There is an age-old trope in stories about treasure: it drives people crazy. If they don’t have it, they become obsessed with gaining it. If they possess it, they are consumed with greed and jealousy, unable to let it go, and are always wanting more. For some, treasure takes the form of gold; for others, it’s diamonds and rubies, precious stones, sometimes even cash. Nevertheless, the effect is always the same. People in stories lose their minds in the hunt for treasure, becoming further removed from reality and often hurting or alienating their friends and family.
The theme of gold, greed, and madness permeates The Hobbit film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, culminating in The Battle of the Five Armies. Throughout the trilogy, the Dwarf King Thorin II Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has been on a journey with 12 dwarves to reclaim his home, Erebor, the Kingdom Under the Mountain. Along the way he fights the Orc-lord Azog (Manu Bennett) and confronts the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). When he finally arrives in Erebor (one year and two films later), his vision, however, shifts. Instead of celebrating the reclamation of his ancestral halls, Thorin becomes obsessed with finding one gem: the Arkenstone.
We first see the Arkenstone in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) discovers it in Erebor’s Great Hall. It is a white, radiant globe that shines in the darkness. No doubt it is a prized treasure and an important family heirloom for Thorin. Nevertheless, his priority of an heirloom over his actual family is his downfall. (The fact that he searches for the Arkenstone within his ancestral halls is an intriguing juxtaposition.) Thorin’s obsession veers into madness for this precious gem, preventing the establishment of happy new living quarters for him and his men. In short, the film makes clear that the greed for treasure makes for an unhappy home.
Early on in the movie, Thorin stands in the Great Hall above waves of gold. The mise en scène is intentionally exaggerated. There are piles of gold so high in the hall that you cannot even see the floor. The gold glitters and shines across the walls, making the whole hall take on a golden hue. It is more wealth than one could even imagine and yet Thorin doesn’t notice any of it. It’s a scene of utter madness. He screams to his men, “Keep searching! No one rests until it is found.” His voice is desperate for the Arkenstone. He is willing to push his men to the point of exhaustion and indeed he does. He even goes so far as to distrust them all, threatening their lives in the process, so consumed has Thorin become with a singular gem.
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Scripture cautions us to be wary of love for treasure. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the pursuit of money and riches is addressed several times, including in Chapter 5: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” There is meaninglessness to the pursuit of wealth because gold, ultimately, can never make us happy. True joy, as the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, can only be found in God and the true good gifts that he has given us, including the ability to enjoy our family and our home.
In fact, enjoying the home that God has given us is part of the solution to chastening our obsession with treasure. “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad,” we’re told in Ecclesiastes 8. “Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” Perhaps home and wealth feel like an odd juxtaposition, yet that is the biblical paradigm we are given.
Interestingly, the pursuit of home over treasure is the final lesson that Thorin learns before he dies. After the Battle of the Five Armies, he is stabbed by Azog. He lies across a sheet of ice, blood splattered across his face. His breath is haggard. He only has a few minutes to live. When Bilbo finds him, he delivers this death speech: “If more people valued home above gold, this world would be a merrier place.” This dialogue differs slightly from what J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Both statements illustrate a shared concept: valuing home (food, cheer, songs with one’s family) can chasten our greed for wealth. Having uttered these words, Thorin dies, for the first time at peace.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies teaches us that the walls of a home are less important than what happens within them. More valuable are the food, cheer, and song enjoyed in the company of family and friends. Joy-filled sharing with our family and loved ones, according to Ecclesiastes, is the remedy for greed. It’s through relationships and sharing that we feel true joy, whether that be deep under a mountain in the halls of Erebor or in our humble homes today.