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Minas Tirith Forums » Library Council of Minas Tirith » What was the burgler symbol Gandalf scratched on Bilbo's door? (Page 3)
Author Topic: What was the burgler symbol Gandalf scratched on Bilbo's door?
Joe Stupid KingofBelfalas
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Ok, I was actually wonerding the same thing not a day or two ago.
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Thorin - sorry, I didn't forget about this, but I don't know how to "enhance" the enlarged picture as Fingolfin did. If someone else knows, I'd be glad to email them the picture. Simply enlarging it, so as to show the symbols, doesn't work - it's too blurry.
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Eled is working on the picture, sent to her by WT. Hopefully she will get it up soon. But in the meantime:
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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What was the burglar symbol Gandalf scratched on Bilbo’s door?

When Gandalf leaves Bag End after his first visit to Bilbo, “he stepped up, and with the spike of his staff scratched a queer sign on the hobbit's beautiful green front-door.”(1) Gloin later explained: “[T]here is a mark on this door - the usual one 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. You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like.”(2)

Based upon the text of The Hobbit alone, it appears that there was only one symbol, because of the use of the singular words “sign” and “mark.” However, J.R.R. Tolkien began a sketch of Gandalf at Bilbo’s door which he never finished.(3) This picture shows in vertical alignment three runes:

B (berkanan)
D (dagaz)
diamond (ingwaz)

These runes are from the Elder Futhark, which Tolkien calls “English runes.” The B and D are found in other systems of runes, but all three are only found together in the Elder Futhark.(4) They are not compatible with the Cirth in The Lord of the Rings.(5) To interpret the runes from Hobbit-era work, such as on Thror’s map or this drawing, it is necessary to use the Elder Futhark transliteration and not the meanings found in the table in Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings.

The B rune represents “birch” and closely resembles the Latin B with angular shapes instead of rounded.(6) The D rune is called “day” and looks similar to the letters “IXI” pushed closely together until touching.(7) The diamond is termed “ingwaz” and is also the name of a Scandinavian god. It represents a “ng” sound and is simply a diamond shape.(8)

These three runes taken together formed a meaning that Gloin interpreted as “Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward.” Gloin mentions that this is the “usual” reading, so it is possible that other meanings could be attached to these symbols. There are no known hints from Tolkien upon the meaning of each individual symbol. However, speculation is possible. Gloin offers three distinct themes which are stressed by capitalization in his sentence, and there are three distinct runes. It is possible that the meaning of each rune was intended to be:

B = Burglar
D = Excitement
diamond = Reward

The burglar and reward meanings seem logical, as a “burglar” starts with “B” and a “diamond” may indicate financial gain. But interpreting the letter “D” for “excitement” is a bit more tenuous. One theory is that it could also mean “danger” but that Gloin used the term “excitement” instead. He could have done this to avoid further flustering Mr. Baggins, who was very upset at the time of the conversation. Further support for this theory is the fact that the D rune was used to mark the secret door on Thror’s map. The D rune could have been used for the Latin D in English, and therefore stood for “Door” on the map and “Danger” on Bilbo’s front door.

(1) An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit
(2) Ibid.
(3) Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull; J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator; “Gandalf,” picture 91
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes
(5) Introductory note, The Hobbit
(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkanan
(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dagaz
(8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingwaz

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Ockle Burr
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I was so excited to find, five years later, that my question had been finally answered that I went straight to Amazon and ordered the book. Here's a scan with the runes blown up. It looks to me like there's a dot in the middle of the diamond. I don't think it's actually a rune, but merely a pictograph for treasure.

 -

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Ockle Burr! Long time no see. It's good to see you back in town. Thanks for getting the picture up.

Why do you think the diamond is not a rune, when the other two are clearly runes? Because the dot in the center?

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Ockle Burr
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The dot is one thing, but Tolkien used dots all over his runes. Mostly, it's the fact that he didn't use the ingwaz rune in anything else I've seen (please correct me if I'm wrong). He did use dagaz to stand for the main door to the dwarven halls, however. I think the scratching most literally means "Burglar's Door, Treasure sought."

