Many scholars including Bursten and Shippey view Thorin Oakshield’s obsession with the treasure the same as dragon greed (Shippey 88; Bursten 77). Specifically, Bursten argues that Thorin comes into a realization of his avarice-driven obsession with the Arkenstone at the end, which leads to the peaceful ending of the story by removing an evil force (84-85).
Although I do not completely disagree with the role of greed in the fiction as their motive, I would argue that it is misleading to equate Thorin’s longing for the treasure and Smaug’s greedy hoarding in that the treasure holds a purpose as a representation of the collective identity of the dwarves based on their history and the culture, while it serves no purpose for the dragon. Also, his hostility and the possessiveness are based on his desire to retrieve lost authority over the Lonely Mountain, rather than dragon sickness.
As Loughlin claims, the treasure in the Lonely Mountain is a representation of the dwarves’ glorious days and the cultural heritage that their ancestors accumulated by their hard work (26). It is their absolute right to reclaim the hoard, which is an essential device to inherit their history and the culture to their descendants (Loughlin 33). After Smaug’s death, Thorin refuses to surrender the treasure to the wood-elves and the men of Laketown, until they show the Arkenstone obtained by Bilbo’s theft as a bargaining chip (Tolkien 220).
According to Shippey, this shows that the dragon greed has taken its power on Thorin because even though he is “bewildered,” he only thinks about hoarding the gold, not knowing the consequences of his behaviour (88). However, I agree that his obsession is not due to dragon sickness as Loughlin points it out. She states that the treasure serves as the “sites of memory and resistance,” based on “the dwarves’ experiences of exile, loss and violent expropriation” (27).
Loughlin argues that Thorin’s hostility is justified as they have experienced the “cultural genocide” (25), they are sensitive to any outsiders stealing their cultural heritage, who has a bare understanding of the deep meaning (33). In fact, no one understands Thorin’s behaviour and concludes that he has fallen in the avarice. The misunderstanding of Thorin worsens when it comes to the Arkenstone, the heart of the Mountain.
Tolkien only provides a brief history of the Arkenstone to the readers, yet the importance of it is greatly implied in the text. On top of the role of artifacts as the cultural repositories (Loughlin 26), I believe the Arkenstone is a critical mediator of Thorin’s restoration of sovereignty over the Lonely Mountain. The power of the Arkenstone and its symbolic meaning support this. Firstable, the origin of the Arkenstone was discovered by Thrain, the old lord of the Lonely mountain and Thorin’s father. Thorin describes it as “the Arkenstone of my father,” and he says, “is worth more than a river of gold in itself, and to me it is beyond price” (Tolkien 213).
Whenever Thorin talks about the Arkenstone, he relates it to his father Thrain and emphasizes that it was discovered and greatly valued by him as the heart of the Mountain. His relation to Thrain, who had directly experienced the memory of exile and loss of sovereignty over the Lonely Mountain and died before retrieving his beloved kingdom, implies that the Arkenstone amongst all artifacts demand him the most rightful ownership as Thorin is the direct heir of the realm.
He uses the Arkenstone as a means of restoring his authority over the throne, which does have a power to do so, as exemplified by Bilbo. The reputation of Bilbo before giving out the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip, is a burglar that not many people pay attention to, compared to the dwarves as the legendary kings of the mountain. At the scene where Bilbo surrenders the Arkenstone to Bard, he suddenly experiences a rise in the status from the burglar to a hero, who plays a key role in resolving the feud (Tolkien 216).
Furthermore, the enchanting power of the Arkenstone is so strong that greed-immune Bilbo are struck by its radiation of beauty and power. In short, the excessive power of the Arkenstone and strong relationship to the kingdom as the center of authority explains Thorin’s obsession, rather than dragon greed. His sorrow after losing his homeland and the desire of revenge against the plunderer caused him to have a strong longing for the authority. Thus, he refuses to surrender it to anyone else as the sovereignty cannot be shared, but only himself can hold its true purpose.
Subsequently, the bestowal of the Arkenstone to Thorin by Bard at his deathbed symbolizes the return of authority over the Lonely Mountain to the dwarves, in contrast to Bursten’s interpretation as the removal of a contagious evil force. This is supported by the peace and the stability of the realm after the war, as Thorin acts as a guardian of the country with the Orcist and the Arkenstone after his death (Loughlin 35). Safely stowed in the grave, away from the danger of a plunder and an attack, the artifacts and Thorin represent the stabilized sovereign power of the dwarves over the country.
On the other hand, dragon sickness accounts for Bilbo’s initial desire to hoard the Arkenstone as it holds no meaning to him other than possession. The Arkenstone is an object that “demands purposeless ownership” to Bilbo as his desire comes from the pure temptation to hoard a beautiful treasure, nothing else (Bursten 85). The purpose of the Arkenstone that Thorin perceives sets him apart from Bilbo and elucidates his obsession.
Based on all the reasonings behind Thorin’s obsession with the treasure from the sources and the text, it is clear that dragon greed is not the same as his possessiveness. The historical background of the artifacts and cultural values contained within them are far more than Bilbo, the men of Laketown, and the wood-elves understand. The true worth of the treasure, especially the Arkenstone, is demonstrated by Thorin’s actions.
He perceives the significance of the Arkenstone “more than a river of gold,” and “beyond price” that he will not, and can not abandon for his people. The Arkenstone illustrates his stolen sovereignty over the Lonely Mountain and reclaiming it means the retrieval of his kingdom and lost memories. Thus, his obsession is justified and he deserves the title of the king.
Also, the main contributor of slaying the dragon is Bilbo, who discovered Smaug’s only weakness in the diamond coated armour and enabled Bard to pierce the dragon’s vulnerable spot(hobbit). While not a lot of people pay attention to this fact and only praise Bard, the dwarves in fact recognizes Bilbo’s contribution and grants him a share of the treasure.
The treasure was not his that his evil deeds should be amended with a share of it. The price of the goods and the assistance that we received of the Lake-men we will fairly pay—in due time. But nothing will we give, not even a loaf’s worth, under threat of force. While an armed host lies before our doors, we look on you as foes and thieves”
It was cut and fashioned by the dwarves.
His revengeful thought against “thieves” underlies his obsession.
Thorin in fact, was seized with the true power of the Arkenstone, the sovereignty over the Lonely Mountain.
The Elvenking and Bard praises his courage of surrendering such worthy treasure, which contradictorily is a practice of theft. In fact, his action “reenact its earlier expropriation by Smaug, repeating its debasement from cultural object to valuable bargaining chip,” as he shows bare notion of understanding the real meaning (Loughlin 29).
I agree that his obsession is not due to dragon sickness as Loughlin points it out. She states that the treasure serves as the “sites of memory and resistance,” based on “the dwarves’ experiences of exile, loss and violent expropriation” (27).