You know the contract Bilbo Baggins has to sign before taking off for Lonely Mountain? Too bad (?) there’s no lawyer in the Shire. Even a mithril shirt can’t protect you from legal indemnity! WIRED’s Underwire blog asked attorney and author James Daly to analyze the contract and provide his legal opinion. It’s worth a read – especially if you’re about to take a journey with a bunch of dwarven warriors and a grumpy wizard…
As mentioned, the contract is quite long. This is in contrast with the contract as described in the book, which is very terse. Its terms amounted to this:
For your hospitality our sincerest thanks, and for your offer of professional assistance our grateful acceptance. Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all travelling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for.
Even in the book’s version we see an issue: the dwarves accept Bilbo’s “offer” but then proceed to give terms. This is not actually an acceptance but rather a counter-offer, since they’re adding terms. In the end it doesn’t matter because Bilbo effectively accepts the counter-offer by showing up and rendering his services as a burglar, but the basic point is that the words of a contract do not always have the legal effect that they claim to have. Sometimes you have to look past the form to the substance.