A Character Analysis of Sméagol and Gollum’s Destructive Nature

Gollum is a forgotten and broken tangle of destructive behavior. He is acknowledged by many of the characters in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and especially, The Lord of the Rings, and even more are vaguely aware of his presence, but he creeps across Middle-earth in secret, perpetually hunting in the darkness for his precious. Born in TA 2430, Gollum’s original name was Sméagol, descended from one of the earliest Hobbit races, the Stoors. Though Hobbits do not normally live nearly 600 years, his consumption of the Ring and his descent into the mountain with its unnatural power allowed him to survive until 3019, when he fell to his death, fittingly with his precious Ring, into the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo forgives Gollum at the end of the series because he believes that Gollum was not entirely at fault for what he did, that it was the power of the Ring that forced him into this destructive madness. Gollum had no one to blame but himself for immoral actions, and gave in to his desires for the Ring rather than reject them as several other characters have managed to do. His demise was deserved, and as the final bearer of the Ring, their collective death resolved the climax of the series.

gollum-lord-of-the-rings-31401514-395-315Gollum’s needs are simple: he wants fresh fish and a safe place to hide from the goblins whenever he can. However, he desires the Ring to accomplish these goals and believes that he cannot survive without it. Ironically, it did not start out this way. Sméagol longed for the Ring out of pure human desire, but eventually dissolved into a mutated half-life that survived on slimy fish and goblin-flesh. Even after his entire life had been destroyed by the Ring and he lived in the mountains in the utter blackness, Gollum was furious when the Ring finally passed into Bilbo’s possession. The intriguing aspect of the story is that Tolkien never meant for the Ring to be Gollum’s obsession, but the importance of the Ring grew even within Tolkien’s mind as his books progressed, and suddenly Gollum’s possession of the Ring became much more monumental to the story.

Gollum is actually quite talkative and comfortable around people, but his behavior is so antisocial and violent that he could never truly be a well-assimilated citizen of Middle-earth. His life as a Hobbit was one of royalty, as he was born into a Matriarch in the Third Age, and spent the first 100 years of his life in mortal bliss and with the inevitable peace of Hobbit life. On his birthday on year, he went fishing with his cousin Déagol, who found the ring after falling into the pond. When Sméagol caught sight of the Ring, he knew that he had to have it for himself. He strangled his cousin and took the Ring, but his old life as a Hobbit was over. His grandmother kicked him out of their Hobbit hole and his community banished him for murdering one of their own. He sought shelter in the Misty Mountains and stayed there by himself for hundreds of years. He spent most of his time talking to himself and his precious, but once Bilbo came along, Gollum was almost eager to speak to another Hobbit.

His attitude towards Bilbo is of contempt: he wishes to eat him only because he needs something and raw fish are merely his everyday meals. It would be a luxury to chow down on the meaty flesh of a Hobbit. His cannibalism is surprising, but is probably another side effect of the Ring’s overwhelming power. It almost seems as if he forgot that he was a Hobbit himself at one point, though it was nearly 400 years ago at the time Bilbo ventures into his cave. Gollum’s instincts are to eat whatever comes his way so perhaps part of the Ring’s destructive nature is, at least for Gollum, to make him perpetually hungry. He even comes to abhor Hobbit and Elvish food later on. This seems an absolutely tortuous fate, and is an evil that many people experience in the real world everyday. Gollum’s fate is to always be hungry but never satisfied, and that is the power of the Ring demonstrating its complete control over a weak and easily manipulated Hobbit.

 

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Gollum is interrogated twice in the books at two very pivotal points in The Lord of the Rings plotline. When Bilbo leaves the Misty Mountains with Gollum’s precious, his hatred for the Baggins is too strong to prevent him from venturing out into the world for the first time in centuries. He ends up in Mordor, though, and is captured and tortured into revealing what he knows about the Ring. Gollum honestly does not know too much, but manages to inform Sauron of the Shire and that “Baggins” has it, which leads Sauron’s forces to hunt Frodo during his quest to destroy the Ring. Without Gollum’s inevitable assistance, perhaps Frodo would have had a much quieter journey along the way. Gandalf interrogates him after he is released from Mordor, and learns how Gollum obtained the Ring, which is an enormous turning point in the book, but which is sadly left out in the films. Gandalf uses this information to motivate Frodo to leave the Shire with the Ring because his fellow Hobbits were in grave danger. Gollum’s interaction with each of his interrogators is unique because he is tortured by one and forced, possibly by a little bit of magic, to spill his story to Gandalf. Both times, he was forced against his will to release personal information that changes the way the story might have gone if he had not been interrogated by one, or both, of these characters. If Gandalf had not known that Gollum told Sauron where the Ring was, the Shire would have been obliterated and evil would have taken over Middle-earth again. If Sauron had not gotten ahold of Gollum in the first place, he would have been forever consumed by the question of where his Ring is and perhaps would have laid waste to Middle-earth just by searching for it. Gollum does not really seek any advice from characters in the story, but he certainly speaks to Gandalf, who advises him to stay away and leave them alone. Gollum blatantly ignores him.

