Disputing A Dragon’s Worth
In this week's print Newscripts, I wrote about Forbes.com's recent yearly ranking of the top 15 wealthiest fictional characters on page and screen. Smaug, everyone's favorite bone-crunching, treasure-hoarding dragon from "The Hobbit," came in seventh on the list, and Executive News Editor Michael Noer wrote a fun op/ed piece describing how the dragon's fortune was calculated. Noer hangs out his geek flag for all to see, making assumptions based on details from the book and using mathematical formulas to provide a minimum conservative estimate of Smaug's worth ($8.6 billion).
I consulted C&EN's resident J. R. R. Tolkien expert and Web team member, Ty Finocchiaro, about whether Noer's calculations were sound. He had a bone or two to pick--Smaug's worth should be higher, he says--and I'm sharing his musings here, proving that the Newscripts gang can out-geek the best of geeks any day of the week:
I applaud the playfulness of Mr. Noer's efforts to use logically sound formulas and scientific postulations to calculate a conservative base worth of a fictional dragon. (As opposed to all the real dragons that keep scorching my finely manicured lawn.) However I have a bone to pick with some of the proofs he has based his calculations on. Proofs that, if shifted even a few percentage points, would move ol' Smaug up to a solid third in the Forbes Fictional 15. Which is where he deserves to be, dang it!
1. The claim that 30% of the volume of Smaug's mound of treasure is air created by space between goblets, helmets, coins and bones.
Dwarf bones are, for one thing, quite small! Not to mention the vast majority of the victims in Erebor would have been incinerated to dust during Smaug's assault, leaving no bones behind. Besides, a creature as meticulous as Smaug (who noticed a single cup missing from his pile in "The Hobbit") would never leave large amounts of his dinner crumbs in his beloved bed of glittering gold. Thirty percent seems a bit much to begin with, I'm more comfortable knocking this volume percentage down to 10%. This would boost the gold and silver coin value up $0.9 billion.
2. Making a case for only the diamonds encrusted in Smaug's belly.
To focus on only the gems that formed Smaug's armored underbelly is pure folly. Undoubtably, there are gemstones in Smaug's hoard crafted by both Dwarf and Elven hand that reach back centuries to the First or Second Age. And these would number in the hundreds! Such gems of lesser hardness might not be useful in stopping a blade or bow, but they're certainly worth millions to a collector or covetous Noldorin Elf. Having valued Smaug's diamond studded belly at $3.9 billion alone, surely another $3.9 billion exists mixed in with the rest of the loot. Easily.
3. Discounting the fact that there were several shirts of Mithril as well as the likely raw ingots of Mithril in Smaug's lair.
Mithril is the strongest, lightest, most workable metal in Middle Earth. A suit of Mithril travels easy, an invaluable property when your main method of travel involves weeks on your feet. It is also nigh impenetrable, another property highly valued in a world where Wargs, Trolls, and Orcs by the hundreds want to take you home in pieces as tasty morsels. Mithril exists in only one location. A lightless underground hellhole riddled with treacherous goblins and ruled over by a wrathful Maiar spirit known as a Balrog. The stuff is worth millions. Gandalf once dropped that a single Mithril shirt was valued at more than the entire Shire's worth. On the conservative side, such an item would easily be worth $50 million, and raw ingots of the stuff would be worth even more, so tack on another $0.2 billion to cover this oversight.
This boosts Smaug's base value from $8.6 billion to $12.6 billion - and that's as rich as he's ever going to get. For one thing, dragons aren't noted for their investment prowess because the hoarding urge is just too strong. They'd rather gather it up around them and take a nice long nap. So there's no growth potential there. More importantly, stealing such vast amounts of treasure from various cultures only makes for a long list of enemies. Eventually, some distant relative swears an oath, hunts you down, and reclaims the treasure. And Smaug is no exception to this doom.