The Arkenstone of Thrain

Late in The Hobbit we find out about the game-changing super-jewel that is snugly lodged in the desires of Thorin Oakenshield’s heart. It comes late, but it comes as no surprise, does it?

Why? I think it is that we know the kind of chap Thorin is, especially what part of him is pompous self-importance. Of course the stone is the bit of the treasure he most desires; he, after all, thinks rather highly of himself, his position and his dignity. Nothing more natural than that he should accord himself the little tidbit worth all the rest of the dragon’s hoard together.

So far, I think, nothing controversial. Here is where I want to go though: what do we call the meaning of that jewel? An outward and visible symbol? More, in both its accidents and essence. A sacrament of Thorin Oakenshield’s religion, the center of his system of values.

The stone is his desire, but it is his pride, not the stone, that brings his downfall; and his redemption is to see his folly. The Arkenstone of Thrain is the heart of the mountain and the heart of Thorin Oakenshield, and a game-changer when it come to the negotiations with the elves, the men of Laketown and the unfortunate Bilbo Baggins.

Mr. Baggins, whose heart, interestingly enough, is more set on a comfortable chair, a fire, his tea, his eggs and bacon. He is hobbit cured of a petty preoccupation with respectability who returns with treasures, yes, but also with an expanded perception of reality. His true riches, one might say. Which, in the end, is what saved Thorin, but not in the same way.

Bilbo, it seems to me, goes in one direction, while Thorin moves in another–one to greater and one to lesser. One learns so see the wonder of danger and adventure, the other to value what is homely. Each lesson is suited to the position in life of each. And with the true riches of the insight, Thorin is buried with the Arkenstone on his breast, the essence changed while the accidents remain the same.

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