The Hobbit and the Law of the Rings
By R. D. Flavin

     Peter Jackson's new movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, officially opens in North American theaters today.  It's the first installment in a planned three-part film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's award-winning 1937 fantasy novel for children, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.  Jackson's An Unexpected Journey will be followed by The Desolation of Smaug in 2013 and There and Back Again in 2014.  The titular lead character, Bilbo Baggins, is hired as a “burglar” by a group of dwarves to steal gold and treasures once owned by their ancestors, but taken by a dragon some two centuries previously.  Burglary is widely regarded as criminal behavior, Tolkien was an Oxford philologist who knew better than most the meanings and etymologies of English words, and on appearance alone it seems odd that Tolkien would recommend to children that violating the law was somehow permissible.  In fantasy writing, as elsewhere, “There is a lot more …. than you might guess...”

     For many, if not most, a burglar is someone who without invitation enters a residence or business with an intent to steal.  Usually at night, though modern interpretations of the term allow for day-time criminal occurrence.  And, stealing or plundering isn't always the motive, as other games may be afoot.  Sure, we've grown accustomed to an interpretation which imagines someone in a mask and black clothes (Catwoman!), or a thug or a junkie kid or whoever ...breaking and entering to further criminal goals and/or aspirational intentions.  Sometimes we acknowledge the mountain, at other times we are content to visit and perhaps make a drawing or take a photograph, and then there are those who climb the mountain...  And, of course, there are those who choose to walk around the mountain.  [Note: Bringing the mountain to one's self à la Mohammed, is {I believe} beyond the scope of this column.]  The hero of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, climbed the mountain and, furthering happenstance, survived the mountain and received ...great praise and reward.  So, did Bilbo break the law by consenting to and becoming a burglar in the hire of some dwarves?

     By necessity, a consultation of The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition 1989, electronic version 2000) shows:

burglar, n.

Pronunciation: /ˈbɜːɡlə(r)/

Forms: burglour, burghlar, burgleyer, burglare, burglayer.

Etymology: Found in Anglo-Norman French in 16th cent.: < Anglo-Latin burglator (13th cent.), burgulator (16th cent.), altered form of burgator (13th cent.), perhaps < the first element of burgh-breche , the native English term for burglary. The Anglo-Latin verb burgulare (quasi ‘to burgle’) is recorded in 1354 ( Assis. 27 Edw. III, quoted in Reeves Hist. Eng. Law ed. Finlason II. 419). The 13th cent. Anglo-Norman word for ‘burglar’, burgesour , burgeysour , is of obscure formation, but of the same ultimate origin. The related burglary n. is in legal Anglo-Norman burglarie, in Anglo-Latin burgaria, burgeria (early 13th cent.), for which burglaria is found in 16th cent. The origin of the intrusive l, in burglator, burglaria, and the corresponding English forms, is not clear; but the notion of Lambarde (1581) and later writers that the ending -lar represents Anglo-Norman ler-s, laroun ( < Latin ˈlatro, laˈtrōnem) thief, is contrary to the evidence. A ‘burglator’ or ‘burgesour’ was not necessarily a ‘latro’; his object might be something else than plunder.

No corresponding words are known in continental Old French or medieval Latin; the rare Old French burger ‘saccager, piller’ (Godefroy), occurring in Garnier's Vie de Saint Thomas, is unconnected, unless perhaps this sense of the word may be due to Anglo-Norman influence.

     Harrumph, indeed!  My electronic Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) provides an origin for burglar as: “C 16: from legal French burgler or Anglo-Latin burgulator, burglator; related to Old French burgier 'pillage'.”  Yeah, I'm not feeling the love, ...yet.

     Early 13th century is pretty good, but we can do better.   English is regarded as a Germanic language, specifically as a pidgin used by the Angles to communicate with the Saxons (and, possibly, with the Jutes as well).  Comparative linguists credit the English Jesuit missionary, Thomas Stephens, as being the first to recognize a relationship between Indian languages and Greek and Latin in 1583.  Suggestions of language relationships continued intermittently until 1786, when Sir William Jones publicly discussed the similarities between Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Gothic, Celtic, and Persian.  The language 'family' was named “Indo-European” in 1813 by Thomas Young, a medical doctor and renowned polymath.

