Why "is" Gollum?

by Vison

In Faramond’s thoughtful and excellent post, this alternate history is put forward that Deagol was “meant” to find the ring, and that Saruman the White was “meant” to cast it into the Fires of Mt. Doom. That this is how it had been “meant” by the Powers That Be.

This makes me squirm with unease. Not the “alternate” telling, no. It’s a plausible history, yet if that had been what happened, we would never have had our beloved tale. (Who knows how many times this has happened? How many great Evils have been averted and since they were, we never knew?)

What makes me uneasy and rebellious, makes me grimace and frown, is this whole “meant” idea. If the Powers That Be want the Ring destroyed, why don’t they just do it themselves? Ah, yes. Well, if they do, first, we have no beloved story; and second, the characters we love will not “learn” what they must learn for the Plans of the mighty to be fulfilled.

It is but a step, one tiny little step, for me to go forward and say, “This is my problem with God!” It is my problem with God, actually, but I’m going to leave that out of this thread and stick with the peoples of Middle Earth and the Great Enemy and his Ring.

Since I read LOTR many, many times before I ever read The Silmarillion, the landscape of Middle Earth, both physical and spiritual was plain in my mind. Eru, as far as I recall, never set foot in LOTR and even the Valar were mighty thin on the ground. A scant mention, by Faramir’s men scattering before the Oliphaunt; Gandalf’s careful phrasing “ that the ring was meant to be found by Bilbo”, etc. These little clues were not clues to me, I confess, or if they were, I ignored them.

My simple version is just that, my simple version, that this is a History of What Happened in the War of the Ring. This is what did happen. These characters did these deeds and the result was that the Ring was destroyed. I did not see it as the workings of Providence, just as I do not see the real world as the workings of providence: I live in a world where things happen. There are always causes, of course; it is always possible for reasons and motives to be found. But I see no hand of providence, nor plan, and I can’t enter into the mindset that does.

Middle Earth is a marvellous world, an alternate reality so lovely that it was and is always a great pleasure to go there. I say the physical landscape is plain, but that is manifestly not true, I could not draw a map of Middle Earth though I have walked every inch of it. I have no “visual” imagination, I guess, and I’m always staggered by the people who just know, without having to stop and think, that this rocky outcrop or that swamp, or that mountain peak was here, and that PJ’s movies were exactly right. They certainly looked exactly right to me, but not because they matched my mental photographs! No, my “physical” reality was vague and unformed, yet at the same time, I recognized it when I saw it. Someone above was amazed to find something South when it had always been North. Well, I just ignore details like that, to be honest, it makes no difference to me.

What matters to me in a book is the people. They must be “real”, and they must act “naturally”, for me to love a story. Reading LOTR as history doesn’t change that requirement in my mind, because I read “real” history the same way. “Real” history is the record, true to one degree or another (which study might reveal), of what our ancestors did. I don’t see history as “progression” from simple to complex, as primitive to modern, but as the long story of our race, humans moving from the past to the present, retaining their essential nature. This is not depressing or terrible, the awful past was also the place where people lived and loved and were kind and thoughtful, “history” is a cherry-picked tale of events, a listing of horrors or wonders. We ought to examine the horrors and attempt to avoid them, and we must always marvel over the wonders, they are “us” at our best.

The essential nature of Frodo is such that he is “real” to me. He is an “ideal” in some ways, an innocent, simple hearted, unsophisticated: but not unreal. Nor is Sam. Nor is Aragorn, nor Boromir nor the rest. The difficult one: Gollum, of course. Because, in this straightforward history, this recounting of deeds, this description of men and women, here is this tool of destiny, this “meant to be” device.

Gollum as a “device” changes LOTR from history to something else, something I don’t like and have no affinity with. I accepted the tale as the recounting of events. It does not mean that I never speculated on why characters acted as they did, indeed I have spent a great deal of time pondering that very issue. To read it as a history does not mean I never imagined other outcomes, that I never wondered what might have happened if X had done Y, instead of X doing Z. I have tried to enter into the minds of all the characters, as I did in the piece above about Galadriel.

