist, after a period of adjustment. I guess we will have to wait and see. By the way, are you pulling my leg about the self-tuning aspect of elvish harps? I am not questioning your knowledge. It is far superior to mine. But I’d like a glimpse of a sense of humor, o sage one.

  43. Orcrist. Crist = cleaver. That Jesus dude hadn’t arrived yet. 😉

    Awesome insights though.

  44. hulalady said:

    Thank you for clarifying the harp matter, and your patience in answering questions sincerely asked.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Happy to help. I’ve loved these stories and characters for over 40 years – they’re part of my life.

      • As hulalady said, dear mmgilchrist, thank you very much for clarifying the issue with the harp. I did not know that either and I am very grateful.
        From my side it was just a kind of playing with thoughts in relation to the harp, so to say, and kind of connecting it to our ‘modern’ life we live in, as it is, and by no means questioning or challenging your knowledge and that you are absolutely right. Again, all my gratitude.

  45. In my view, Thorin never switches to an antagonist. First of all, there is too much tension and too much hostility coming from more than one side. Secondly, he has fully taken on the role of a king. He’s taking that seriously. A Dwarf king needs to stay firm and not change his mind “with the setting of a few suns” of course, especially since his plan to retrieve the kingdom and the treasure was such a long-elaborated one. He needs to make himself trustworthy, even if that means intransigence.

    Amazing, delightful analysis and comments!

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Yes. Why did Bard and co. bring an army?

      • That’s a good question, because from what I remember in the book it says that Bard did not expect to find the Dwarves alive. Then why bring an army, once Smaug was dead? I might be missing some details… but anyway, if I take a look at what the movie trailers show, we could be treated with a slightly different version. It could be changed so that Bard becomes motivated by a sense of revenge. He was angry because of the destruction caused by Smaug and his heart grew with fire thinking of the gold stored in that mountain. He had to direct in some point his anger at Thorin and the dwarves. Still, some dots don’t really connect. Why did the armies arrived in the first place? Also, Thranduil brought an army, also demanding a part of the treasure. It looks just as if they are doing this in solidarity, the Elven king and the human.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Why bring an army of humans and Elves? I suppose, just in case the Dwarves weren’t dead, so they could finish them off; also, they’d need a lot of people to carry off the spoils. I will be very disappointed if the film tries to idealise this, because taking 2 whole armies against 13 Dwarves is, well…disproportionate, to put it mildly.

        • To help carry gold. He was short on manpower.Plus, he made it clear from his interaction with thorin that he fully intended to repay the elves for their asistance after laketown burnt.

        • Both Bard and the Elvenking did not expect to find the Dwarves alive. There were there to get the gold. Maybe they too had the dragon-sickness? 🙂

          • mmgilchrist said:

            My suspicion is that the army is there just in case they happen to have survived… Otherwise, civilians with baggage carts would have served just as well. There is a definite implication of threat: if even some of the Dwarves survived, they wouldn’t do so for long.

            • I do not think it was planned as threat from the beginning off. They expected the dwarves beeing dead. But a mountain full of gold could attract other evil folk, for instance orcs (who are indeed on the way there!) So first that was an understandable act of carefullness. But when they found Thorin alive and Erebor hided by a new wall they realized that the gold they wanted would not so easily claimed. Bard did a terrible fault starting to threat to Thorin to get the gold he needed to rebuild Esgaroth. That challenged Thorins pride and stubborness and leaded to the hardened fronts at both sides. A bit of kindness at the beginning, the offer to speak without arms and at one table could have made a great difference, I guess.

        • If I remember correctly, in the book Bard asked for 1/12 share of the treasure. Any idea how he got the 1/12th?

          • mmgilchrist said:

            That’s a curious one, because it implies Bard is OK with the idea of not paying some of the original core-team… I’m not sure where he plucked that amount from.

  46. Anonimous1 said:

    I totaly agree.We can’t see Thorin just as an person,but rather as an ruler.Sometimes,authority gotta come first.What do you guys think that other kings would think of him if a buch of girl-looking elves and lakemen come by his door demanding over 10percent of his treasury and he just gave it away?He’d became a joke,and,that close to Rhun,a ruler really cant afford internal disputes.

  47. Anonimous………..indeed…Thorin is standing there as a rightful King back in his kingdom..Who is Bard? Heir of Dale…but Dale does not exist anymore nor its people as a folk….Bard is a guardian of Laketown and a follower of the master, not more nor less…and he tries to force a rightful king? Thorin cannot bow to him, he would lose his face! And his pride does not allow it too……he is not the only one who is stubborn and proud…I ask to myself if Bard would have stood at Thorins place there in the mountain….would HE have shared the treasure under pressure? I guess no…

  48. Thank you so much for this wonderful article. It’s very well thought out and made me see Thorin in a different light than how he was shown in the book. Not that Sir Peter hadn’t already accomplished that with the first Hobbit film. But you’ve certainly added to my insights into Thorin’s character. ^__^
    There is one thing that you’ve said in this article, that made me think. You asked why Gandalf didn’t go talk to Thorin, when Thorin acted so unreasonably. I’m sure it would have been easy for Gandalf to find a way into the mountain, even into Thorin’s bedchamber, to talk to the King. But he didn’t.
    I have a theory on that.
    Gandalf, in The Hobbit, already knows that something is stirring. He’s the instigator behind the Dwarves’ push for Erebor. He’s put the flea into Thorin’s ear, so to say. Why? It can’t be because he wants Thorin and Company to reclaim their gold. Not really. Gandalf has an ulterior motive, as is usual for Wizards.
    As we see in the White Council, Gandalf has already received warnings and signs that some greater evil is stirring in Middle Earth. He isn’t certain yet, what this evil is, but he can feel it gathering power, slowly. He knows that, if this evil becomes strong enough to threaten Middle Earth, then letting it have a weapon like Smaug would be terrible, indeed. Just think what battles during LoTR would have been like, if there had been not only the Nazgul, but Smaug, too. Nobody would have stood the slightest chance.
    So he manipulates Thorin into going to the Lonely Mountain, hoping that the Dwarves (and one Hobbit) would manage what no one else had managed before: to kill Smaug and so remove one great danger to the future.
    That’s one part of my theory. The second part is, that Gandalf intends this adventure as a test of Thorin and his line. Gandalf knows that soon, he’s going to need strong and true allies, to stand with him against that coming evil. He’s going to need people that he can rely on. So he tests Thorin. Will the King be able to withstand the lure of the gold? Will he stay honest and true to the end? Because, if evil really does come again, it will try to subvert the allies, so that less people are willing to stand against it – see Theoden or the Steward of Gondor. Because of their weakness, the Quest in LoTR almost fails and Middle Earth is almost defeated.
    So. If Thorin successfully resists the Dragon sickness, then he’ll be able to resist all offers from a future enemy. If Thorin fails, then Gandalf is willing to let him fall, since he needs a strong line of Kings under the Mountain.
    And as we know, Thorin doesn’t measure up. Yes, in the end he’s heroic and all, but he has never lost the Dragon sickness. And even if he had survived, he would always have been a weak link in the chain. I’m sure Sauron would have found something similar to the Arkenstone with which to tempt Thorin and make him act against the peoples of Middle Earth.
    Gandalf’s decision seems callous. He’s willing to let an entire line of Dwarves die out in one sitting in order to make sure that the future is secure. Or as secure as he can make it. Sacrificing the few for the needs of the many.

