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One lawsuit to rule them all...

"As a small token of your friendship Sauron asks this," he said: "that you should find this thief," such was his word, "and get from him, willing or no, a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole. It is but a trifle that Sauron fancies, and an earnest of your good will. Find it, and three rings that the Dwarf-sires possessed of old shall be returned to you, and the realm of Moria shall be yours for ever. Find only news of the thief, whether he still lives and where, and you shall have great reward and lasting friendship from the Lord. Refuse, and things will not seem so well. Do you refuse?"
--The Fellowship of the Ring, in "The Council of Elrond"
...So it seems to me that the proper reading of this is that there are three bilateral contracts.

  1. You give me the One Ring in exchange for these three tainted Dwarven rings and Moria (bilateral contract) if you find the Ring (condition precedent).
  2. You give me information about the One Ring in exchange for great reward and lasting friendship (bilateral contract) if you find such information (condition precedent).
  3. You promise to make a good faith effort to find the One Ring or information about it, or I march my Wargs and goblin hordes to your doorstep and make mincemeat of you all (bilateral contract; if the Dwarves agreed to it, but wanted out they could argue duress).
Now suppose Dáin agrees to this, and finds the Ring. Could Sauron enforce this contract to get the Ring?

If the contract were valid, this might be one of those things where specific performance would be allowed. The item is unique. And damages are nearly impossible to calculate. If they produce the Ring, Sauron rules over all the peoples of Middle Earth and orcs overrun everything. Sauron gets his body back. He can *blink* his eyes. He can use eye drops. If your eye had been wreathed in flame for millenia, how would you value that? Damages are clearly uncertain. And enforcing the contract wouldn't require that the court do much by way of babysitting. So it seems like a straight-forward contract for a unique item, where specific performance may be contemplated...

It just gets better: http://blog.qiken.org/archives/000196.html

I usually hate lawyers, but I love geek lawyers.