But I couldn’t enter into Gollum’s mind any more than I can enter into an Orc’s mind. Gollum seemed only the personification of lust and greed. Smeagol was so quickly come and gone that he took on no reality for me. Right from the first reading, Gollum made me uneasy. I tried to discover his nature, and ended by just accepting him as he was, maimed and deformed by the Precious. It was not entirely satisfactory, it still isn’t.

He is a “symbol”, not a character. Well, real history has symbols, too, or at least there are men and women from our past who have taken on the form of symbols, either because they lived in a past too remote for our examination or because they were so great in evil or goodness that they seem removed from our ordinary selves. They never are removed from us, of course, a truth that can be hard to accept. Hitler was as human as Ghandi, or you, or me.

As a symbol of greed and lust, Gollum has his place in LOTR. When I saw Smeagol murder Deagol in the movie, I was able to give Gollum a little more humanity. The scene was well done, horrible without being unnatural, the nasty-minded little creep willing to do murder for a shiny trinket was “real” enough. The transformation of Smeagol into the Gollum was more believable in the movie than in the book, for me, and I could accept all the mercies shown to him.

That’s the only way I can swallow Gollum, I have to be able to see him as a human being, not a “device”. I won’t let him be just a tool of the Mighty, put in the tale to forward Frodo’s moral development and to allow the Ring to be unmade. If the Powers that Be want Frodo to grow in goodness and enlightenment, then why don’t they do it direct? If the Ring offends them, why don’t they just get rid of it? Why did they allow it to be made in the first place?

“Meant to be”? Meant by whom? Why?

I can’t ever get past this, my friends: what kind of Powers are we talking about, that would create Gollum, poor wretched Gollum who suffers centuries of misery and pain, who causes untold agonies for others, who exists only to further some plan involving another man’s education, and to aid in the destruction of an evil device that the mighty allowed to be made in the first place?

I can’t and won’t accept a universe in which such things happen. Powers, whether Eru or not, that make souls to suffer seem wicked and wrong to me. In The Silmarillion Tolkien, in that turgid, dense, and contradictory prose, creates his universe. The music is glorious, but then the music is marred, and then we all sigh and say, “ ‘Twas ever so….”

But I don’t sigh, I grimace and frown and am very glad I read LOTR before I ever tried The Silmarillion. If LOTR had never been written, who would ever have read the Silmarillion? I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I would have! It’s infinitely superior, etc., not just a grand tale, a fairy tale like LOTR, that appeals to the common folk!”

********, I say. ********, ********, ********. LOTR is a great book. It might not be great literature. I am not a literary critic, I’m not always in agreement with those who are, either. Every trade has its jargon and its trade secrets, every practitioner likes to manifest his superior understanding and trot forth his arcane knowledge, and literary criticism is like other trades in that. For me a book must do one thing above all: it must tell me the story of some people and what they do, and those people must live on the page, they must jump out at me, demanding that I listen. The characters “acting” will teach me any lessons the author intended, or they will not. And, obviously, the lessons I discern are not necessarily what the author had in mind, or what other readers find.

Twice in the movies, Peter Jackson caused me to see “reality” in characters I could see little realism about in the book. One was Gollum, and one was King Theoden. I won’t bring King Theoden into this thread, but (and you may take this as either a promise or a threat) I am working on a post about him.

Much has been made of the changes Jackson made in the relationships between Frodo and Sam and Gollum, the triumvirate trudging to Mordor. I disliked much of it, particularly what I saw as Frodo’s “dumbing down”. The “moral universe” as seen by Peter Jackson is not the “moral universe” as seen by Tolkien, and in my heart I will always think Tolkien’s is superior. But Jackson’s is not merely the silly loud SFX-fest I saw at first, either. Thanks to some great writing on this forum, I have learned to see the movies with kinder eyes. I now see that Jackson was able, in particular, to take two unsatisfactory people and make them more human than Tolkien had, and for that, if nothing else, I am grateful.