Gollum is not often seen in group settings, so the only true interaction readers see him in with other people is when he tags alongside Frodo and Sam on their journey to Mount Doom. This tiny group has a fascinating dynamic between Frodo’s trust in Sam being broken down by his acquaintance with Gollum and Sam’s mistrust of Gollum getting in the way of his being loyal to Master Frodo. Gollum plays them both, feigning innocence to Frodo, since he realizes that as the Ring-bearer, Frodo has the final say in the group. He also manipulates Sam’s interaction with Frodo and mixed with the Ring’s power slowly taking its toll on Frodo, the poor Master Hobbit ends up deceived and left alone with a creature that desires the Ring more than anything in the world. Gollum’s deception is part of his character, however, and is only enhanced by the Ring. As Sméagol, he was a deceptive, selfish murderer before the Ring even came to find itself upon his nasty little finger.

gollum-guessing-oThere is a very messy past that lurks behind Gollum and as a very mixed-up character throughout the series, he jumps back and forth between two very different personalities. Gollum is a self-sufficient character, often speaking to himself when he is alone and displaying an almost split personality during conversations with himself. When he pursues the Ring all the way to Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount Doom, he joins their company, hoping to obtain his precious before they can complete their tasks. This is a manipulative move, but social all the same, as one side of him wishes to help Frodo and Sam and the other wants to murder them. His dual personality is a sign of the old Hobbit perhaps still living inside him, directing his moral conscience that he tends to ignore most of the time. Some part of him is still seeking redemption for his corruption, but the Ring’s power is so strong over him that it snuffs out the good in him every time he tries to come out for a bit of light.

Gollum’s inner conflict takes place mostly externally, so readers see his entire struggle the same way that characters do. The only difference between readers and the characters who interact with Gollum is that readers understand the cosmic irony that becomes Gollum by the end of Return of the King. Gollum’s double-sided personality is almost like a personality disorder that would have been diagnosed today. His Sméagol side remembers how to love and develop friendships like a normal Hobbit, but the wretched Ring transformed something inside him and split his soul into two personalities, the other being Gollum, who only knows that he desires the Ring and wants to kill anyone who takes it from him. Samwise renames these two personalities “Slinker,” for when he is smooth-talking Frodo, and “Stinker,” for his aggressive and possibly insane side. This inner conflict reflects on the idea that there are two sides in every person that battle within: one with pure, just, and good motives, and the other with evil intentions.

When Bilbo finds the Ring in the caves of the Misty Mountains, Gollum dissolves into utter turmoil at the thought of losing the one thing he lived this long to protect and covet. His inner conflict can be seen through the eyes of an invisible Bilbo as Gollum sways back and forth, aching to know which passage he thinks Bilbo went down next. The moment when Bilbo almost kills him, but takes pity instead, is also a pivotal time in Gollum’s life. If he had ceased to exist at that moment, The Lord of the Rings would have unfolded much differently, and possibly more dangerously for the company, if there even would be one. Gollum’s influence throughout the series is essential to understanding the way information is passed across the lands, the history of the Ring itself, and Gollum himself lives as an example of what the Ring can do to a person after so many years of obsessive torment.

Tolkien writes in the character of Gollum as a poor, wretched creature that nearly crawls around on his hands and feet. Though he is described as very fast in The Hobbit as Bilbo has to run to keep up with him in the caves of the Misty Mountains. His body is pale, and he has great big yellow orbs for eyes. His mannerisms are described as frog-like, resembling a tail-less squirrel, or even like Shelob the spider. He moves close to the ground, but can rise up when he wants to attack. He has sharp teeth that he uses to bite into raw fish. Tolkien created this repulsive qualities in Gollum to exemplify the power of the Ring over any being, and his mannerisms cause Sam to be distrustful as they should.

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One of the most fascinating aspects of Gollum’s character is that he does not go through a lot of change in The Lord of the Rings, but only shifts from one version of himself to another throughout the series. Gollum starts out as Sméagol, and all readers know about him is that he was deceptive, murderous, and treacherous to his own kind. From there, he only pursued this dark side of him even more. The biggest shift that readers see in Gollum’s life is after he has been hiding in the Misty Mountains for 400 years and Bilbo’s taking the Ring forces him to leave that place with hateful intentions. In this way, his character shifts from a selfish and lazy creature to a selfish and active creature, which allows him to attain manipulative abilities no one expected him to develop.