    • Dear Raven,
      1. It is not Gandalf who manipulates Thorin into the quest. They meet in Bree/ on the way to Bree (depending on whether you read Unfinished Tales or Appendix to LOTR) and it is Thorin who asks for the counsel and help of Gandalf.

      2. I am absolutely not sure that Thorin has dragon sickness and that is why he is unwilling to share the treasure. Reasons: 1. he was not only protecting his own but the property of his people as based on the contract claiming one fourteenth for each of the participants of the quest. 2. Bard and the Elvenking came armed, saying that if he does not give them a share of the treasure they would attack them. Is it really the appropriate polite and diplomatic way of negotiation? Absolutely not. I believe anyone would be annoyed by such arrogance. 3. Thorin had been bearing such a great burden for so long of his past and the expectations of his ancestors, his people and himself to be the one reclaiming Erebor and his people’s treasure, and now that he finally achieved it, there comes somebody and wants to take it. I would say in his place, no way. 4. Though the fact that the dragon stole treasure from Lake-Town and Dale is true, they would have never been able to get hold of it if the dwarves had not come back. They would have never ever gone near that place and the dragon, not even with an army. Therefore, their claim for it is not completely justified. 5. The dwarves were not to be blamed for the dragon stealing treasure from anywhere, and the stolen part of the treasure was also in Erebor, in the territory and under the command of the dwarves now, so I do not believe they could be obligated by anybody by any right to share it. 6. Bard’s claim that he had killed the dragon and therefore he wants a share from the treasure, though true, is not perfectly justified either. He killed the dragon because it threatened his people and not for the intention to claim the treasure. Had not the dragon attacked Lake-Town – and had not the thrush told Bard how to kill it –, Bard would have never killed it and would have never got near any of the treasure. And remember, the arrow he killed the dragon with had been made by dwarves. I am also sure that if Bard did not kill the dragon, the dwarves would have found a way to kill it sooner or later, especially given the fact that Bilbo knew its weak point. 7. I am not convinced that Thorin would not have negotiated with Bard, had the Elvenking left as he requested.
      Considering all the above, no one other than the dwarves had any kind of real right for the treasure, in my view. Even if the dwarves had been dead killed by the dragon as Bard and the Elvenking believed when they came to claim the treasure, they would have had no right for it, as it would have been the heritage of other dwarves then like Dain for example, but not in any way of men and especially not the Elvenking.
      And as for Dain being generous after Thorin’s death, it was much easier for him to do so, for it was not his, it was not him going through such mental and physical struggle to reclaim it, and he gave something to those that fought together with him, that is, being his allies, while Thorin experienced the opposite, that is, them being his enemies. So in this sense I do not think that his not willing to share the treasure can be blamed on greed or dragon sickness. By the way, they would not have been considered as enemies from Thorin’s side, had not the Elvenking imprison them and had not they come armed, claiming war on them. In other words, I believe they were considered as enemies due to their own behavior and not for Thorin’s perception and Thorin is not to blame for that from this respect.

      3. I do not think Thorin failed. On the contrary. Even if he had dragon sickness, he did come to his senses which is proved by that he came out of Erebor to fight in the BOFA. He left the treasure where it was, left it behind, for the sake of a greater and more noble purpose. He came out and gathered all kinds around himself, that is, also men and elves besides dwarves, not caring that they had claimed him enemy a minute ago. He took the lead against an enemy greater than all other. So do you think he failed? NO! He was there, in need, whatever the situation had been before, and all could count on him when it was about fighting the enemy. A great enemy. So what more proof would be needed for that he was one who could be counted on, more than the most, when someone was needed to fight a fierce enemy?

      • Raven Silver said:

        I am quite overwhelmed with facts…
        You are undoubtedly right with everything you’ve listed in response to my thoughts. Since, as I’ve said, I haven’t read the supplementary histories and tales in a *very* long time, I can only go on what’s in The Hobbit.
        However, all I was interested in was examining the statement that Gandalf did not go talk to Thorin. I still believe that Gandalf could easily have done so (after all, Gandalf has gotten in and out of even more difficult places than The Lonely Mountain). After all, it could only have been in Gandalf’s best interests to avoid a conflict between possible allies (in view of the larger threat looming at the horizon), or so I thought. So why didn’t he try to diffuse the situation? I was interested in finding a plausible answer for that question. After all, it would probably have saved many lives all around, or not?

        I meant no offence.

        It was a clumsy personal attempt to offer a simple conjecture on a facet of the story left unexplored – as far as I am aware.

        At no time did I intend to impugn or besmirch Thorin’s honor.

        • For what it is worth, Raven, I find your analysis of Gandalf’s potential motives very intriguing, and there was nothing clumsy about it. I’ll comment on it as soon as time permits.

          And we should all remember that discussing the honor and motives of characters is exactly what these comments are for, otherwise it gets very dull if we all have the same opinion.

          • I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

            I’ve been continuing to ponder the question, especially in light of all the information that Misty has shared in her comment, so I will probably add a few more thoughts to what I’ve posted above. 🙂

            Thank you for encouraging the discussion, for a moment there, I wasn’t sure whether I’d done the right thing to comment…

        • Dear Raven, please allow me to emphasize that offending you would have been the last thing I would have meant to do. My comment on your thoughts was nothing more than sharing my thoughts with you on the issue you dealt with, and by no means causing or meaning any harm or offense. If it felt like that or if my style seemed so, please take my sincere apology. I had to compile my long answer in a very short time, had only few minutes for it, so I quickly put down the thoughts I found most important to share as simply as possible and as quickly as possible. That was all. And do not think that your comment was clumsy. As D.J. said, this is what this blog is for. To share the different opinions and make them collide in the most harmless way. And that is how we learn from each other a lot. I am also looking forward to your further thoughts on the issue of Gandalf not talking to Thorin, and also your thoughts if you do not agree with me. A lot of people do not agree, as for example a lot of people do think that Thorin did have dragon sickness, or that he was greedy. That is what this forum is for. To discuss these. So please do continue to share your thoughts!
          And I also agree that Gandalf did have a ‘back-door’ intention, he did want to spoil Smaug, for the known reasons, and therefore Thorin’s intention to go to reclaim Erebor did meet his interests. I only wanted to say that it was Thorin who asked for help from Gandalf.

      • tigrislilium said:


        Altjough a part of me thinks it a pity no catapults were up & running on the mountain. ‘You want a share? Here you go. Catch!’