     A favorite resource for many years, the “Indo-European Roots” section of the Appendix to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1978 edition), has proven invaluable time and again.  For 'burglar', the reader is instructed to see the IE root bhergh-2.  I'll present both:

bhergh-1. To hide, protect. 1. Germanic *bergan in: a. compound h(w)als-berg-, “neck-protector,” gorget (*h(w)alsaz, neck; see kwel-1); b. compound *skēr-berg-, “sword-protector,” scabbard (*skēr-, sword; see sker-1). 2. Zero-grade form *bhrgh- in: a. Germanic *burgjan in Old English byrgan, to bury: BURY; b. Germanic derivative *burgisli- in Old English byrgels, burial: BURIAL. 3. a. Germanic *borgēn, to borrow (? < “to take care of one's own interests, entrust, pledge, lend, loan”), in Old English borgian, to borrow: BORROW; b. Germanic derivative *borganjan in Old French bargaignier, to haggle: BARGAIN. [Pok. bhergh- 145.]

bhergh-2. High, with derivatives referring to hills and hill-forts. 1. Germanic *bergaz, hill, mountain, in a. Old English beorg, hill: BARROW-2, BARGHEST; Old High German bërg, mountain: BERGSCHRUND; Old Norse berg, mountain: ICEBERG; Middle Dutch berch, hill: SPITZENBURG. 2. Compound harjabergaz, “army-hill.” hill-fort (*harjaz, army; see koro-). 3. Compound *berg-frij-, “high place of safety,” tower (*frij-, safety, peace; see prï-), in Frankish *bergfridh, in Old French berfrei, tower: BELFRY. 4. Zero-grade form *brgh- in Germanic *burgs, hill-fort, in: a. Old English , burg, burh, byrig, (fortified) town: BURG, BOROUGH, (BURROW), CANTERBURY, (etc.): b. Old High German burg, fortress: BURGHER, BURGRAVE; c. Middle Dutch burch, town: BURGOMASTER; d. Late Latin burgus, fortified place: BOURG, BURGESS, (BOURGEOIS), BURGLAR, FAUBOURG. 5. Suffixed zero-grade form *bhrgh-to- possibly in Latin fortis, strong (but this is also possibly from dher-2): FORCE, FORT, FORTALICE, (FORTE-1), (FORTE-2), FORTIS, FORTISSIMO, FORTITUDE, FORTRESS; COMFORT, DEFORCE, EFFORT, ENFORCE, FORTIFY, PIANOFORTE, REINFORCE. 6. Suffixed zero-grade form *bhrg-ent- in Celtic *brigent- in Old Irish Brigit, name of a goddess: BRIDGET. [Pok. Bheregh- 140.]

The bracketed references are to Julius Pokorny's 1959 Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch ("Indo-European Etymological Dictionary.”) . In fact, much of the “Indo-European Roots” section of the Appendix to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is owed to, acknowledged, and accredited to Pokorny's work.

     Okay, the above ...has to be continued.  Dealing with PIE and Tolkien's blatant antisemitism with dwarves will be discussed ...later, soon, ...and after I stop crying.  The shootings in Connecticut are a national tragedy, ...and sending 400 troops and missiles to Turkey to help them with Syria is an international mistake.

     And back, again...

     Pokorny's 1959 work wasn't error-free, what enterprise is?  Yet, it remains a defining effort.  A godfather's apple pie (in a Frankish fashion...) remains our best example(s).  My columns are written to educate and entertain; verily, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Prof. Tolkien developed his “Middle-earth,” that is, Midgard (ON Miðgarðr ), as an imaginary prehistoric platform for his fantasy narratives.  Tolkien's fantasies (here, I would classify The Hobbit as juvenile fantasy fiction, The Lord of the Rings as Adult Adventure fantasy, and The Silmarillion as High Fantasy) concern a world of faerie and magic.  As such, they were presented as entertainment and, arguably, are some of the finest of modern entertainments.  There has been much said and published about Tolkien's incorporation of maps, drawings, illustrations, and paintings, as well as invented languages, and it's my understanding that his “Middle-earth” developed from love-poems which were later expanded to a pseudo-mythology , as his coined 'mythopoeia' celebrates.  ...With much this and that, and, ultimately acknowledging the finest of fine J. R. R. T. works we know and love, there have been many attempts to classify The Lord of the Rings as allegorical, that is, to demonstrate how certain events and characters symbolize something else.  The Great War (WWI) is often mentioned, occasionally WWII, as overall settings, and then there's the “little guys standing up to the big guys” argument, though the creepiest of the suggestions of allegory concerned Frodo as a “Christ-like” figure.  All of such were consistently rejected by Tolkien and he maintained that LOTR was just a long story.  But, that's not the whole truth...

