Exchange – Bilbo POV
In which Bilbo and Rory discuss the various aspects of exchange – financial, verbal, personal, cultural, existential – and end with the wisdom of the elves.
Rory is more aware of what’s going on around him than he lets on.
For me, one of the questions to be answered when talking about the Shire is what did hobbits know about the rise of Sauron and when did they know it? While I dislike the ignorant bumpkins in a bucolic paradise trope, it’s also true that they are isolated, insular, and never invited into the conversation being held by their “superiors” in the Ardaverse pecking order. They really don’t know much about the wider world.
That doesn’t mean they know nothing, nor that they are blind to changes within their own corner of Eriador. This chapter, along with Ch. 3 – Mayor, Master, Thain, is the start of the exploration into their practical knowledge. Bilbo has a great deal of knowledge and has done a lot of thinking over the years. He’s the closest you can come to an intellectual in the Shire and that is due as much to his innate curiosity as to his IQ.
Rory has a different kind of knowledge, one I posit as unique to hobbits, which is a sense of the land and of animals. Elves know trees and stars, dwarves know stone and craft, men know science and mastery (note – skills of the intellect, not of the body or soul), and hobbits know earth and beasts. They tend things, make them grow, and organically create a humble, comfortable civilization.
So, if the malign influence of Sauron (and more deeply, his dark tutor and master, Morgoth) is invading the very texture of the earth, it makes sense to me that hobbits will catch on to it – and be caught up by it.
The chapter also takes a look at what market forces do to economic practices in a traditional society. Barter and borderline subsistence economies are very different than those that use abstract units of exchange, such as the dwarf crowns. Locally minted pennies are probably suffering from inflation, crops are taking on the features of commodities, and wealth generation becomes a real thing. Societies become more dynamic, and less predictable, under such conditions.
Finally, we get some more hints of just how Bilbo’s notoriety and treasure have changed the marriage market for him. He may be nearly 100, which would translate to @ 75 years of age for a Big Person, but he looks like someone who is relatively young, between 50 and 60 (human – late 30s – mid-40s), and this is getting him attention he really doesn’t want. The person whose attention he does want, he can’t have. No wonder he throws himself into good works.