farashasilver asked: Do you mind if I pick your brain about dragonsick Thorin and the rest of the Company? It's clear he still recognizes them ("my sister-sons"), but do you think he sees them as threats, or tools, or even possessions? (1/2)
(2/2) If he is mentally assigning Bilbo a place as Consort (placing him beside the throne) is he perhaps mentally arranging the others into their places in the mountain, almost like arranging his hoard? Or do you think they’re just incidental to him?
Hooo, boy, the question of dragon sickness! Specifically what it is, how it works, does it effect others or only Thorin, etc. etc. is one that plagues the fandom. I think, ultimately, we’ll never have an answer because I have a cynical suspicion that the filmmakers themselves don’t entirely know, what with its wide variations between acting as a fever, vs. acting as a magical curse that spreads to all who come in contact with the gold and the vestiges of Smaug’s evil aura, vs. hereditary mental illness.
However, that’s not quite what you’re asking is, it? But rather, how does Thorin see others under the influence of dragon sickness?
I’m going to start this by listing my #1 pet peeve with the way dragon sickness is viewed: there is no evidence that Thorin views people as possessions at any point during the dragon sickness. There is no evidence that Smaug saw living beings as possessions, as our primary example of what dragon sickness is driving the victim towards.* Dragon sickness, by all evidence, does not apply to anything except material items and concepts of status.
(Cut because this got long. I hope you’re happy I just burned an hour responding to this and I loved every second of it :P)
(* This isn’t “Prayers to Broken Stone” talking. Perhaps dragon sickness doesn’t cause a physical transformation that we know of, but we have interviews and anecdotes saying that dragon sickness makes you act like a dragon hence why I use Smaug as an example of what dragon sickness is turning a person into and the ultimate form of the illness.)
Honestly, it drives me absolutely ballistic whenever I see meta or fanon where Thorin sees Bilbo as a possession at any point. There is literally no evidence of this anywhere in the story, and it wouldn’t take much. Some variation on, “You are mine,” would suffice, and there isn’t even a whisper along those lines.
The closest we see Thorin to claiming the lives of others as his possession is when he threatens to spill endless blood to protect the gold. However, his words are “Life is cheap,” which is not something that a dragon hoarding people’s lives as possessions would say. Don’t even get me started on how this is an inversion of Thorin’s character due to the illness, and further highlights how much Thorin values life when he’s in his right mind.
No, clearly the dichotomy of the illness is “Signs of Wealth and Status” are worth more than “Life and Living Beings.” This is why Bilbo continues to be a positive influence on Thorin throughout, he’s the one life Thorin sees as valuable. He reminds Thorin of the value of life with the acorn and that helps temporarily take him out of the sickness, until Dwalin comes along with word that the hoard is threatened by the refugees.
Long story short, let’s just toss the idea of people as possessions to dragon sick Thorin completely out the window. There’s the gold, and there’s people and the more the sickness progresses, the more he sacrifices people to the gold.
(I’m sorry if I’m rambling, but I’m trying to be thorough here, also this is one of my favorite topics.)
So to your point first about the Company: they are not his possessions, except perhaps insofar as they are his subjects and that boosts his status. However, subjects-as-status-symbols appears to be a secondary concern at best to dragon sickness. Smaug was perfectly content to be King under the Mountain with no subjects under his control. Neither is Bilbo a possession, as “romantic” (actually, deeply disturbing) as that notion may be. Though honestly, I’m very disturbed by those who coo over the idea that Thorin sees Bilbo as “belonging to him”, since there’s no evidence of this even under dragon sickness, never mind this bizarre notion that Thorin would shield Bilbo from harm by isolating him as a treasure, which again never appears anywhere in the narrative. Thorin arms Bilbo in order to protect him from battle, which already implies he expects Bilbo to fight beside him. Anyway, back to the topic.
Only the gold and the mountain itself appear to matter to Thorin under dragon sickness, in a complete inversion in what being a king should mean. It’s a perversion of the idea of kingship as Thorin held it before (“Loyalty, honor, and a willing heart, I can ask no more than that,” which is representative of the kind of person that “has always” been Dwalin’s king). Thorin may make reference to spilling the blood of others as his possession in order to defend the gold, but I got no sense that he would actively seek out more subjects, or that in the absence of people to do his bidding he’d, quite honestly, even notice their lack, and not simply defend the gold with his own blood.
Other than that, I would go with your first assessment of the Company: they are threats to him. In this, the Arkenstone becomes representative of the entire hoard. Their inability and, in his mind, unwillingness to turn over the Arkenstone shows that they are untrustworthy around Thorin’s possessions. As a narrative device it would be absurd to use the entire hoard as an example of why he can’t trust them, for example with the idea they’re keeping gold coins to themselves, since so long as it is within the mountain it is in his domain. However, a single valuable stone could be stolen, and to show that he feels even the slightest treasure being stolen, a single piece of gold stolen, would draw the direct parallel to Smaug and dragon-like powers too quickly. Not until Thorin actually uses a dragon voice and says he, “will not part with a single coin,” do we realize the depth of his similarity to Smaug.
