Gold Shall Have No Dominion

by Varda

You all know how much I love the Hobbit, but one good thing about the new film was it sent me back to re-read it. My old feeling that it was one dark book has been reinforced, most of all the character of Thorin. I don't know how PJ will deal with it, but Thorin's whole reaction to Bilbo filching the Arkenstone was pretty horrible. And his attitude to the Laketown people who wanted (not unreasonably, given they had lost their homes to the dragon) a share of the treasure was pretty despicable.

I think Tolkien is showing a man in the grip of greed. I thought of Galadriel's words to Gimli 'Your hands will flow with gold but over you gold shall have no dominion.' She really was the lost leader of the White Council, the wisest of them all. She knows the terrible weakness of the Dwarves, Thorin's weakness; gold.

Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford and I was struck recently by echoes of Thorin while watching a programme about the hoard of Saxon gold found not long ago in Staffordshire. This was a vast amount of gold almost entirely taken from sword fittings, ceremonially broken or bent and just dumped in a hole in the ground. The craftsmanship is breathtaking and nothing like this from early Saxon times was ever found in England before. The gold is teased into intricate designs of animals and stylised bearded warriors, all inlaid with blood coloured garnet. Experts have reckoned that to make even one piece (and thousands were found) needed several hundred Byzantine gold coins, melted down. This was the hoard of a warrior king of the Saxons, made for display of wealth and military power.

The link with Thorin was that just before that programme was another in the Time Team series where they tried to find the real location of Hastings battlefield, where the Saxons were defeated by the invading Normans. They had a lot of trouble finding where the battle was actually fought, in the end settling on a rather prosaic traffic roundabout. But while they searched, someone said 'By the way, why DID Harold fight the battle at all? he could have just worn the Normans down and starved them out'

I thought of all that gleaming Saxon gold and a Saxon king just itching to show it, and his prowess, off in battle. Greed and pride, just like Thorin.

When Tolkien wrote the Hobbit I believe a number of themes came to him which he worked out more fully in LOTR. One has to be the nature of the good leader. Thorin turns out to be a bad leader not because he is bad himself, on the contrary he is noble and brave. But his obsession with gold, and his pride, fatally weaken him as a leader. In LOTR Tolkien shows his heroes, like Aragorn and Frodo, and even the Dwarf Gimli, strong against the dominion of gold. Aragorn is proud but not in the way of Thorin, or even of Denethor, but in a quiet, self-effacing way. One who leads as it were from the ranks without display.

As Wormtongue observes to Saruman 'His cloth was poor'....

Now, admit it, you are thinking 'oh boy, a Musing. Haven't had one of those for ages. Come to think of it, haven't missed them' shock

Thanks for listening folks.