“Hope” flew last from Pandora’s box. I have read that this was the last Evil, for Hope is always a “fool’s hope”, that Hope keeps man from accepting Fate, from what is inevitable. It is better to bend your neck to the axe, that belief says, than to hope for the rescue that will not come.

Sam went on hoping, but Frodo had bent his neck, had he not? Which was right? Frodo’s rejection of hope was not so much that the Quest would fail as his certainty of what would come after. Whether the Ring was destroyed or not, Frodo had no hope for himself. He was spent, empty, could see no tomorrow.

Is this vanity, to give in to despair? Frodo has been called a “moral failure” for claiming the ring, but was his moral failure this rejection of hope?

Again, I think I am going to wander off the beaten path here, because I don’t see his failure. I never have. “Things happen because they happen”, I say. Or, in the alternate view, Gollum was “meant” to destroy the Ring. Frodo was overcome, defeated by an enemy too powerful for him. Where is the failure in that? Think of what he did succeed in doing, carrying that awful burden so far, fighting as hard as he fought! At the end, he had not become wicked. The Ring overbore him, yes, but Frodo was still there, deep down in his heart he was still Frodo. The Ring spoke out of his mouth, the Ring spoke with Frodo’s voice, but I never believed it was Frodo. I think he would have cast himself into the fire, had not Gollum appeared.

“Gollum on the edge of the abyss was fighting like a mad thing with an unseen foe.” Here, at the end of things, Gollum and Frodo are One. Here is the dark twin struggling with the bearer of light. It was always an obvious reading, to see Gollum and Frodo as two sides of a coin, and in Jackson’s movie it was much plainer than in the book, because of the physical similarity between the two on screen.

On the page, Sam sees only Gollum, but of course Frodo is there. For the last moments of that Age, they are one. Centuries of history come rushing to this point, upon which the future rests, balanced as on a fulcrum. Gollum “beats” Frodo in this fight, and the Precious is once more in his grasp. The future swings down, into despair and darkness. Then, although Why is hard to know, Gollum falls and the future swings up to hope and sunshine.

Did Gollum fall “by accident”? Or was he playing out the last act of “meant to be”? Or was there a third way? I think there was, although I have a hard time explaining it. Many forces were at work, not least the Ring itself. I believe, I think, I imagine, that the Ring longed to return to the Fire where it was born, like some great golden firefish returning to the stream where it was spawned. Between these three, the “meant”, the accidental, and the purposeful, Gollum fell.

So, for today’s odd theory: Sauron had poured much of himself into the ring when he made it, and as is often the case, the creation took on a life of its own he did not intend. Yes, the Ring might have been glad to return to the hand that once bore it, but maybe it would not. The Ring had a kind of life, as Tolkien and Sauron made it. It sang, and many ears heard the song.

Did the Ring reject Sauron? There are days, and today is one, when I think it did. Had Saruman, or Boromir, or Sauron gained it, the Ring would have become once again only the tool of power Sauron meant to create. But it had been off his hand for too long, and as it neared the fires of its birth, it became “fell and unmanageable”.

If we are to deal in symbols, and if those symbols are to have any meaning, we must be able to enter into them, to see the life they have been endowed with. Why, many readers and critics have asked, did Sauron create stupid ring in the first place, and pour much of his power into it? Why, indeed? A puzzle I’ve never managed to solve, myself. However, since this is History, we know he did. And having done so he created, like many powerful beings before and since, something essentially beyond his control.

The Ring, rolling through Middle Earth, borne on one hand, then upon the other, sought its own ends and end, did it not? Does this teach me a lesson of some kind? I don’t know. But then again, it doesn’t change the fun of reading the story.

Response from Ladyhawk:

The problem I see with questioning the existence of Gollum in such a way begs for questioning the existance of Gandalf and Saruman, wizards, not to mention Sauron, the giant eyeball, and Treebeard, a talking tree, well, Ent, anyway, We'll not even approach the likes of dear Tom B. and Goldberry.

