Thursday, January 27, 2011

Was Thorin Right?

At the end of The Hobbit, was Thorin correct or right to refuse to deal with Bard and the Elvenking when they came to the Lonely Mountain to parley with the Dwarves about the treasure?

As most of us seemed, in class, to believe that Thorin was absolutely wrong in his behavior and his logic, I'm going to argue for him!

It's a problematic assertion that Thorin is in any way obligated to give the Men (or Elves) part of his treasure. It is, after all, his. I like to draw the analogy that if your was infested by a bear, and your neighbor helped you to get rid of the bear, do you then "owe" your neighbor part of your house? After all, without him, you wouldn't have the house at all. But it is of course stillyour house.

So Thorin may be more right from a legalistic point of view in not "owing" the Men any treasure.

But is it right morally?

Probably not. Many people of Laketown died, and the town itself was entirely destroyed, and the Captain Bard did kill the dragon. Certainly the neighborly thing to do would be to send as much aid as he could spare--after all, there is a lot of it.

A few things that may further excuse Thorin's greed are the Elves and the armies. The Elves have a very feeble claim to the gold (other than the Elvenking's love of shiny things) except that they aided the Men of Laketown after the disaster and perhaps, in a roundabout way, are owed some recompense. Thorin must not have been pleased to see them in the first place, which would put him in a foul mood.

Additionally, both the Men and the Elves bring armies even before talking to Thorin, implying that, before negotiations have even begun, they will take the treasure if Thorin does not give it up. (I also personally find it difficult to believe that they require very much monetary aid if they can muster an army.)

Are Thorin's actions, therefore, right? He is certainly morally reprehensible and merciless, but I posit that the Men and the Elves are acting as much out of greed as the Dwarves are, and it is a three-way problem of greed and pride which brings about this conflict.



Fingolfin said...

I believe that Thorin was only "half-right" in a way. As Maeglin mentioned, I believe that Thorin owed a debt to the humans of Laketown not only on account of the destruction of their town by Smaug, but also because the humans sheltered and fed Thorin and the dwarves in their time of need and supplied them on their journey to Smaug's lair. It was particularly cruel then, in my opinion, to refuse to help them. The elves, however, had no such claim to the treasure and I believe that Thorin was right in refusing them. I think, then, that Thorin's reaction was mostly brought on by the circumstances he was placed in. Having only just rediscovered his treasure, the goal he had been driving towards since the beginning, I believe he was loath to let even some of his most prized possession go. The fact that the elves came with no claim to the gold and the fact that both humans and elves brought armed forces also pushed Thorin into denying the humans and elves at the foot of the mountain.

Diamond Took said...

In the past I was mildly disgusted upon reading about Thorin's actions near the end of The Hobbit. After reading Maeglin's post I feel slightly more sympathetic but another thought comes to mind.

If we put aside the notions of morality and justice, which are very subjective and could prompt endless debate with little conclusion, it seems to me that Thorin acted as a poor king when he denied payment. After all, the price demanded by the men and elves would have deprived the dwarves only of a small fraction of the entire treasure. By the dwarves' own description of the wealth it seems that they could have lived comfortably even if they gave away most of it.

Even if Thorin saw payment as unjust, he should have recognized that appeasing the two races that live in such close proximity to his newly reclaimed home would be a simple way to stabilize foreign affairs (of course at this point knowledge of the goblins was nonexistent). I think most of us agree that the price set wasn't so unreasonable that Thorin would have to worry about a pattern of siege and ransom if he caved one time. This is especially true because it is clear that the men and elves are not fundamentally evil societies.

Given these observations I've had to conclude that Thorin's greed or pride or whatever was clouding his judgement. It would be interesting to hear if anyone else has an opinion on whether or not Thorin's decision was for the best of his people.