Gold Sickness

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Dragon Sickness, Gold Fever, Gold Lust
Related:
See Also: Dwarven Culture (Tolkien), Thorin Oakenshield
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Gold Sickness, also called Dragon Sickness or Gold Fever, is an apparent mental change that happens to some characters in The Hobbit. It is caused by large amounts of treasure, particularly treasure hoarded by dragons. It results in greedy, illogical, and even violent behavior. It initially affected several members of Thorin's Company, the Master of Laketown, and Thrór. Fandom has adopted the trope to a large degree, and almost every work set during the reclamation of Erebor includes at least a mention of it.

In Canon

In fandom, most fanworks assume one of two options: either all the dwarves are all afflicted by gold sickness and Bilbo Baggins was not, or most of the dwarves were only mildly affected but Thorin was completely changed. (This latter option is influenced primarily by movie canon, specifically Battle of the Five Armies.) However, some fans pointed out that this was not consistent with the book:

In JRRT's text, Bilbo Baggins is the first we see struck by something like the fandom call "gold-sickness":

To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.

Indeed the term "dragon-sickness" -- meaning the drive for riches and loss of other priorities -- is only used once in the text, to refer to the sad fate of the old Master of Lake-town.

My point is that I don't see "dragon-sickness" or "gold-lust" or whatever as very particular to any given people, despite Tolkien's calling it "the desire of dwarves"; it's just not supported by the actual text. Different dwarves were also differently affected, and I've made a bit more out of all that here. Hope it remains coherent![1]

There are also canonical variations in how strong the sickness runs in a particular character. In the book, Fíli, Kíli, and Bombur were said to be the least affected of the dwarves.[2] Some fanworks also vary the effects depending on the dwarf.

Use in Fanworks

Movie canon focused primarily on Thorin as the most gold-sick dwarf. Therefore, it's extremely common for Thorin to be the strongest affected in fanworks, especially works that ship Bilbo Baggins/Thorin Oakenshield, as a way to explain Thorin's willingness to banish and nearly kill Bilbo over the Arkenstone.

The Arkenstone itself frequently acts as a catalyst for gold sickness. This appears to be based on Thorin's obsession with it in movieverse and Balin's warning to Bilbo in Battle of Five Armies. Many fanworks blame Thrór's gold sickness on the stone. In some cases, the Arkenstone has some unique evil effect, rather than a general one; for example, The Line of Durin by imaginary_golux has the stone containing the soul of Smaug, which whispered lies to whoever sat on the throne.

Other fans make the Arkenstone the focal point of Thorin's obsession with reclaiming his birthright, rather than the cause of it:

“Don’t you see?” he said. “The Arkenstone is the source of the king’s power and sovereignty. If I do not possess it, how can I rule? How can I show my strength and my right to this mountain?” He shook his head slowly. “We find the Arkenstone. Finding it takes precedence above all else.”

“Even above confirming the survival of your nephews?” she asked, her voice wavering but her eyes were dry.

Thorin jerked once sharply, as though someone had punched him, but he lifted his chin and just said, “Above all else, Bilbo.”[3]

In fanworks focusing on other dwarves, the effects of gold sickness can take many forms. One common effect is for characters to forget to eat and sleep, instead spending all their time in the treasure hall. Sometimes characters say or do things they normally wouldn't, becoming more violent both verbally and physically toward one another. An example is oh by sarcasticasides, a fancomic where Nori threatens Dwalin with a knife, to his own shock.

Example Fanworks

Archives and Resources

Example Fanart

  • oh by sarcasticasides (Nori realizes something's wrong)

Example Fanfiction

References

  1. Layers by werpiper, chapter 82 end notes. Accessed March 21, 2015.
  2. The Hobbit, Chapter 13, "Not At Home".
  3. All that I ever was, chapter 6 by seren_ccd