Be that as it may, it needs to be considered that Gollum is first from The Hobbit, not LOTR. His character is continued from one book to the next.

I like to think that Tolkien was more careful about creating his characters than simply using them as plot devices. Gollum seems to be living proof of the power of the Ring to prolong life and it's inescapable hold.

There is a part of me that wonders if Tolkien knew where he would take Gollum when he created him for the Hobbit. Did he? When he first started LOTR, did he truly plan to bring Gollum back into the story, or was it something that happened as the story went along?

The story would not be the same without Gollum, and I don't mean about him being the one that finally sees the deed done. He is a protagonist, and yet very different from Sauron or Saruman. Both of those characters are clearly in the "game" for themselves, for the power they could wield.

Gollum is a very different character. He is simply in it for himself. Nothing else. Yet, are there not those just like that in the common population?

There is a part of me that suddnely wonders if Gollum is not unlike someone Tolkien knew. Someone who is only concerned about what they want and yet actually have no interest in being one of the movers and shakers. They just want what they want, and pity the poor sap that gets in their way.

Each person has a role to play, regardless of religious beliefs. No one simply exists, simply because by merely existing others are affected, either for good or ill. Not unlike the butterfly effect (long before the movie).

There was a time, when I was very small, that I could believe that what happened on the other side of the world does not affect me, but I've learned much since then. I've lived on the other side of the world, (Thailand and England) and both places have changed me.

I can't watch the news without being ultra aware of what goes on in other places, even more so now. Simply because of various board members I'm far more aware of what is going on in the world. I've never tracked hurricans, until these past few years. Now I have a website bookmarked to make it easier. I watch the weather, the politcal conditions, the stories, not because they affect me directly but because they may affect those I care about, and so it matters to me.

Gollum is the beat of a butterfly wing, changing the course of the world. His path crossed with Bilbo's, in the dark caverns, in the bowels of a mountain, for the briefest of times, and the world changed. Then he turned into a hurricane, but how appropriate, for does not Tolkien suggest over and over that it is the little things that change everything? Doesn't get much smaller, in size and heart, than Gollum.

Things happen, and one can believe it is by divine providence or not. They happen. Lives are affected, and decisions must be made. There are those who take comfort in believing even bad things are intended, because it offers the hope that someone is in control. But one may choose to believe that or not. It does not change that everyone, at one time or another, will find themselves in a position to make a difference, for good or ill.

For myself, I do believe in God, but I do not believe He causes bad things to happen. We have the right to choose, and He does not take that way simply because some of us choose badly. But just because someone chooses badly, does not mean God cannot find a way to work it for good.

Tolkien chose to leave God out of the picture, for the most part, which gave the story an opportunity to touch more lives, for there are those who don't believe in God, and yet there are universal truths independent of God that speak to all. Tolkien's myth eloquently speaks those truths.

Gandalf saying it was intended, was meant to be comforting, to offer hope. Why throw that away? Tolkien's book is about hope, however one finds it. Gandalf does not say who intended it, simply that it was intended, suggesting that someone was in control, and in this case, Frodo was in control of his own destiny. He decided if he moved forward. He decided whether or not he gave up.

What a blessing that the likes of Gollum does not seem real... what a blessing not to know such evil. Others are not so blessed. Gollum is frighteningly real to me.

So perhaps it is not the telling of the story that gets in the way but one's own life experiences. And refusing to accept the way Tolkien tells the story is always a choice, but it does not invalidate the way he told it. I don't like the way the story ends, but it doesn't mean the ending was wrong. I can in fact fight for the ending of the story to be just as it is, and have done so. But I also reserve the right to re-write it my own way.

Stating that the story CAN'T be done this way or that closes the door to hope and to seeing things from a different point of view. The true value of a story is its ability to open one's mind to the possibilities of something never before imagined or considered, and the opportunity to rethink long held ideas. One may come away with their convictions all the firmer, but one may also change.

