Of Rings and Things: Smeagol and Grima

by Doctor Gamgee

Of rings and things . . . the relationship between Smeagol and Grima and what Tolkien was trying to tell us.

I was thinking today about my favorite character from TTT, and came across a thought that I would like to share with you. It is still in the works, so feel free to jump in and add your thoughts.

There are two characters in LOTR which facinate me, and I find striking similarities between them: Smeagol and Wormtongue. Certainly, there are differences, the biggest one is the influence of the Ring. Noone could deny that the weight of the Ring's evil pushed Golllum over the edge. But if we look at the actions of Smeagol "Before" he had posession of the Ring, he killed desired it for himself and was willing to kill Deagol in order to get it. This sort of "me first at whatever the cost" is one of the hallmarks of Grima and is different from the sort of "Ringlust" that we see elsewhere in the story.

Boromir may have been willing to hurt Frodo to gain the Ring by the time of their parting, but he KNEW what the Ring was and what it could do and had much time and exposure to it to get to that point. Samwise had posession of the Ring for a time, and yet was able to give it back to Frodo (something which Frodo was unable to do with his uncle Bilbo). Smeagol, however, when the murder of Deagol occurred, had no knowledge of the Ring or it's power. Smeagol, nevertheless, was willing to kill this friend of his, in an effort to get it. Once he did, he was started on the path of 'selfserving me first' which led him to the lake under the Misty Mountains, (and which, interestingly enough, held the Ring captive there for untold years!).

Grima is similar to this. He works for Saruman not out of love (and perhaps only marginally out of fear) in an effort to gain what he really desires--Eowyn. Willing to deal out death and trechery in order to gain his own ends.

We can also see their duplicity towards their masters. Smeagol first tries to steal the Ring, then offers to help "nice master," then betrays him again to Shelob in order to gain the Ring. Grima, tries to weaken Theoden for Saruman, then when he is discovered, tries to warn Him about the coming war, then attempts to leave Saruman but is stopped by the Ents and forced to go to Orthanc and face him.

One final similarity is that both Smeagol and Wormtongue are both the cause for the final downfall to their ultimate masters. Wormtongue distroys Saruman and kills him with a knife: Smeagol bites the Ring from Frodo's hand, and falls into the fire, distroying the Ring and Sauron as well, betraying "all" of his masters.

All of this led me to wonder what Tolkien was trying to tell us in these characters. If we are to take his claim of wanting to create a "Mythology" then we must assume that as much of the myths function was to teach us or explain things (Persephone's eating the food of the dead is why we have seasons, Icarus teaches us not to let pride go to our head . . .), then we must see what we were to get from these two.

It seems, that in putting Wormtongue into the picture, he doesn't allow us to slip off the hook with thoughts that "evil is only from without." Otherwise, "the Ring made me do it" would excuse all of the evil. Noone would be responsible for their own actions, which would leave someone like Tolkien, a teacher, in a lot of hot water. Yet we see in Wormtongue a character who makes similar choices to Smeagol, but is inherently less forgivable, as he is not under the spell of the ring. Perhaps he was ensnared by the voice of Saruman, but we see him continue in this vein until his master's demise, despite Saruman's power waning. And if he was able to finally get beyond the spell to kill him (when he was in the Shire), then he could have escaped him before this.

So perhaps we are not only left on the hook to be accountable for our actions, we are also forced to accept that not everyone is a friend (which seems to go against the findings of Frodo on this journey . . . Strider, Faramir, etc.) and we must guard against letting others lead us where we know we shouldn't go.

-Doctor Gamgee