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23.5.07

Law and Fantasy

I've been meaning to write a big post about immigration, but instead let's talk about elves. In response to claims from various others about the underutilization of law as a plot device in fantasy literature, Ilya Somin cites the following example of the centrality of law to the archetypal fantasy, Lord of the Rings:

For my Property class, I once created a handout illustrating the various common law modes of property acquisition using examples from LOTR. We've got acquisition by creation (Sauron's claim to ownership of the Ring), acquisition by conquest (Isildur's claims); acquisition by find (Gollum); acquisition by exchange (Bilbo, winning the ring in a game with Gollum); and acquisition by gift (Frodo). Gollum could also claim ownership by adverse possession were it not for the fact that adverse possession does not apply against personal property.


I don't think this example quite proves the intended point. Certainly it shows you can use property concepts to analyze what happens in the book. And certainly some of the characters would use these sorts of concepts to assert a moral right to the ring (though Somin overlooks the important role of utilitarian justifications -- both Sauron and the Fellowship primarily claim a right to the ring on the basis of what they'd be able to do with it, and Galadriel and Gandalf both refuse to take it for similar reasons). But until Aragorn reclaims the throne, there is no overarching law -- no publicly established and enforceable code -- to which the characters could appeal in defense of their claims.

The relative paucity of law-based fantasy does, however, mean that I have a niche open to me. I've got the beginnings of several fantasy novels kicking around my computer. The most well-developed one features (as of chapter 4) key plot points arising from laws regarding the citizenship status of indentured servants, the seizure of property for tax arrears, and regulations on corporate takeovers.

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