Of course, Thorin is not completely lost. Rather, the withholding of the Arkenstone gives him a point of paranoia on which the sickness can fester. I think the ultimate “goal” of the dragon sickness, the teleology of the illness, is to isolate the victim amongst the treasures they hold so dear. Contact with others is anathema to it. Thorin is at his most healthy when surrounded by others, or having an intimate moment of friendship with an individual. He’s at his most starkly ill when wandering the hoard by himself, or later when sitting on the throne in isolation. He even looks dazed in those instances, slipping into a very dragon-like trance, almost a sleep, as he contemplates his wealth and the threats against it. The same could clearly be said for Thrór, wandering the treasures halls alone when most driven by the sickness. Again, this is why I don’t see people as possessions under the influence of dragon sickness, because the presence of others mitigates the ravages of the illness. At best it may tolerate people-as-subjects who stand by silently and don’t interfere with the victim, only add to the status, but that is an uncomfortable alliance because of the threat they pose as potential thieves.
Going further into your question, is he arranging the dwarves as items in a hoard? I would say no, at most he’s arranging them and Bilbo in a hierarchy. However, I don’t believe it is a complex, organized hierarchy because I don’t believe that dragon sickness values people the way it values treasure. Rather, I think it is the most basic and primal of all hierarchies known to the human mind: Us vs. Them, Me vs. You.
In social psychology 101 it’s referred to as “ingroups” vs. “outgroups”, and to grossly simplify, we see the world as “people who count as me” and “people who count as them”. People with whom their life is as important as your own, vs. people whose lives are “other”, not as important, indeed: expendable.
In Thorin, dragon sickness combined with the absence of the Arkenstone are pushing those he once held dearest from the “ingroup” zone into the “outgroup” zone. The dwarves who once made up his closest friends, family, and confidantes are now outsiders and untrustworthy, their thought processes are opaque and suspect. He can no longer tell whether or not they have evil intentions towards him. He can no longer read them effectively through the haze of suspicion. Clearly as the dragon sickness clouds his mind it cuts him off increasingly from identifying others even as individuals, much less individuals who matter to him. Balin, Dwalin, Fíli and Kíli, everyone is just another potential threat, an outside invader waiting to steal from him and attack him.
(To go slightly into assumption zone and away from direct evidence – I also see Thorin as someone who heavily bases his self-esteem and stability/purpose in life on others. His grounding comes from his family and the dwarves as his people, he has pride in them even if he doesn’t have pride in himself, and this keeps him going. Having that cut away is perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to him. Being King under the Mountain helps fill in where his ego was lacking in terms of personal aggrandizement and actualization, but it cuts off him and his personality type from the much stronger bonds of support that he needs to be stable and healthy.
As I’ve said exhaustively elsewhere: it’s why it’s hard for him to break out of dragon sickness, because being “merely” Thorin Oakenshield again is painful compared to the addictive high of being "King under the Mountain". It’s also why I’ve said withholding the Arkenstone was a huge mistake, because he is not his grandfather, as has been said exhaustively, and the inability to trust his closest kin was a far more insidious point of vulnerability to the ravages of dragon sickness in Thorin's case than any amount of additional wealth could be.)
Now, you also asked about Bilbo. The idea of ingroup vs. outgroup is actually what makes his relationship with Bilbo so extraordinary, and I daresay compelling (from a shipping angle). In the hierarchy of those within the Mountain, the Company and Thorin’s subjects, Bilbo counts as Thorin. That was not a typo. Bilbo at Thorin’s right hand on the dais is not as significant as the fact that he’s on the dais at all. Smaug would not tolerate a threat to his power from an outsider, he would not tolerate another person making claim to the title of King under the Mountain.
I would argue very strongly that to Thorin, Bilbo is not a separate person insofar as he does not represent an outsider, or a threat. Rather, he is a co-owner of the Mountain and the gold. He is Thorin’s last remaining equal. The acorn scene clearly secures this by showing that Bilbo is not a threat to the gold because he values the acorn more than treasure, but we see Thorin putting Bilbo on equal footing above Balin and Dwalin before that, so I would say that something more is going on there. All that scene did was remove Thorin’s last trace of suspicion, though I’d be very curious to see what put Bilbo in a trustworthy position in the first place, since Thorin apparently magically began to believe him over the others at the end of Deslation of Smaug for… whatever reason. Whatever happened, we open in Battle of the Five Armies with Bilbo in a position of superior (if tenuous) trust, and even if unexplained it’s clearly irrefutable.
If we go with the idea that dragon sickness intensifies feelings of love, then it could very well be that Bilbo has been swept up in that, but I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. Again, because I don’t think dragon sickness has an impact on the victim’s view of living people except to move them into the “threat” category. Bilbo escapes this by being as dear to Thorin as his own life, not by being as dear to him as the gold, or any other inanimate possession.
