Read a Lawyer’s Analysis of Bilbo’s Contract in ‘The Hobbit’


You know the contract  Bilbo Baggins has to sign before taking off for Lonely Mountain? Too bad (?) there’s no lawyer in the Shire. Even a mithril shirt can’t protect you from legal indemnity! WIRED’s Underwire blog asked attorney and author James Daly to analyze the contract and provide his legal opinion. It’s worth a read – especially if you’re about to take a journey with a bunch of dwarven warriors and a grumpy wizard…


As mentioned, the contract is quite long. This is in contrast with the contract as described in the book, which is very terse. Its terms amounted to this:

For your hospitality our sincerest thanks, and for your offer of professional assistance our grateful acceptance. Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all travelling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for.

Even in the book’s version we see an issue: the dwarves accept Bilbo’s “offer” but then proceed to give terms. This is not actually an acceptance but rather a counter-offer, since they’re adding terms. In the end it doesn’t matter because Bilbo effectively accepts the counter-offer by showing up and rendering his services as a burglar, but the basic point is that the words of a contract do not always have the legal effect that they claim to have. Sometimes you have to look past the form to the substance.

Keep reading.