Gloin isn't the scholar that Gandalf is. Many words and symbols in the real world change meaning from generation to generation. I think it was a game of "Telephone" with this symbol. As it passed from generation to generation, its meaning remained similar but its etemology was forgotten. Burglars and Expert Treasure Hunters tried to make it sound more respectable as they co-opted the sign. Tolkien loved showing depth in his language by using methods like these (as when he describes how the runes changed values as they passed between the peoples of Middle-earth).

Gloin wasn't wrong, he was just speaking from an traditional stance, not a scholarly one.

[ 08-19-2006, 12:32 AM: Message edited by: Ockle Burr ]

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Joe Stupid KingofBelfalas
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Wow, I finally have a picture for my head of what it looks like! Thanks!
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Ockle Burr
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I wonder, after thinking more about it, if the rune dagaz by itself stands for "an opening." It would explain the use on Thror's map ("Here lies the Opening to the Dwarven Halls") and the use in the scratches ("Burglar seeks [job] Opening and Reward" with 'excitement' being understood, as all burgling is exciting by nature).
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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OckleBurr - For what it's worth, Blum's The Book of Runes gives the following "traditional meanings" for the Viking runes:

 -

==============

Note that the traditional meaning of the "D" rune - daeg or dagaz - is Gateway. So this supports (I suppose) the idea that this rune means opening on Thror's Map.

Note also that the traditional meaning of the "B" rune - beorc or berkana - is Growth with secondary meanings rebirth and new life.

It could be just coincidence, in a horoscope kind of way, but the first two certainly seem appropriate for Bilbo in April of the year 2941.

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Ockle Burr
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If I'm look at that page correctly, it seems that the meaning of "dagaz" is actually "Breakthrough," which really just blows my theory out of the water-- unless Tolkien was making up his own meanings.
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Here is also a little blurb about Tolkien's history with the "B" or "Birch" rune.

quote:
(* This is a convenient place to cite my father's explanation of the significance of the Birch-tree that appears in two of the poems given by Professor Shippey (see his book pp. 206- 7); cf. also 'Birchyard' in the chorus to verse a of The Root of the Boot. In a note on one of his copies of Songs for the Philologists my father wrote: 'B, B, Bee and (because of the runic name of B) Birch all symbolize mediaeval and philological studies (including Icelandic); while A, and Ac (oak = F) denote 'modern literature'. This more pleasing heraldry (and friendly rivalry and raillery) grew out of the grim assertion in the Syllabus that studies should be "divided into two Schemes, Scheme A and Scheme B". A was mainly modern and B mainly mediaeval and philological. Songs, festivities and other gaieties were however mainly confined to B.')
Note on the Songs at the Prancing Pony, The Return of the Shadow

[ 09-12-2006, 12:17 AM: Message edited by: Thorin ]

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit also reproduces this drawing. On an interesting side note, there were definite magical properties to the runes in early drafts. Exactly what they were supposed to do from a "magical" perspective is a bit hazy, which may have led this aspect to be dropped from revisions.
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White Gold Wielder
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Could you be so good as to collect some examples for me? []
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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Sorry - I had posted from work without my book so couldn’t quote. But here you go:

quote:
’Pardon me‘ he said ‘if I have overheard [part >] some words that you were saying. I cannot pretend to understand it all, but I think I am right in believing that you think I am no good. I am not - but I will be. I have no magic signs on my door…

‘I put it there‘ said Bladorthin from the darkest corner. ‘With my little stick I put it there…’

The Pryftan Fragment, The History of the Hobbit

quote:
…Bladorthin in the meanwhile was still standing outside the door and laughing long but quietly. After a while he stepped up and made a little magic sign on the hobbit’s beautiful green front door and then he strode away, just about the time that the hobbit was finishing his second cake and beginning to think that he had escaped adventures very well…

‘Pardon me’ he said ‘if I have overheard some words that you were saying. I don’t pretend to understand what you are all talking about, but I think I am right in believing’ (this is what is called ‘being on one’s dignity’) ‘that you think I am no good. I will show you. I have no magic signs on my door - it was painted a week ago - and I am sure you have all come to the wrong house…

…’Of course’ said the wizard. ‘[ I ] put the mark there myself…’

The Bladorthin Typescript, The History of the Hobbit

Unfortunately Rateliff has nothing to say about the magic of the rune(s) on the door. It is also interesting that Gloin calls it secret while Bilbo and Bladorthin/Gandalf call it magic. I think that there might be some connection between magic and runes, but need to do some more research.

