Poor Bilbo Baggins. All he wanted was to be a good host when suddenly the hero of "The Hobbit" found himself bound to a long and complicated contract.
Firstly, the movie version of Bilbo got a much worse deal than the one in the book. The contract on the screen in Peter Jackson's newest film looks much longer than the one described in J.R.R. Tolkien's original novel.
But whether it's long or short, the real question for legal enthusiasts is: Is the contract binding? Well, if Bilbo had a lawyer he might never have had to take the risk of going out the door.
Legally speaking, a contract requires several things. One party must make an offer, the other party must accept, and both sides must incur some kind of obligation or responsibility. Lawyers like to call that consideration.
Already, it looks like the dwarves are going to have difficulty if Bilbo were to back out of the deal.
Sure there's an offer to go to the Lonely Mountain, and then Bilbo sort of accepts -- although he's sort of harried into it by the dwarves and perhaps by alcohol. But the dwarves made a serious mistake in giving Bilbo the terms only after he'd agreed.
A contract requires actual agreement between the people who sign it, which means you have to know and understand what's required of each person before agreeing.
If you want to add new terms to the deal, a new agreement must be made either as a new contract or an addendum. Then everyone has to sign and agree to the new terms.
That big contract the dwarves hand to Bilbo? He didn't agree to those terms, so he doesn't necessarily have to go along on the journey.
Even if the contract did follow the proper procedure of getting agreement after the terms are known, would it still hold up?
It's hard to say without knowing all the terms, and we don't have time to read the full 5-foot-long document that Wired talks about. Instead, we'll just focus on the basics.
The dwarves agree to pay Bilbo for providing his help in getting the treasure, which would be enough consideration for any court. But they refer to him as a burglar, which could be a problem.
To enforce the terms of a contract, you have to get a court on your side. The catch is that no court is going to enforce a contract that requires someone to break the law.
While the contract between Bilbo and the dwarves never says they plan to steal treasure from a dragon, that's the impact of the "extraction" they're undertaking.
It doesn't matter that the treasure supposedly was stolen by the dragon, Smaug. Stealing is stealing, even if the current owner isn't the legal owner. If Bilbo didn't want to be involved, it would be hard for the dwarves to compel him.
Of course, just because a contact won't be enforced in court doesn't mean the parties will just set it aside. We don't want to spoil the ending, but don't be surprised if Bilbo follows this journey to its end.
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