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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lipshaw on Contracts in Middle Earth

Bilbo_and_gollum Although Middle Earth contract theory is not an overly studied subject, it seems clear that Elvish or Numenorian jurisprudence holds to an autonomy and freedom basis for contract versus a more utilitarian welfare maximization theory.  In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who has chanced on the One Ring underneath the mountains, makes a bargain with Gollum that the two will play a riddle game.  If Gollum wins, he will eat Bilbo, and if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the mountain.  Bilbo stumps Gollum with the question "What have I got in my pocket?"  (Left, the riddle contest going on the subterranean darkness.)

Later, in the prologue to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien comments:

The Authorities, it is true, differ whether this last question was a mere "question" and not a "riddle" according to the strict rules of the game; but all agree that, after accepting it and trying to guess the answer, Gollum was bound by his promise.  And Bilbo pressed him to keep his word; for the thought came to him that this slimy creature might prove false, even though such promises were held sacred, and of old all but the wickedest things feared to break them.

There is no indication, from the text at least, that Tolkien consulted with his fellow Oxford don, P.S. Atiyah, on this

                                                 -- Jeff Lipshaw

[Frank Snyder]

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