There’s a lot of evidence to show that Bilbo is co-ruler rather than possession: standing on the dais beside Thorin and yet not in a subordinate position, the gold is “ours and ours alone”, giving Bilbo a valuable item from the hoard because in essence it is not leaving the hoard or Thorin’s possession because Bilbo is an extension of him. Now, the question is, why is that? And my answer is: it’s a testament to Thorin’s strength of character and underlying psychology.
Even as the dragon sickness is aggressively moving people from “friend” to “threat” in Thorin’s mind, he still resists. He does so by subconsciously subverting the illness, and moving someone beneath its “notice” into the “Me” category, thus keeping the illness from tearing that bond apart. Thorin may subconsciously recognize how much he depends on other people in his life for his stability, and Bilbo is consistently shown as someone who helps him beat back the illness.
I would venture to say that keeping Bilbo by his side is Thorin make a great subconscious effort to throw off the illness. Notice what Bilbo has done for Thorin again and again: rescued him. He rescued Thorin (and the Company) from the trolls, from Azog’s first attack, from Thranduil’s dungeon, and effectively from Lake-town by vouching that Thorin was trustworthy enough to be allowed to continue his journey. None of these events have gone unnoticed to Thorin. Bilbo could very well represent rescue in Thorin’s mind, so keeping him close is as effective a counter and antidote as Thorin can manage in his current state to this invasion of his mind.
Bilbo also represents a moral compass, for example with his statement that he will help them get their home back, and again when he vouched. In a world where Thorin’s every line of support is being cut away by paranoia, his bond with Bilbo becomes stronger as the last remaining support and the most effective counter to the confusion he’s currently mired in. He is constantly looking to Bilbo for support, for example in the mithril shirt scene when he pulls Bilbo aside and announces that he is “betrayed.” One could argue in that instance that him giving Bilbo the mithril shirt is to defend Bilbo(/himself) from potential attack from the other dwarves, because Bilbo is now in Thorin’s confidence and therefore equally under threat from them in the paranoia of his mind. The Company is now effectively as much a threat as the refugees and elves outside the gate because they are "Other", ie "not-Thorin".
The idea that Bilbo could betray Thorin is now completely foreign to him as a result, because it is the same thing as Thorin betraying himself. Notice that even though he can see the Arkenstone, he immediately assumes that it is a ruse. That is so telling, because Thorin has been searching literally day and night for the artifact, and the first time he sees it he shrugs it off as a fake. Of course, on some level he’s trying to dodge the clear blackmail and leverage that the Arkenstone represents to him, by convincing himself it’s not real, which is actually a very sensible thing to do if one recognizes how much of an effect a single object can have on you while you’re ill. Until Bilbo speaks up.
Now, I don’t see Thorin’s attack on Bilbo as a premeditated assault. Rather, I see it as wheels spinning in confusion. First he tries to act as King in order to give himself stability and remind himself of the ego that dragon sickness has given him, “Throw him from the ramparts!” is an order. Once disobeyed though, Thorin is left floundering because he must take action, effectively, against himself. His “subjects” become secondary to him, as they have always been under the dragon sickness. He’s less concerned with their apparent betrayal than he is by the whiplash from his last support tie snapping back on him. He throws his weapon aside before he lays hands on Bilbo, and clearly pauses once they are face to face, not sure what to do next when confronted by this person who was as dear to him as his own life. His instincts are warring between the significance of the betrayal and the fact that the only thing keeping him steady up to this point was Bilbo’s presence and support. Note that he lets Bilbo escape immediately and makes no attempt to retrieve him or even reference him again.
Further note that even though Thorin has just seen Dain coming over the hillside in one of the biggest and most satisfying wins of Thorin’s life (especially satisfying against his hated enemy Thranduil) this does nothing to bolster his mood. He immediately collapses into the worst bout of dragon sickness we’ve seen yet, sitting immobile on the throne in a trance until Dwalin appears and pulls him slightly out of it. Note again, people serve as a counter to the dragon sickness. The more Thorin interacts with others, the more lucid he is. Perhaps because dragon sickness is strengthened by isolation. Perhaps because dragon sickness is strengthened by supplementing and fulfilling the needs of its victim, and since Thorin psychologically needs companionship to be stable and whole within himself, it is strengthened when those bonds are cut and the sickness can serve as his only point of ego.
Tl;dr: So what are my conclusions after this very long and rambling essay? Living people always provide a counter to dragon sickness in Thorin, because dragon sickness actively isolates him and when alone the disease becomes stronger. They do not count as possessions, only as threats to his material wealth. Bilbo was--or perhaps Thorin subconsciously made him into--a loophole in this by becoming as dear to Thorin as Thorin himself, something the disease does not directly target because part of dragon sickness is also about sustaining the life of the victim, even by pushing them into cowardly acts they would never otherwise commit (except in defense of their treasure). By slipping Bilbo into the “me” category, he escaped being a target of that paranoia and remained Thorin’s support. However, once that support was gone Thorin free-fell into an advanced stage of the illness.