    • mmgilchrist said:

      I agree that Gandalf is sacrificing the House of Durin for his own ends. But I disagree about Thorin remaining a “weak link”. Setting aside the fact I do not believe in ‘dragon sickness’ as other than an authorial cop-out, we are told in the LotR Appendices that Dwarves are constitutionally immune to Sauron and the ring. All it does is heighten their love of gold (big deal). Indeed, I can’t help but think that the perfect hiding place for the ring would have been a Dwarven treasury: it wouldn’t be found, and it wouldn’t be given away: “Oh, it’s just another ring, not a very interesting looking one at that!”

      • That’s a very interesting point! and so often overlooked! if things are this way, then the Dwarves could have become the best race in ME, right? being pretty much immune to the ring – that would put them above everyone else. Thus, an incorruptible race could have done great deeds in the times to come, after the reawakening of Sauron. I wonder how Tolkien didn’t wish to develop this, but then I guess it was too late when he wrote these bits. Once, I heard someone commenting that Thorin would’ve gotten much worse if he had a ring, like his father had. He could have become like the ultimate corrupt person… but if Dwarves are immune, then oh, what a different story we could have had!

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Yes. I think part of the problem is Tolkien’s tendency (mirrored by Gandalf) to play favourites with the ME races: I do not like the way he treats the Dwarves at all (and the overtones of real-world racism that are invoked in their depiction). The Dwarf Kings have had rings of power for centuries, and it makes little difference to them. Perhaps being from the rocks and minerals themselves, they’re far more grounded as a people than the Elves or Humans.

          It’s one of the points I’m going to be addressing as my fanfiction progresses: that the survivors of the House of Durin know this, and know they were set up as pawns.

          • Hello,

            could you share the link to your fanfic? I like that idea and how it was addressed. I went another route in mine entirely, deciding that when the seven Rings failed to truly work on the dwarf Kings, they invoked a powerful curse instead. Something that still haunts Durin’s House. (In all honesty the whole idea became too long and too complext to explain in short.) But your fanfic sounds intriguing to me and I’d love to take a peek some time.


        • mmgilchrist said:

          We’re told that they cannot be enslaved to the will of another. Sauron & co really hate them because of that. They can’t use Dwarves; so they can only destroy them as brutally as possible.

          I think Tolkien’s/Gandalf’s use of the Dwarves is highly questionable. Because of the circumstances of their creation (not their doing) they are treated as second-rate in many ways. And I’m reminded of Wolfe’s infamous remark about his Highland troops in Canada:

          They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall. How better can you employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?

    • mmgilchrist said:

      The way the Dwarves are treated as expendable pawns reminds me of General James Wolfe’s comments about his Highland troops: “They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.”

      • mmgilchrist said:

        And he went on: “How better can you employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?”

        Sorry, but I can definitely see something of the way the Heirs of Durin are used in this.

  49. Raven Silver said:

    Thank you for examining my hypothesis so minutely. In my defense I need to say that the last time that I read either the Appendices *or* The Book(s) of Lost Tales was probably near to 30 years ago. So my memory of the history being revealed in these is not quite as perfect as yours. ^_^;;
    Allow me some time to re-read your arguments and think about them in more depth. If I can, then I will answer with my own thoughts to these matters.

    • My main-opinion is te same like Misty`s, but I had to think about your point further. Because for ME it is the biggest mystery ever, why Gandalf did NOT try to speak with Thorin! I asked myself that for hundred times yet. And I must say, something in your thoughts seems not impossible to me. To understand correct, I am complete with Misty in my judging about Thorin, I am also sure he defended dragon sickness at the end (IF he ever had it, what is not sure for me indeed, I see other causes for that than such a sickness) and was a worthy and true ally then…but……the question is NOT what I or Misty think about Thorin, but what GANDALF thought!. Its true, Thorin aksed for help but Gandalf told once he would not have helped him if it would not have fitted into his own plans….so in my opinion he helped him…but he also “used” him for his own intentions…mainly killing the dragonand make Middle-earth more sure that way. And maybe Galdalf really thought that Thorin is not a trustworthy ally in his “dragon-sickness” (I call it obsession) and therefor he refused to go into Erebor and speak with him? This was befor Thorin came out to fight at the side of men and elves, Galdalf could not foresee it in my opinion. So maybe he really let fall Thorin in front of the gate at that point, you can be right with that. But indeed this was one of the less faults Galdalf ever made in his time in Middle-Earth! Because Thorin was worth his trust at the end and I am sure he would have been a true ally in the ring-wars later. But even a wizard does not know all. And also the wisest onces can make mistakes…

      • mmgilchrist said:

        I agree. I think Gandalf regard the Dwarves as expendable tools. Tolkien changed his own view of the Dwarves by the time of LotR, but there is always a sense that they are the ‘neglected stepchildren’ of Middle-Earth, and don’t get the kind of authorial indulgence that Hobbits and Elves get.

  50. This is really well done. When I first read this book, I was completely conflicted on this particular matter. This not only shed new light, but also brought up arguments on the other side of things that I don’t think I’ve ever come across. I’m still undecided, but this just boosted my resolve to look at Thorin in a good light.

    Well done, Sir, well done.

  51. An excellent essay, and it’s wonderful to revisit it now, in advance of DOS! We’ll likely be seeing many of these elements come into play. Thanks, DJ!

  52. “In due time…”

    A very well-written article, and I agree with it. My husband read The Hobbit when he was a child and saw many of these things as well — he sided with Thorin and was annoyed at everyone else. I admit I am new to The Hobbit, but we both have had a lot of discussions about this very subject and I tend to feel the same way.

    I won’t repeat the same points or even add to it. I’ll just say that Christopher and I are glad to see an article making this point. Great job!

    • My son got read the “Hobbit” when he was only 5 years old, 2 years befor the movie. And knowing ONLY the words of the book…no movie, no Tales, no LOTR-appenidix..he told me about the end: “It is unfair. Why he had to die? He is not evil and he never earned that.” Amazing, how small children feel….without the knowledge of facts outside the book…without the understanding of psychologic aspects….they have a sure feeling of right and wrong, of good and evil. A feeling what most adults miss because we tend to think, to argue, to discuss too much maybe. My daughter, 5, knows AUJ and the rest of the book and also the end (told by her brother) and she told the same….