     Tolkien's dwarves, for the most part, symbolized the often tragic social-economical plight of medieval European Jews.  Well, the dwarfs of the Brothers Grimm, Wagner, and the Norse and Icelandic myths and legends of the Eddur (ON Edda) were also allegories about the Jews, racially replete with stereotypical characteristics of swarthy shortness and pronounced avarice.  Prof. Tolkien didn't see anything wrong with associating his dwarves with those other dwarfs.  And, I'm too weary right now to pursue such.

     Returning to whether or not children will find criminal inspiration in Bilbo, the hobbit “burglar,” a skinny answer would be ...unlikely, but not impossible.  First, one must determine if accepting a commission to become a burglar is criminal.  As Tolkien likely choose the word to evoke the entering of a guarded mountain fortress through stealth, trespasser seems to fit better.  As the mountain fortress was guarded by the dragon, Smaug, it could be advantageous to inquire if dragons could own property...  Removing property once owned by the dwarves might be considered robbery, but finally it comes down a simple question, ...what was 'law' in Middle-earth?

     In Tolkien's fantasies, all begins with: “There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.”  The Ainur are angelic beings of great powers and some chose to become actualized (var. materialized or personified?) in Arda, the world, and are called the Valar.  Kin and helpers of the Valar are the Maiar, lesser Ainur, but still powerful by any standard of men.  Two of the Maiar, Gandalf and Sauron, play extensive roles in Tolkien's fantasies, but I've run too far ahead...

     Arda, the world, was created by Eru Ilúvatar, and of all life-forms, only elves and men (the Quendi and the Atani) are known as the “Children of Ilúvatar,” as they were fashioned by Him (It?) alone.  It was the Ainur, both greater and lesser, who populated Arda with forests and flowers and fish and fortunes to be won or lost.  The elves awoke first, partied and hung out with the Valar, but by the time that men took their first glance at the risen Sun, the Valar were whispered rumor overheard from that dark elf that hangs out down by the river...  It could be argued that the elves observed religious laws, as the eldest among them remembered their time with the Valar, but the laws of men were always secular and nationalistic, at once common, yet self-evident.  [Note: There is brief mention of the Erukyermë ("Prayer to Eru"), the feast of the Spring, being practiced in Gondor.]  Much has been written about the creation of dwarves by Aulë, the Valar smith, and how Eru Ilúvatar gave them free-will, of the creation of orcs and trolls and other monsters little is known with surety, but it's with the origin and emergence of the “race” of hobbits one should be expected to have ready answers.  I dunno'...  Answers, anyone?

     The Third Age of Middle-earth is marked as beginning with the death of Isildur and seems to get a lot worse before it got better.  Even with Sauron vanquished (but not destroyed), peace is difficult. Olórin (called Mithrandir by the elves), said to be the wisest of the Maiar, was dispatched with four other Maiar by the Valar to Middle-earth to aid the fortunes of elves, men, and dwarves.  Curiously, it's around that time the Periannath first appear in the Valley of Anduin...   Later, they would be called the holbytla (“hole-dwellers”), hobbits, or halflings.  Tolkien doesn't elaborate when he writes in the “Prologue” to LOTR, that “Hobbits are relatives of ours.”  It's perplexing and I'm tempted to suggest some unwritten indulgence by the Valar or Maiar (or even Eru Ilúvatar), though I shan't.  Maybe Tom?

     What background is sketched out, however, is that hobbits eventually migrated north-northwest and were granted lands past the river Baranduin (Brandywine) by King Argeleb II of Arnor (at Fornost, elsewhere, Northworthy, later Norbury).  This northern kingdom of Arnor complimented the southern kingdom of Gondor, as both were ruled by the decedents of the sunken island/continent of Númenor.  Within centuries both kingdoms had lost their kings, those of noble lineage in the north became the Dúnedain, regarded as restless rangers of the wood and field, while Gondor lapsed into stewardship awaiting ...a king to return.

     Five years after the death of Arvedui, the last king of Arnor and the end of the northern kingdom, the hobbits of the Shire elected a Thain to represent the “authority of the king," a largely symbolic office which later became a hereditary post of distinction.   At some point, the hobbits began to elect a single individual every seven years who would serve as a combination of mayor, postmaster, sheriff, and preside at fairs.  Many hobbits were naturally mischievous, with the pranks of Merry and Pippin at the beginning of LOTR indicating that minor crimes, at least, were not unknown.

     So, here at the end, I must answer my own questions.  Yes, there was 'law' in the Shire and the rest of Middle-earth, and it was the law of the king, though the king was uncrowned for many years.  Oh, and I should add, in such magical times as Tolkien described that stealing from a dragon was generally not thought of as a criminal infraction, but rather as a heroic deed.

POE,
Rick

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