In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we see the contract for employment of Bilbo Baggins as a Burglar with the company of Thorin Oakenshield.

At the end of the contract, the area designated for signatures looks like the following:

enter image description here

So where Bilbo signs the contract, it is clearly mentioned that he was signing as The Burglar. Not only this, he's referred to as Burglar in the entirety of the contract .

Yet, in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, when Bilbo is asked to show any official document with his name or signatures on it to prove his identity, we see this:

[Auctioneer:] “This is most irregular. Excuse me, it’s been more than thirteen months since the disappearance. If you are, in fact, Bilbo Baggins and undeceased - can you prove it?”

[Bilbo:] “What?!”

[Auctioneer:] “Oh, well, something official with your name on it would suffice.”

[Bilbo is, justifiably, quite flustered.]

[Bilbo:] “Alright! Right.”

[He pulls out the contract that he’d signed to join Thorin’s company and looks through it.]

[Bilbo:] “A contract...of employment as a...a...nevermind as what.

[He shows it to the auctioneer.]

[Bilbo:] “There! My signature!”

[Auctioneer:] “Uh, certainly seems to be in order. Yes, seems there can be no doubt.”

So if it was evident by the signature and the contract that Bilbo was working as a Burglar, why would he bother trying to hide it? If he was ashamed of being seen as a professional burglar, how does not saying it out loud help when the truth is mentioned everywhere on the contract? He points out his signature, so assuming that the contract required signature only at the end of the contract, it should have been obvious to the auctioneer that he was employed as a burglar, given that the caption next to the signature says "Burglar".

As pointed out by Bellerophon, he may have been trying to avoid saying it in front of everyone present at the Auction. But why would he expect the Auctioneer not to gossip about it? In a small community like Hobbiton, I'd expect such a thing to be fairly common, gossiping that is especially when the gossiping material is so uncommon. "Oi, did you hear about young mister Baggins? 'E went off working as a Burglar, he did. Saw it with me own eyes."

Is this how the event transpired in the books as well, assuming it happened in the books at all?

NOTE: While I have watched the Peter Jackson movies an embarrassingly high number of times, I haven't read the books.

  • 9
    I can't remember in the films but in the books there are a lot of other people around at the auction. If his is the case in the films maybe he doesn't want the entirety of Hobbiton knowing his job so he only shows the auctioneer. Apr 24, 2017 at 12:51
  • @Bellerophon Cheers, that was indeed the case in the movies as well. Although one might expect the auctioneer to gossip about it afterwards.
    – Aegon
    Apr 24, 2017 at 12:52
  • 34
    Perfect example of Peter Jackson's liberties coming at the expense of Tolkien's world. The Bilbo in the books would never have done this (this scene is NOT in the book). Nor would he expect people not to talk if he did. Adding this scene adds nothing to the movie versus the way it was handled in the book and just takes away from suspension of disbelief by making the setting inconsistent or the main character stupid or both. In the book, it was explained that legal issues persisted for him for a long time, including that he had to prove that he was indeed himself and alive, but didn't say how.
    – JBiggs
    Apr 24, 2017 at 15:24
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    No one mention that a lot of the hobbits are illiterate - Bilbo teached Sam how to read and write and his father Hamfast comment it like "he doesnt mean anything wrong and i hope nothing wrong come from it", maybe auctioneer was illiterate too :) Apr 25, 2017 at 15:33
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    @JBiggs There are lots of great reasons to disparage Peter Jackson's movies. I really don't think this is one of them. Did you come up with that criticism before or after it was brought to your attention in this question?
    – Nacht
    Apr 26, 2017 at 3:41

3 Answers 3


Bilbo Baggins is (or at least was) a respected member of the Hobbiton community. He knows that by going on an adventure he has already lost some degree of respect in his community and probably does not want to lose any more by revealing he was a professional burglar.

Ideally no-one would ever find out but he has no choice but to tell the auctioneer in order to regain his house. Given that he is in a public place, saying out loud what he was employed as would mean the whole of the Shire would know within a week or two whereas showing the auctioneer meant that only one Hobbit would know and, hopefully, the auctioneer is discreet enough to keep Bilbo's secret.

We do not know how discreet the auctioneer is. I suspect, given this is the Shire, that he will gossip and the gossip will spread quickly. Certainly by the start of LotR everyone knows Bilbo has got a load of gold in his house and may well know of his past employment. I doubt Bilbo expects the auctioneer to not gossip but is telling him anyway as he has no other choice.