      • Indeed, Melian. My son (seven years old) got somewhat shocked when he learnt accidentally that they, Thorin, Fili and Kili were going to die (he saw a drawing, even before getting there in the book). He cried for about 20 minutes…. I often wonder that, as we know, The Hobbit was intended to be a children’s story, then why was it made to end this way? OK, I understand that Tolkien wanted to ‘demonstrate an example’, so to say – whatever – but instead of making children amused (at least smaller children) he rather shocked them and shook them and made them mourn with this ending. So with all due respect, Master Tolkien, you may have been too strict and stern on this. Yes, children can immediately feel – and so do most of us – that it was such an unfair ending, especially if we consider the followings: 1. Thorin DID HAVE a reason / cause for most of his deeds (just try to look at them from HIS point of view and not as an outsider), as it is also demonstrated in D.J.’s essay (and also in my humble post as a comment/addition to that). 2. Thorin DID OVERCOME his dragon sickness when he came out of his fort to fight, alongside with those who claimed him enemy just ‘one minute’ before, to protect not his own kin only, which is well proved by his words: “To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk!” 3. It is not only Thorin, but also the brothers who Tolkien makes fall. OK, I know that they would not have survived without each other for reasons discussed a thousand times, but still it is so unfair. The boys have done no wrong, so they deserved even less, if I may say that, this end. And to see one beloved – Thorin – fall jerks our – and the children’s heart (let us not forget about them either) to a shocking extent, but to heighten it even more to see three fall at the same time, is a hell of a knock-out. 4. And with that, the House of Durin, the greatest of all dwarfhouses, is also condemned to be wiped out…. So again, Master Tolkien, with all due respect (and remaining your humble fan), you may have gone a bit too far… (some of the Tolkien fans would now want to kill me for this I suppose…).

        • I cannot remember if there was much story on Thorin’s sister Dis, but I cannot help thinking if she was alive then, how shattered she must have felt on getting news that her brother and both sons had died. She had already lost her grandfather, parents and another brother. If JRRT wanted to make an example, then the punishment was not only on Thorin but Dis received the worst punishment ever.
          Punishment by death for being greedy – if it was greed – was too severe. The treasure was his after all. Well, mainly – and he did say he would talk to Bard without weapons and the Elvenking. Bard refused. So it was not only Thorin who was stubborn, so was Bard.

          • All of them were too proud and stubborn there…And did the Elvenkind not realize that it was his appearance in front of that gate what destroyed all? Not attached to the treasure, not to the dragons death, he should have gone away first, and I am sure Bard and Thorin would have found a way. By the way I believe if you would exchange Bard with Thorin and the Heir of Girion standing at Thorins place the result would be the same! He was also a proud and stubborn lord and hated to be insulted…just as Thorin.
            And indeed Dis is the one I am sorry for most. I ever thought she could be alive..and in the film she is indeed, as we learn from Kili. She is getting the hardest strike at the end, losing all what is left of her family! Beeing a mother of 2 children myself I cry thinking of her. I only hope PJ will NOT show us Dis in TABA..that I could not stand at all!

            • mmgilchrist said:

              Well, I’ve given her a leading role in my fic, if you’re interested… I see her as cut from the same cloth as her brothers, and she’s not going to let Thorin give up on life so easily…

            • Have you watch a YouTube video posted by Rhaina Colleen on Dis’s Dream? This is her link :
              By accident I found it on her friend’s profile page while looking for fics to read.
              The song One More Day by Diamond Rio with an assortment of fan arts aptly describe Dis’s feelings – (dare I say our feelings too?) – and is so heart-breakingly real. My only problem is someone seems to be cutting a lot of onions every time I’m watching it or thinking about it.

          • mmgilchrist said:

            Yes. Bard seems to have been working under the assumption (as Thorin suspected) that all the Dwarves would be dead. Coming with armed troops also makes me suspect that if they weren’t dead, he intended they soon would be.

            • I dont think Bard intended to fight against the dwarves. I guess he was sure to find them dead and the treasure his prize, the army was only for the possibility to find orcs or other bad folk there intending to claim the treasure too. But seeing the dwarves alive he changed his mind, disappointed to find the treasure guarded again. “Chances make thieves” is a quote what fits here best…he HAD that army and decided to use it to demand instead of asking Thorin kindly. And that decision was the beginning of the end.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        I had it read to me (and the whole of LotR) in installments as a bedtime story by my Dad when I was about 6. I wasn’t happy about it either (neither was my Dad), because frankly, Bilbo should have been thrown from the gate. Thorin has a far greater sense of honour, and should not have been the one apologising. Part of the problem, I think, is Tolkien’s tendency to compromise his love of the Icelandic and Norse sagas with his frankly odious brand of Christianity…

        • I don’t see Tolkien’s beliefs playing a role here, but rather his experience during the war. He was much like Bilbo, and that has been discussed extensively. He was avoidant… avoiding conflict… seeking for alternative solutions… seeing his comrades die… I also see Bilbo as the main culprit and, personally, I can’t forgive what he did. I am also perplexed by the writer’s choice to kill not only Thorin, but also his young nephews, thus compromising the strong line of Durin… Why he did that, it’s a mystery to me. It’s not explained by usual sin-and-punishment causalities. Perhaps Tolkien meant to make us see that our actions have serious consequences on those who are close to us? Maybe. Anyway, that could also be his way of explaining why there are no Dwarves left in the world today… Later on, with LOTR, that plan is clear… all those ancient creatures have left our world, one way or another…

          • The death of his nephews was part of the final revisions to book before printing, according to The History of the Hobbit. I think once Tolkien created Dain and decided he would be successor to Thorin that the nephews were suddenly in the way and had to go. It may have been as heartless as that.

            • mmgilchrist said:

              I think it would have made more sense to kill the boys and have Thorin recover (which is what I’m going with in fic). I really detested him apologising to Bilbo. Bilbo had betrayed him in the worst way imaginable, and should have been doing the apologising.

              • Hm. – Thorin surviving the boys? Wow. Now you MUST share where you store your stuff. I went with one survivor too in one story, but that was Kili, and with three survivors in the other story. So now you have me entirely curious.

          • mmgilchrist said:

            I think his religion plays a part in terms of making Thorin capitulate to ‘Hobbit values’ at the end, which Tolkien – for all his love of the Norse heroic ethos – clearly feels are in some sense ‘better’. I want Dwarves to be Dwarves, not Hobbits. (Although my take on it is that the poor man is simply feeling the loss of his nephews so much , he’s given up on life. Given the robustness of Dwarves – they don’t suffer from illnesses, so clearly have very strong immune systems – I would have thought that, having survived the night, he has a good chance of recovery. I think he just gives up the fight, though – dies of grief.)

          • I have read The Hobbit many times. Before the movie I always pictured Thorin as a stout old dwarf with long white beard who loved the sound of his own voice. But I loved him. To me he was like a grandfather who like to talk stories (mine did) and quite funny really because he made me smiled when talked on and on and on. I was also shocked when I first read the book and dicovered that he and his nephews died in the end. Till today everytime I read it I will cry at (1) when he was dying (I agree that Bilbo should have been the one to apologise), and when Bilbo was crying after that, I almost always find myself saying “it’s your fault”. (2) When they buried him and Bard put the Arkenstone on his breast. (3) When Bilbo said “Farewell Thorin Okenshield, Fili and Kili may your memory never fade”. I am looking forward to watching movie 2 and 3, but I’m also dreading it. I hope I wont be sobbing like Bilbo.

            • mmgilchrist said:

              Oh, I loved him in the book, too: like one of the old Viking warlords in the sagas.