During his interactions with Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor, Gollum consistently manipulates his actions and words to feign innocence in front of Frodo so that he can frame Sam for all the evil things he did behind his back. His manipulative manner has a weak spot, however, as readers begin to see his Sméagol side begin to take over when he starts to understand his relationship with Frodo. As both Ring-bearers, they share a special bond that connects them to a common goal, if not Frodo’s main goal: they do not want Sauron to retain possession of the Ring. This drives Gollum to fear Frodo and also want to please and impress him by not letting him down. He is genuinely hurt when he thinks Faramir was Frodo’s idea of a trap. His perception is that Frodo might actually be his friend after all this time of having no personal companionship with anyone but his Precious. He even plans to kill the Hobbits but almost repents when he sees Frodo sleeping so peacefully. Of course, Sam wakes up and threatens him, which causes Gollum to reappear in place of Sméagol. Nevertheless, Gollum’s Sméagol side still exists almost to the last moments of his life, which proves that he still had a chance at redemption all along.

Gollum is such a marvelous enigma, but Tolkien’s framework for this character is easily linked with Frodo’s destiny. By giving Frodo a character to have as an example of what could happen to him if he keeps possession of the Ring, Tolkien allows Frodo’s character to have motivation for continuing on his journey. Gollum sees Frodo as the one hope for humanity, and perhaps even includes himself in that lot, for if he his Precious had been destroyed and he had lived beyond that, maybe he would not have desired the Ring any longer. Tolkien allows these two characters to balance each other out on the journey and makes for an interesting power struggle between the two Ring-bearers. Gollum is meant to be a sneaky follower, a manipulative liar, a jealous possessor, and he plays all of these parts so beautifully. Tolkien needed him as a deuteragonist to explain the history of the Ring, especially during The Hobbit, and then ended up using him as a foil for Frodo.

According to Gandalf, Gollum did not truly deserve his death. He was bound by the will of the Ring, and he had no control over what it did to him and his soul. Frodo forgives him for the evils he committed because he understands in the end why Gollum’s influence on the destruction of the Ring was inevitably important because without his help, Frodo would have put on the Ring, Sauron would have seen him, and the ruination of the world would commence. Gollum was apparently helpless in his decision to kill his cousin, before he even put the Ring on his finger, but though the text gives readers evidence that Gollum was innocent, there is a larger issue at hand. Sméagol’s moral conscience was torn apart by his decision to murder his cousin to obtain the Ring. Though his desire of it was the reason for the murder, his intentions were purely of his own accord, not simply the influence of the Ring. He chose to murder his cousin. There is no hiding from that blatant fact. Even if the Ring was an allegory for the power of sin, all Christians know they still have a choice of when they sin.

The Silmarillion is pretty essential background in understanding Gollum’s character as influenced under the power of the Ring. The Ring was lost in the River Anduin since it betrayed Isildur indirectly and slipped off his finger, revealing him to the Orcs that were hunting him at the time. If Sméagol had not taken possession of it and hidden it 400 years after he had found it, then some other powerfully evil force could have retrieved the Ring before he had. In order to understand why the Ring has such an influence over Sméagol, one must understand the story of the making of the One Ring. Before Sauron was destroyed at Númenor, he had disguised himself in the shape of a deceiver named Annatar, the Giver of Gifts and made friends with the last of the line of Fëanor, an Elf named Celebrimbor. Together, they forged powerful rings, nine rings for Men and seven rings for Dwarves. However, Sauron, in the form of Annatar, was creating his own one Dark Ring of Power in the heart of Mount Doom, and Celebrimbor was creating three rings for the Elves in secret as well. When the forging of the rings was complete, Annatar revealed himself as Sauron and tried to steal all of the rings, but Celebrimbor stopped him from taking the Elven three. Sauron created the One Ring to control the other rings, however, and used its power often, though it corrupted him deeply. When he was destroyed by Isildur, he became simply a giant eye of fire, the last of his essence burning out when the Ring was destroyed in the heart of Mount Doom. Gollum was the longest Ring-bearer next to Sauron, and his importance to the story remains. Though the Ring corrupted him just as it corrupted Sauron, he is still personally responsible for the evil deeds he committed in his lifetime.

One thought on “A Character Analysis of Sméagol and Gollum’s Destructive Nature

  1. Just recently I received the Silmarillion book. And the lord of the rings collection. I would like to know which book to read first? So I don’t read them out of order… Thank you

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