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Minas Tirith Forums » Library Council of Minas Tirith » What was the burgler symbol Gandalf scratched on Bilbo's door? (Page 1)
Author Topic: What was the burgler symbol Gandalf scratched on Bilbo's door?
Ockle Burr
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What is the burgler symbol Gandalf scratches on Bilbo's door in The Hobbit?

Tolkien normally goes to great lengths to describe the runes and writing of elves, dwarves and other citizens of Middle Earth. However, one rune that is never described (as far as I can tell) is the one that allows Thorin and his party to find Bilbo. As Gandalf leaves Bilbo after his first visit to Bag End in "The Hobbit" he scratches a quuer little symbol on his door that means, "Burglar (or expert treasure hunter) wants good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward."

I have pored over the four novels as well as "Unfinished Tales" and "The Silmarillion" and have found nothing. I have found no resource depicting this symbol on the internet. Did Tolkien ever describe the rune? If not, why? He invented whole languages!

(This all stemmed from my quest to find the perfect first tattoo, but I think this may be something the Council could discuss.)


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Jóhnny, the Jester
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i dont blive he dose. it might not have need to be told about because biblo dident notice them. if bilbo had noticed the would have been dusced but it was not really a great importance! dose that help a bit
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Roland
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I had thought that Gandalf scratched the rune letter 'G' (for Gandalf) on the door. -So that the dwarves would know Gandalf's choice for their burglar.

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Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.


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Ockle Burr
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Nope, it wasn't the "G" rune... here's all the relevant textual material that I have:

from The Hobbit:

"After a while [Gandalf] stepped up, and with the spike of his staff scratched a queer sign on the hobbit's beautiful green front-door." (p 6)

Gloin: "'And I assure you there is a mark on the door—the usual on in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward, that's how it is usually read.'" (p 18)

and from Unfinished Tales:

Gandalf: "'I will put the thief's mark on his door, and then you will find it.'" (p 349)

(All page references from Ballentine editions)

So there is a rune, though it may simply be a letter T... I was just wondering if Tolkien ever explained it in any writing, or if it was not meant to be known.


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Mellon
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I was curious about that mark the first time I read There and Back Again, and have never found anything to describe it.

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'Speak, friend, and enter'


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Cernunnos
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It was a picture of a bag with 'SWAG' written on it, of course!

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Whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered.


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Dingalen
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I am afraid to ask - but I am just too curious: SWAG?

My hypotheses on the mark on the door is, that it was not a regular letter, but a some kind of secret code sign (a thief's mark, i.e. something only insiders of the shadowy buisness would know).
I don't think it would have had any ethymological significance. Like the red cross on a white field signifying medical aid.


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White Gold Wielder
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"Ladies and gentlemen, your lupins please!"
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Cernunnos
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I guess swag might be a rather obscure word for non-native-English speakers. Means burglar's loot. Probably originally a piece of thieves cant (= slang).

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Whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered.


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Ockle Burr
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Thank you all for breathing life into my inagural post... lamentably we are no closer to an answer, but we have moved onto Monty Python references, so I'm sure we're headed in the right direction!

Legolas: "You see that orc over there? the tall one with the eye on his shield?"

Sam: "The one wearing the cap?"

Legolas: "NO, not that one. More to the left: the one with the long arms that sort of hang down like this; wearing the goat skin."

Sam: "That's never a goat skin. Sheep maybe."

Legolas: "Nevermind that! The point is, I could hit him nine times out of ten!"

I'm sorry... I seem to have strayed from the point... maybe this belongs in a different topic...


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Roll of Honor Marcho Blackwood - MSS
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Hey, Joe! You American? Me too! I from Chicago New York! You my friend! I give you good deal! Look, real diamond! No ^&^! We buddies, I give you good deal! You can trust me! I have watches too! Hey, Joe, come back! Really! Good Deal! Come back! . . .

&^$% tourists!


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Ockle Burr
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Yes, tourists can be annoying... I wonder if anyone's seen them around here?
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Dingalen
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Yeah, tourists. Americans. Brrr...
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Ockle Burr
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American? I didn't realiZe how many of the people here were British. Oh well... I'M American, and I got the "swag" reference immediately...

None of this, however, brings me any closer to discovering just what exactly that rune on Bilbo's door looked like. Oh well, case closed. File this as one of the unanswerable questions posed to the Council...

I'll just have to get a tattoo of the good old stars and stripes.

This message has been edited by Ockle Burr on 07-19-2001 at


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Roll of Honor Marcho Blackwood - MSS
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New info on this topic! We actually do know what Tolkien was thinking of!

The Annotated Hobbit informs us that if we look at the book J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator , that there is an unfinished sketch of Gandalf at Bilbo's door and the runes for B and D are scratched into the door, followed by a diamond.

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gram
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Yep, MB, you are correct. The text explaining that drawing says that the runes B and D with a diamond are on the door. You can barely make them out when looking at the drawing. It is drawing 91.
[]

-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-
AE5,Ex26Yw1E¾^z³= AE5,ExxwP%1Ej^
AE5,Ex37zE1E¾^z³= X#w6Ykt^AT`Bz7qpT1Ej^

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Isiltári
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Topics like this are what make this site so fantastic. []
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The Laurenendôrian
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Brilliant!

It seems to me that the logical continuation of this is to ask why those runes were used.

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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That's what I was curious about, Laur.

B : Burglar
D : ?? Excitement ??
diamond: Reward

Using Gloin's definition of the mark(s), of course.

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White Gold Wielder
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I'll have to see the image before I can be of more help.

Can anyone get it up here?

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Glóin the Dark
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I assure you, Thorin, that my interpretation of the markings was accurate. If you arrived at Mr Baggins' home late, in such an undignified manner that you didn't notice the symbols, then that's your own fault!
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gram
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I have not been able to find the drawing in question on line. It is titled "Gandalf" and is drawing 91 in the book J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator
by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. That book is very, very good and highly recommended.

The drawing itself shows the front door to Bag End. There is a bell pull to the left of the door, two shrubs flanking the door, the door knob in the middle of the door, and Gandalf standing to the right of the door facing to the left like he is looking at the door. Just to the left of the shrub on the right hand side you can barely make out three symbols on the door, in vertical alignment. The top most symbol is the 'B' rune, below it is the 'D' rune, and below it is the diamond:
B
D
diamond


Here is an image of the rune alphabet used in the hobbit so you can see what the 'B' and 'D' rune look like. The diamond is just a diamond shape with a long vertical axis.



Maybe someone else can have better luck finding the "Gandalf" drawing by J.R.R. Tolkien on line. If not, then go to the book store and look in the book. Bring some money, though, because you might just get hooked and buy the book. It has a list price of $25 US. [] []

[ 08-29-2002, 04:18 PM: Message edited by: gram ]

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Fabian
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There's nothing more dangerous than a wounded mosquito
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Isiltári
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Pardon?
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Roll of Honor Fingolfin of the Noldor
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I just scaned that image, from page 199 by the way, in and blew up and enhanced the mark on the door. Aside from the red-boxed blow up in the left hand lower corner the image is otherwise unaltered:

 -

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