              ‘when Bilbo was crying after that, I almost always find myself saying “it’s your fault”. ”

              – So do I! And “Let me through, I’m a doctor! – OK, so it’s a PhD, but one of my pals is a surgeon and I have an artist’s knowledge of anatomy and a Girl Guide badge in First Aid!” They’ll have to chain me to the seat in the cinema, or the ‘fourth wall’ may break…

              I could kick Bard, too.

      • tigrislilium said:

        He certainly hadn’t deserved seeing his sister-sons die defending him either. I think Tolkien was using a sledgehammer to belabor his morality.

        I do think any of the three would be capable of surviving their loss of another with proper support & time. Losing any 2, not so much.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          I had Dís remind him that it’s Elves who do things like die of grief, not Dwarves… She’s not going to let him behave like an Elf!

  53. Misty, do you know that in the first version Tolkien wrote….only Thorin was dying at the end but Fili and Kili survived? Was the version Tolkien invented´for his children…maybe he wanted to show that faults can lead to downfall and doom….But later he wanted to connect the Hobbit with LOTR and out of certain causes he wanted to have Dain as king..maybe its the reason he decided 3 years after the first version that Fili and Kili as Thorins heirs also had to die and that Durins line will be wiped out as the first one….the 4. age is the age of mankind…elves were leaving to Valinor never coming back…dwarves and hobbits disappeared slowly…so maybe it was the beginning of the adaption to make the Hobbit fitting into the universe of Middle-earth…

  54. I have not yet seen the movie DOS. I’m dreading it. Maybe I am jumping to conclusions here, but from the interviews especially with Richard Armitage who plays Thorin, I gather that the character will be darker in movie 2 and 3. I worry that Thorin will be shown just as an ungrateful and greedy king, solely to be blamed for all the troubles yet to come. I’m not saying he is pure and noble thro’ and thro’. I don’t mind that he’s going to be shown darker than he was in UEJ, but I hope they will also show the faults of the other characters as well and not make them pristine and pure and completely blameless. I still say Bilbo has no right to take the Arkenstone. JRRT of making the other dwarves having sympathy for him was just another way of isolating Thorin, make him the chief villain. Of course I will see the movie, but…

    • mmgilchrist said:

      “I hope they will also show the faults of the other characters as well and not make them pristine and pure and completely blameless. I still say Bilbo has no right to take the Arkenstone.”

      I agree. I fear that the dice are being loaded more heavily than in the book. I was concerned we didn’t actually see Bilbo pocket the Arkenstone in DoS. And I worry about the way Bard is being built up. Yes, well done him for shooting the dragon; but otherwise he’s something of an opportunist, as far as I see in the book. Thranduil we know is devious and seems to enjoy playing people off against each other.

    • Dont worry…not for DOS! Thranduil is obviously NOT shown as a pure and honorable character at all. About Bard we will see…he is sympathicially shown and even now he is blaming Thorin because of Smaug…he is not free in his opinion about him…..and….There was not one scene with Thorin not beeing reasonable there! He is more fixed on his close to it…naturally. But he cares for his people until the very last second. There are only some small hints that he will cross the borders between pride/courage and obsession in movie 3, but beside that small things he is courageous and noble like in AUJ…risking his own life and saving his people. Even after the worst hint on his later obsession…the scene with the sword and Bilbo out of the trailer, Thorin returns to his status as honorable leader who even tries to save Bilbo later again…and who trusts Bilbo in a way that his own life is layed in the Hobbits hands..if Bilbo fails to manage what Thorin told him…well…
      So, go to the cinema..and have no sorrow…Thorin is more of a hero in movie 2 than 1, especially against Smaug…

      • Thank you Melian, you have put a huge smile on my face

        • And I am sure you will like him even more after DOS, after watching him standing against the arrogant Elven king Thranduil in such an amazing way….after entering Erebor in a very emotional scene…and of course after facing Smaug like the real King he is. Enjoy the movie! There may be a day when we are all sad and shocked, when we cry and weep and when we curse fate and ask WHY…but this day is still far! Today we`ll see one still worth to follow him.

          • mmgilchrist said:

            Yes, he’s splendid against Thranduil – and it really brings out just how tiny he is! Just a wee thing! But so dignified.

            I am not looking forward to what Tolkien does to him in Part 3, but my personal preference is for what I’m ficcing, which is him recovering from his wounds, looked after by his sister and his friends.

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Norma – my fic is now up to chapter 8. Chapter 9 (which I’m going to work on over the holidays) will be a game-changer: the King Under the Mountain, though still weak, is back on his feet, and Baggins is set for humiliation…


          • Oh Yes! I have enjoyed chapter 9 too -(obviously I’m late reading your note). I really, really love your fic. I have it bookmarked and when completed I’ll be saving it for future reading. It’ll be nice to read it at one stretch like a book.
            When I first followed stories on the fanfiction site, I tried to login but twice I was rejected – I’m afraid I’m quite blur where the computer is concerned and I must have done something incorrectly (how embarrassing:)). So far I have not tried again. Anyway I always try to review….. now I am looking forward to Gandalf’s reaction to what happened to Bilbo in chapter 9:)

  55. Very well written essay. I enjoyed reading it immensely. In my view, what we think of Thorin depends on how we read his character – whether we merely follow the plot and character development in the novel, whether we also focus on Thorin’s life-history, motivations and intentions, and whether we also contemplate on Tolkien’s intentions behind writing Thorin’s character as it is. And of course, how we view Thorin’s character also depends on what we deem important in our own lives as adults.

    If we merely follow the plot, Thorin’s character goes through many shades in succession: ambitious and courageous, hotheaded and stupid, wily, greedy, ungrateful, arrogant and haughty, and then co-operative and courageous and finally accepting of his mistakes. Of all the traits he displays before the Battle of Five Armies, ambition and courage would certainly be considered positive universally, but most of his other traits would be considered negative; I think Tolkien meant them to be looked upon as such. I believe Tolkien is giving us his moral view of leaders in this novel meant primarily or children. Tolkien is trying to emphasize that although ambition, bravery and love for one’s own people are positive traits of a leader, they alone are not sufficient to make a successful and efficient leader. Whatever the motivation, a leader who is greedy, lacks tact, is hot-headed and arrogant and lacks the ability to compromise when necessary can become a disagreeable character and a poor leader (given that some of his own men were unhappy with him and he was about to plunge them into a battle against creatures who had actually helped his people regain control of the mountain by slaying the dragon). The Battle of Five Armies serves as Thorin’s penance in the novel, wherein he uses his positive traits and eventually his character regains the charisma that should have been his throughout the novel because he was, after all, the driving force behind it all.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      “he was about to plunge them into a battle against creatures who had actually helped his people regain control of the mountain by slaying the dragon”…

      …And who had then shown up, armed to the teeth, demanding (not requesting) gold with threats!