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    I don't think he would expect the auctioneer to be discreet but as Bilbo has no choice he tells him anyway. Apr 24, 2017 at 13:02
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    I think it is more like the auctioneer was not really looking at the contract in detail. Just "here's something officially looking with my signature on it" and then he goes "yup that says your name, must be legit" and the absurdity of that sufficing as proof of identity is the joke.
    – HamHamJ
    Apr 24, 2017 at 15:06
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    @HamHamJ - The barrier is pretty low. It's not like there are multiple claims of identity to work out. Having anything with his name on (the old-times equivalent of a library card) is sufficient.
    – Valorum
    Apr 24, 2017 at 15:07
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    There is a considerable difference between having something gossiped about that is started by one person without other proof (e.g. the auctioneer having as the basis of the gossip that he briefly saw that the contract said Bilbo had signed as the Burglar) and something that is publicly stated by the person involved (e.g. Bilbo stating he was employed as a burglar).
    – Makyen
    Apr 24, 2017 at 15:12
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    Even if the auctioneer is indiscreet, wise hobbits take gossip with a grain of salt. If he says out loud what his position was, there'd be many witnesses to corroborate the rumors and they'd be much more widely believed.
    – The Photon
    Apr 24, 2017 at 22:53

There is no auctioneer in the book. Bilbo arrives halfway during the auction. He's not asked for a legal document, but "the legal bother lasted for years" and "it was a long time before he was admitted to be alive again".

(...) He had arrived back in the middle of an auction! There was a large notice in black and red hung on the gate, stating that on June the Twenty-second Messrs Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes would sell by auction the effects of the late Bilbo Baggins Esquire, of Bag-End, Underhill, Hobbiton. Sale to commence at ten o'clock sharp. It was now nearly lunchtime, and most of the things had already been sold, for various prices from next to nothing to old songs (as is not unusual at auctions). Bilbo's cousins the Sackville–Bagginses were, in fact, busy measuring his rooms to see if their own furniture would fit. In short Bilbo was "Presumed Dead", and not everybody that said so was sorry to find the presumption wrong.
The return of Mr. Bilbo Baggins created quite a disturbance, both under the Hill and over the Hill, and across the Water; it was a great deal more than a nine days' wonder. The legal bother, indeed, lasted for years. It was quite a long time before Mr. Baggins was in fact admitted to be alive again. The people who had got specially good bargains at the Sale took a deal of convincing; and in the end to save time Bilbo had to buy back quite a lot of his own furniture. (...)

The Hobbit, chapter 19 "The Last Stage"

Actually, only the Sackville–Bagginses refused to recognise Bilbo.

(...) Many of his silver spoons mysteriously disappeared and were never accounted for. Personally he suspected the Sackville–Bagginses. On their side they never admitted that the returned Baggins was genuine, and they were not on friendly terms with Bilbo ever after. They really had wanted to live in his nice hobbit-hole so very much.

The Hobbit, chapter 19 "The Last Stage"

Also, there isn't a contract signed by Bilbo in the book. Instead there's a note on his mantelpiece, reading:

"Thorin and Company to Burglar Bilbo greeting! 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.
"Thinking it unnecessary to disturb your esteemed repose, we have proceeded in advance to make requisite preparations, and shall await your respected person at the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, at 11 a.m. sharp. Trusting that you will be punctual,
"We have the honour to remain
"Yours deeply
"Thorin & Co."

The Hobbit, chapter 2 "Roast Mutton"

  • 1
    Ah yes, thank you! You've done what I was too scared to do! I think considering the adaptation-comparison tag, this should be the accepted answer!
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 24, 2017 at 16:32
  • @Edlothiad Indeed. I am split right now. Bellerophon answers my immediate question "Why would Bilbo try to hide his job?". SQB answers quite splendidly as to how do the movies and the books differ. SQB, If you were add your thoughts as to why would Bilbo try to hide it in the movies, This will definitely be the accepted answer.
    – Aegon
    Apr 24, 2017 at 17:57
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    @Aegon I'd like to, but I've never seen the movies, nor do I expect to see them anytime soon — quite likely, I may never watch them at all. So I'm quite happy with not having my answer accepted.
    – SQB
    Apr 24, 2017 at 18:37
  • @SQB You can have my opinion on it if you want? Apr 24, 2017 at 21:29
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    @SQB Well in that case, it still deserves more than just one upvote. I'll add five more upvotes once the question is eligible for bounty.
    – Aegon
    Apr 24, 2017 at 21:50

The auctioner may check only the parts mandatory for his decision; whether the hobbit in front of him is Bilbo or is not. He may only check Thorin's, Balin's and Bilbo's signatures and the title of the document (Adventure contract). He may skip any note that Bilbo was contracted as an burglar.

If Bilbo would say it out loud, he would be sure anyone in vocal area would know, he was contracted as a burglar. When he avoided it by mumbling it away he kept his chance that the fact would be left unnoticed at all or noticed only by the auctioner.

There was no gain for revealing it and pain for sure.

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