Edit: I used the word "hazy" in regards to the runes earlier. I said this because the mark / runes were called magic but didn't do anything magical. Bladorthin made it and then Oin found it and told the other dwarves.

[ 07-09-2007, 04:13 PM: Message edited by: Thorin ]

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White Gold Wielder
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You could equally make the case for the "magic" nature of the runes being solely in the perception of dear Bilbo, being still in fearful awe of Gandalf. Further evidence would be required to prove Tolkien intended any "real" magic at this early stage.
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Roll of Honor pi
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Thorin said:
quote:
...interpreting the letter “D” for “excitement” is a bit more tenuous. One theory is that it could also mean “danger” but that Gloin used the term “excitement”
IIRC, there is a Chinese symbol that means both opportunity and danger? Didn't JFK refer to it somewhere? Let me go googling...

Yes, it is the word for crisis
This is actually 2 symbols, but my point is that, like the runes on Bilbo's door, there could quite easily be two different meanings, based upon the context it is used in.

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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quote:
You could equally make the case for the "magic" nature of the runes being solely in the perception of dear Bilbo, being still in fearful awe of Gandalf. Further evidence would be required to prove Tolkien intended any "real" magic at this early stage.
Yes, Rateliff makes the case for a very "magical" Unexpected Party. Smoke rings flying about, multi-colored dwarves, instruments appearing from nowhere - the "magic" burglar symbol could have been a part of that.

This is a bit off the topic, but the reason I was thinking about the relationship between runes and magic were:
1) the burglar symbol(s) was described as "magic," both by the narrative and by the characters in early drafts
2) the moon-letters must have some sort of magical qualities
3) when they hid the trolls' gold, they put "a great many spells" over top of it. Later in FOTR, when Strider sees the stone, it had runes carved on it:
quote:
Not far down the bank Strider pointed out a stone in the grass. On it roughly cut and now much weathered could still be seen dwarf-runes and secret marks.

'There!' said Merry. 'That must be the stone that marked the place where the trolls' gold was hidden. How much is left of Bilbo's share, I wonder, Frodo?'

Again we have the relationship of runes, magic, and "secret", and this last part survived into the 1950s when FOTR was written.

Coincidence?

[ 07-10-2007, 03:48 AM: Message edited by: Thorin ]

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Here is something else I stumbled across relating to "magical" runes:

quote:
You will find with the revised proofs a draft of the jacket, for your criticism. I discovered (as I anticipated) that it was rather beyond my craft and experience. But perhaps the general design would do?...

In redrawing the whole thing could be reduced – if you think the runes are attractive. Though magical in appearance they merely run:

The Hobbit or There and Back Again, being the record of a year's journey made by Bilbo Baggins; compiled from his memoirs by J. R. R. Tolkien and published by George Allen & Unwin...

Letter # 12

Another magical connotation! But perhaps I am getting off track on what the topic of this thread is supposed to be about.
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Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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There are a lot of references to the magical properties of runes and rune "casting" (I think that's the term) in the Elder Edda. I'll check the references when I get a chance.
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Ockle Burr
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 -

I hope this isn't too distracting to the topic, but I just wanted to thank all of you for your help in finding these runes and to let you know that I finally got the tattoo!

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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Excellent!

Ockle Burr wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward!

[ 12-11-2008, 04:49 AM: Message edited by: Thorin ]

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Sam Gamgee
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Oh. My. Goodness. We have gone far into the nerd forest.

But I guess I shouldn't be talking. I've considered getting something in elvish somewhere.

-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-
"Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup!"

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Roll of Honor pi
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So now don't you have to post your burglar for hire tat in the tattoo thread?
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