    • Yes the novel was written primarily for children. We teach children that when you make mistakes or you hurt someone’s feelings you apologise (that’s why I think Bilbo should at least apologise too for taking the Arkenstone and keeping/giving it away without permission) and you mend your ways. Thorin apologised and to have him killed is a very harsh lesson. It would have been better example not only for his nephews but also to young readers if he lived to rule his kingdom fairly and wisely. He did not refuse to cooperate but he wanted to talk to Bard without the Elvenking and without weapons.
      Bard slaying the dragon? – with a black arrow made by the dwarves – wonder what would happen if it was just any old arrow 🙂

      • mmgilchrist said:

        Yes: I agree, it would have been better had he lived. And Bilbo showed no real sign of understanding his own responsibility: he should have given Thorin the Arkenstone as soon as he found it. That was his job.

        Bard was out of order, too, making demands with an Elven army. That’s not a good move at all when you’re dealing with someone who’s been imprisoned by Elves and is basically at the end of his tether.

        You have a point, too (pun intended) about the arrow.

        • Also Bilbo tried to justify his action after Thorin died. After scolding himself for making a “…great mess of that business with the stone; and there was a battle, in spite of all your efforts to buy peace and quiet, but I suppose you can hardly be blamed for that.”
          That’s not repenting – it’s not even feeling sorry.

          • mmgilchrist said:

            No, it’s basically shrugging off any responsibility in a very immature way: it’s all about ‘him’. He just wanted ‘peace and quiet’ and to get home, and didn’t really give a stuff about what else was at stake. It leaves a very nasty taste. I hope (in the film) he has to face up to things properly. I certainly want to make him do so in fic: to realise that actions have consequences and that he has to take a good chunk of blame. The others were all behaving according to their respective cultural honour-codes, but he was just plain irresponsible.

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Also, I’m not sure how you can say “ungrateful”:

      If you mean re: Bilbo – Bilbo sacrificed any claim to gratitude by not giving him the Arkenstone when he found it, and then by giving it to the Tall Folk.

      If you mean re: Bard – There is another man who could do with a lesson in tact and diplomacy. People tend to react badly if you confront them with an army and make demands (not requests) with the threat of violence.

    • Thank you for this brilliant summary Amit. I think you are right that how we view Thorin’s actions as positive or negative is based on our own values. And if anything that is what makes the character facinating (at least for me). The reactions he evokes in readers, and perhaps in viewers of the film (once we get the full picture) is more interesting than what he actually does (I mean let’s face it, he isn’t the most well-written of Tolkien’s characters). Before the films came out, and Thorin became more widely appreciated as a hero, I remember reading hundreds of comments from people who may not have been as convinced of his majestic standing, but still found much to love and support him for. And an equal number saw him as a prideful jerk who got what he deserved. The core strength of character is the conflict he creates, both in the story and our hearts.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        I think it also depends on how much you know of the kind of literature on which Tolkien was drawing when he created his characters. ‘The Hobbit’ was read to me when I was about 5 or 6 (I can’t recall exactly, only that it was in the house we moved from when I was 6, so must be around then or before); at 9, I was reading ‘Njal’s Saga’ in the Penguin Classic translation. I ‘get’ Dwarves completely, in a way I don’t ‘get’ Hobbits at all. I understand them and can relate to them.

  56. Three Little GreenMen said:

    Beautiful essay! Best character study I have read in such a long time.

    I always thought that Thorin was a jerk but I always understood what it meant to be ‘King Under the Mountain’. It made me cry to remember that he needed to make peace with Bilbo before his death.
    I always thought that Bilbo was unique as was Frodo. They were not easily corruptible like men, dwarves or even elves. Hobbits do have greed as exemplified by the Sackville Bagginses. But both Frodo and Bilbo were not swayed by treasure or corrupted by power and hence maybe they were the only true ones who could be the ring bearers. I dare to think that even the Great Eagle Gwaihir could not have borne Frodo to Mount Doom because the ring would corrupt him along the way.
    I was always puzzled at how Bilbo could want so little for himself. Maybe Gandalf chose him for this exactly….

  57. mmgilchrist said:

    The Hobbit was written in the ’30s (pre-WW2), and has far less to do with his WW1 experiences than LotR. But for me, that anachronistic mind-set is part of the problem with the works.

    I enjoy his world-building, but he seems unwilling (I think because of his background) to let go and enjoy it as an early mediæval world on its own terms. Too much finger-wagging. His translations, such as Sigurd & Gudrun, are more satisfying in that respect, because he puts his tweedy Oxford reactionary self on the back-burner.

  58. mmgilchrist said:

    Oh, I get the absurdity, but I find it irritating rather than charming (and Bilbo as a person extremely irritating), and hate the way he doesn’t suffer any real consequences himself (although that, at least, is perhaps realistic).

  59. mmgilchrist said:

    I think, too, what jars is that Bilbo is allowed off the hook by the author for everything he does. Gandalf backs him up (as the author’s voice, in effect), and he doesn’t really suffer. It’s very different from Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, which also has a 19C person (which Bilbo also is, in essence) in a mediæval-type setting. There it also ends in tragedy (as such stories of anachronistic interlopers must) and the protagonist himself suffers the consequences.

    • I think the tragidy exists, just of a different quality then you’d like it to be. Bilbo went home a very messed up man (…er…hobbit). He was eccentric and a bit loopy. you can say its a part of his heroic arc, but it is very akin to what was experienced by british soldiers after world war one.

      Thorin died, but Bilbo had to live like that for the rest of his life.

      • Thats right. But you may not forget that Thorin himself suffered in such a trauma after the dragons attack for more than 170 years of his life …befor he went on this quest! He died in the last consequence while Bilbo was honored by getting a place at a ship sailing to the Undying Lands. So both their fate is really very different and their tragedy is not so easily to compare. Bilbo returned after that quest as a rich man, a bit odd in the eyes of most hobbits. But he experienced the happiness of having a family with Frodo too, he had a safe and comfortable life and went to live in Rivendell later fulfilling one of his dreams. And the greatest prize was awaiting at the end. How much luck and happiness was in Thorins life?

        • I would liken that also to the survivers of world war one. Some lived and others didn’t. it don’t believe that thorin died because he didn’t “deserve” to live. His death is a tragedy of war: people who deserve to live are denied life.

          • I want to believe that this is the deeper meaning of the book in the end: that war, caused of whatever reasons, destroys all and everyone…and brings tragedy also above people who do not earn that. But many readers of the book see the morality of it in showing that a person, failing his way and making terrible faults, can regret and return to the path of good at the end. But if so, Thorins fate seems to hard to me. After his changing at the end he should have got the chance to rule as the king he should have been and find even a little happiness. But thinking about that Tolkien himself was catholic and that faithful people see the biggest prize to reach heaven at the end of their life…well, directly after realizing his faults and making his peace to Bilbo, Thorin joins the ranks of his ancestors in the dwarvish “heaven”, the Halls of Awaiting….Maybe the secret with that book is that it allows many meanings for many different people, otherway it would not be such a success all over the world!

            • I agree Melian. Just conversing with people on here opened my eyes to how many different interpretations there are for these characters. It’s a gem of literature just for being constructed so. For myself, I think Thorin was a great man (err…dwarf) and I can’t imagine anything but glory awaiting him and that all the things he’s lost in life will be restored to him.

              • mmgilchrist said:

                I’m afraid “pie in the sky when you die” has always struck me as frankly immoral snake-oil. Tolkien believed it (he had a lot of peculiar views) , but I think he was being unjust to his characters to take the view, “It doesn’t matter if they get killed gratuitously, because they’ll get their reward in an afterlife”. No, it doesn’t convince me even in a fantasy novel. When people are dead, they’re dead, and no amount of wishful thinking can make that into a ‘good thing’.

            • mmgilchrist said:

              And I think that’s dreadful. For a start, Biilbo was at fault and should have been the one apologising, and I find the ‘religious’ angle quite nauseating. No, it is not ‘better’ for someone to die under these circumstances. I profoundly despise the idea.

              • Well, I can’t really respnd to that. That is your perception and is in no way a reflection upon the book. I’m not particularly fond of Phillp Pullman’s veiw of theology and organized religion, but as a reader I need to accept it to understand the meaning he is trying to convey.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        But Bilbo never seems really to face up to his own culpability in what has happened. There’s no sense of facing his moral responsibility over the Arkenstone, & c.

        He becomes a bit eccentric, but there’s no real sense of shell-shock, which is the analogy you’re trying to make (there is with Frodo, whose ability to lead a normal life is destroyed, but not with Bilbo).

        • Some people do go through horrible things and continue on with “normal” lives.

          Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but, I don’t believe make it less tragic, it just makes it different kind of tragedy.

          I don’t believe Bilbo can be written off as not facing the consequences for what he did. But still he believed he was doing the right thing, and the stories he told his nieces and nephews reflected that perception.

          Perhaps if Tolkien haf lived longer, we would have gotten Thorin’s side of the story (That would have been facinating!). But the hobbit isn’t a epic tale, its a personal tale; a deconstruction of myth.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        Quite. As already noted, Bilbo doesn’t seem to feel any guilt for his role in what happened, either. ‘It couldn’t be helped’… He justifies his actions to himself, and the author lets him off the hook.

  60. RavensJewel said:

    The entire discussion of Thorin’s choices and actions at the gates of Erebor put me in mind of a quote (I believe) from Woodrow Wilson: “There is too high a price to pay for peace – one cannot pay the price of self-respect.” I think this is what it came down to for him.

  61. David M. said:

    Coming rather late to the party, but truly well done.

    I actually found this after writing a similar piece to help sort out my own thoughts on the subject (not so complete and well written as yours).

    Perhaps the one thing that struck me hardest when pondering this situation is the thoughts that must have been running through Thorin’s head when Bilbo admits to taking the Arkenstone.

    Why didn’t Bilbo simply ask for his 14th share (which Thorin may have been quite willing to give him given their relationship at that point and the help Bilbo had offered) and then present that vast wealth to Bard? Is Thorin then forced to consider that Bilbo may have taken his most prized possession, the heirloom of his family, and given it to his enemies simply to hurt him? Of course Bilbo did not do this, but wouldn’t Thorin be almost forced to think it when Bilbo said let the Arkenstone count as my 14th share. We know Thorin claimed the Arkenstone alone of all the hoard as his own, so Bilbo’s claim would be completely invalid to Thorin. Very few of us I think can truly fathom the betrayal, as Thorin’s situation is so singularly remarkable.

    Also, I fear I must disagree with the conclusion that Thorin’s “descendant of rats” comment implies he was still prejudice. He was just betrayed, and he was mad. In his anger he said something unfair and untrue, just as all of us have likely done to friends and/or family with no need for there to be an existing prejudice against them.

    Let me reiterate the quality of this essay.

    • Thank you David. Those are good questions. I think the trouble would always have been that Bard and the Elvenking were not willing to wait. Even if the dwarves had agreed to give in to their demands I wonder if they would have been given the chance to properly parcel out the shares before the army outside grew impatient. I tend to think the Elvenking and Bard were less interested in a peaceful resolution as they were in a bloodless invasion. They were originally demanding 1/12th share of the treasure to be given to the dragon slayer, and advising Thorin to give a bit of his own share if he wanted the transaction to end on friendly terms. I don’t know where they got that number, but it was more than Bilbo’s 1/14th. But they underestimated the effectiveness of the wall which the dwarves built up, and when Bilbo mentioned they were going to be stuck between Dain’s army and the mountain, they backed down to 1/14 share (to ransom the stone). Obviously none of the people involved knew how to handle angry dwarves, except perhaps Bilbo. A little tact early on might have gone a long way. Bilbo was correct when he said Thorin would rather sit on the treasure and starve before giving them anything on demand. And because Bilbo did not agree with that mentality, and appears to have neglected to make any attempts at verbal persuasion, he was going to do it his way. But Bilbo is seeing it from a hobbit frame of mind, not a dwarven one, even though he can see the importance of the Arkenstone to Thorin. The feeling I get from Bilbo is exasperation. He’s tired of the quest. It should have ended happily once the dragon is dead. The fact that they are about to fight over gold is ridiculous and irrational to him. So he’s found a sneaky way to make everyone stop and listen to his point of view, and hopefully they will all start behaving like proper folk again. But he is naive in the fact he underestimated Thorin’s rage against him (though I wonder what he had expected).

      As for the possible prejudice, you have a point, and it may have been a thoughtless insult. I wrote this essay based only on The Hobbit without influence from The Unfinished Tales, so I can’t reference Thorin and the dwarves’ apparent disdain for hobbits which crops up in a few paragraphs there. And Tolkien most likely wrote UT later. But in The Hobbit the dwarves show a general sluggishness to fully accept Bilbo’s worth, and even when they can’t deny it, and they praise him, they soon forget it again. That strikes me as them having a preconceived, and well established notion of what hobbits are good for. But that is still a far way off from Thorin’s description of Bilbo’s heritage. 🙂

      • Only a silly thought of me: Hobbit live in holes in the ground just like rats, their houses are not to compare with huge dwarvish halls. Maybe in his rage Thorin used that comparision? And of course he was angry beyond all borders. I also think Bilbo did not understand the WHOLE meaning of the Arkenstone for Thorin, he underestimated his reaction completely. But honestly…when I read the book for the first time over 10 years ago, I read Bilbo sentence “I gave it to him!”…lay down the book at the table..covered my eyes with both hands and only thought: “Bilbo, are you completety insane to tell THAT to Thorin? Are you tired of life?” Thorins reaction was too clear to me. So well I guess Hobbits are a bit naive…really..
        Speaking about the Arkenstone…first Bilbo took it because it was so beautiful…the matter of worth and a share of the treasure came later. And once he gave that stone out of hand he could not change his offer into a 14th part anymore, because Bard and the Elvenking had the stone now.
        Very right, the problem was the DEMAND instead of asking for something.
        And I am also very sure Thorin would never ever have given in if his foes demand that way…..his pride was too strong for that. And if he would give in he had to fear such things would happen sometimes again: A mighty king should not bow to opponents who want to force and demand, he would lose his face and would seem weakly. To do that way was the biggest fault Bard did.
        Maybe if he would have come alone…with the offer to a private meeting…without weapons and armies and with a mug of wine maybe, sitting at one table and speaking about lost Dale, burned Esgaroth and destroyed Erebor…I think he could have succeeded and got his part from Thorin.
        But the way Bard tried to force Thorin only made the fronts harder…this whole thing was a desaster in diplomacy at all!

        • mmgilchrist said:

          Agreed. It’s making a demand, backed by threat of armed force, that’s Bard’s mistake. There was no justification for that as an approach, and to me, that suggests quite a bit about Bard’s personality. There was no reason to threaten the Dwarves with an army. (Some of this smacks of Thranduil’s agenda, mind.)

      • David M. said:

        Very good points.


    • mmgilchrist said:

      Good comment. I think Bilbo’s behaviour about this is unforgivable, and always found the book deeply unsatisfying because the author seems to indulge him in this, and make Thorin be the one to give the grovelling apology, when it should have been Bilbo. Bilbo knew what the Arkenstone was, but decided to keep it because he thought it was pretty, without telling Thorin he’d found it. He then gave it away because he didn’t like any unpleasantness and wanted to go home. He never shows any real remorse for his betrayal.

      • David M. said:


        Your right that the “author” often supports Bilbo even when many readers would not.

        I sometimes wonder if this can be explained by the fact that in a sense Bilbo is the author. In UT Gandalf admits that if he were to write the story it would have sounded rather different than Bilbo’s version. I am not sure of Tolkien’s intent, and considering that The Hobbit was a bedtime story at first he may not have taken thought to this, but lately I have chosen to attribute the differences in style and tone between The Hobbit and the LotR as differences of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s.

        That is Frodo clearly seems the more “historian” type while Bilbo seems the more “journalist” type. One concerned with impartiality and the other with telling his story the way it seemed to him (with a bit more exaggeration and satire?).

        Again I imagine the difference actually stems from Tolkien’s “growing” as an author and developing his style. However; I like how Tolkien styled his own books as stories written by characters in his own world and see no harm taking that one step further…

  62. Amazingly well written and thoughtful essay. Thanks for publishing it.

  63. We must not forget the main underlying theme of the whole story which is the acquiring of form to the most devasting evil the author of the books sees to existence within his imaginary world and the process of acquiring said form which is the subtle enslavement of entire nations and the use of the one ring being carried from one entity to another till it arrives back in the evil ones hand once again making him whole. Gandalf senses it only now and the as lady g then the unwise elven king and a few times by thorin who gives bilbo a few sideways glances every now and then setting in motion the end result of two young hobbits that would eventually roll reverse with the hero becoming the threat and an unlikely humble servant becoming the hero. Tolkien was once asked if he had any free mason or illuminati associations. He always said no. But I strongly feel he did as if follow the stories of each king and their nations they have strong spiritual ties to old and new testaments and the hidden paths the Jesus had to take from burning bush thru prophets Herod and unholy kings to the final salvation of creation. If you look at what thorium was trying to reacquire

    • mmgilchrist said:

      Tolkien was a very reactionary Catholic. He didn’t have any Masonic connections. He was a man who took both the Norman Conquest and the Reformation as offences against him personally.

  64. Continuing on from my interrupted previous comment thorins treasure is to him like Jesus returning to find his first temple treasure including his arch of the covenant now stolen by bilbo the Babylonian something so near and dear to Jesus that could unite his 12 tribes and communicate with the holy Heavenly Father as devastating an experience as could be to his heart knowing that in the future of his futures he would have to sacrifice himself to reunite all people into peace and slay a dragon satan re released after a 1000 millennial golden age and watch it all be torn apart again like gimmely the dwarf witness the final destruction of Moira and most of his kin. An interesting note the mount where Isaac offered his son to god which would have ended the future of israel was moriah.

  65. mmgilchrist said:

    I’ve now seen the third film, and while I enjoyed it in its own terms, I think there was too much of a Hobbitwash going on… Poor Thorin. And he and the boys didn’t even get their magnificent last stand, fighting alongside each other in the thick of the battle.

    • To be honest they have simplified the moral dilemmas which were present in the last part of the book (which was my main fascination with The Hobbit text itself) to such a point that I see no purpose in further debating anything about the film. And yes, so much for honor and glory. The lack of a funeral scene makes that loss even more palpable. Does anyone even care much at the end, besides Bilbo? We sure don’t get to see it if they do. And do not speak to me of Extended Editions! 😀 A movie should be judged on what they felt was important enough to keep in, not some scraps they may or may not feed us later.

      • mmgilchrist said:

        I can understand holding the funeral for the EE just because of the release date: bad enough “See your favourite Dwarves die! Happy Yule!” – the funeral would have been rubbing salt in, especially for the younger viewers, although it is vital plot resolution (especially re: the Arkenstone). The loss of the last stand really irked me, but then, my mental vision of it would probably be pushing an 18 Certificate, and of course, the films have been far more child-friendly.

        We did see the other Dwarves kneeling in homage around their king.

        But yes, I had feared a Baggins whitewash, and ’twas as I feared. On the other hand, the friends I went with are a surgeon and a NHS administrator (though I’m not sure how she is on keeping records in runes!), so afterwards in the café we spent much time discussing the rescue and tending of Dwarves… (Not least that a certain Dwarvish party would probably get rather stroppy about having to be tethered to a chest-drain, once he was sufficiently conscious… He’d be a very trying patient. But worth it!)

  66. Very insightful essay. Certainly one of the most nuanced discussions about the Hobbit I’ve seen.
    After I read all the books I was pretty bothered by how Tolkien talks about the different races of Middle-earth. It seems that according to Tolkien, whether or not you’re a good person doesn’t depend on your strength of character, but on your race. Especially when you see how he talks about dwarves compared to elves, it’s like he considers the elven race to be better. I much prefer a story in which people are good or evil because of the choices they make, and not because what they happened to be born as, seeing as they don’t have any control over that.

  67. Sometimes I feel like Tolkien used Thorin as a means of showing what any of us would have done in the same exact situation, even if we as readers saw ourselves above that behavior. We pontificate Thorin as if we are the better, when Tolkien all along knows we are Thorin, not Bilbo. It’s as if Tolkien means for Bilbo to hold us up in front of ourselves saying “here, look”. We follow Bilbo as if we are to experience the book through his lens (since he is after all the “author” of the tale) and therefore associate our conscience with his. But Bilbo is merely the voice of reason calling us back to sound thinking. We are only viewing ourselves (Thorin) externally through the eyes of another (Bilbo).

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