As for the Ring rejecting Sauron, Tolkien never hints at such a possibility. Over and over, it is stated that the Ring wishes to return to the hand of its master, and uses whatever means are available to get there. If the Ring wanted to return to the fire from which it was made, then why did it not convince Frodo to throw himself in or simply let go of it, there at the cracks of Doom? If it was made as an extension of Sauron himself, as is suggested, then it would follow that it no more wanted to be destroyed than Sauron did.

As for losing control of the Ring, I don't know as Sauron ever considered the possibility that it could be taken from him. Like many of his ilk, he overestimated himself and his abilities. "I am the all powerful wizard of OZ." Oops, dropped the Ring. Sauron never imagined anyone would actually try to destroy the Ring. Surely, anyone holding it wouldn't be so stupid as to get rid of something so powerful. There is the flaw. The unwillingness to consider all the possibilities.

I wonder now if Sauron thought the Men of the West might have the Ring for why else would they come to his very gate to challenge him? Surely they knew it was hopeless... unless they had the Ring...

Ooooo the possibilities... Thanks so much Vison for sharing the musing. It certainly got a lot of thoughts running around in my head. I do hope you post the one on Theoden.

Response from Dr. Gamgee:


You asked for a response, so here goes. We have been friends for quite a while, and you know that while we may not always agree, I respect you and understand that you are entitled to your beliefs (as am I mine).

Here is the problem that I am having. You state:

That’s the only way I can swallow Gollum, I have to be able to see him as a human being, not a “device”. I won’t let him be just a tool of the Mighty, put in the tale to forward Frodo’s moral development and to allow the Ring to be unmade. If the Powers that Be want Frodo to grow in goodness and enlightenment, then why don’t they do it direct? If the Ring offends them, why don’t they just get rid of it? Why did they allow it to be made in the first place?

“Meant to be”? Meant by whom? Why?

I can’t ever get past this, my friends: what kind of Powers are we talking about, that would create Gollum, poor wretched Gollum who suffers centuries of misery and pain, who causes untold agonies for others, who exists only to further some plan involving another man’s education, and to aid in the destruction of an evil device that the mighty allowed to be made in the first place?

And yet, your response to it, in fact, robs him of his 'humanity' as it seems to nullify his ability to choose. You say, in essence, "Why would God create poor wretched Gollum?" and "Why would he allow the Ring to be made in the first place?" In reality, He created Gollum, and Gollum's choices made him wretched -- if Sam could resist the Ring in MORDOR, then Smeagol COULD have let Deagol have it. He also created a creature of great good (Sauron), and Sauron's choices created the Dark Lord, and the Dark Lord created the Ring. But, as you don't believe in a Heavenly Father who could do this, I will leave this for now, and discuss something that you can believe, my worldly father.

He raised me to be a good kid. And yet, when I was 4, I stole a candy bar from a store. My father didn't create me and raise me to be a thief, and yet, there I was -- a thief. Not what was intended, not abused and thus 'needing' something. I saw it, I took it, I didn't pay for it, didn't say I had it, I just took it. That is what a thief does. As the saying goes, "If it walks like a duck (thief) and talks like a duck (thief), then it must be a duck (thief)." And as I wasn't created for that purpose, then all you can say is that I 'chose' to be one. Afterall, I didn't HAVE to take it. I knew it was wrong (thus hiding my actions) and yet I did it anyway.

Now my father had about four choices. He could let me get away with it and do nothing; he could kill me for disappointing him and being a failure as a son; he could have punished me for doing so, kept the candybar for himself, and never let the storeowner know abou it; or he could make me take it back, admit that I had taken it, apologize for having tried to steal it, and leave knowing that he had done all he could; which is what he did. Had he chosen the first, I would most likely taken whatever I wanted and remained a thief. The second choice would guarantee that I would never steal again -- the only way that he really could insure that outcome. The third may have worked, but having seen that I would have quickly realized it is all about power -- when I was bigger than him, I could do what I wanted, just as he did. His choice of taking the high road affected my upbringing, and thus, I am no longer a thief. But it is still all about my choices. I could just as easily do the wrong thing. There is no guarantee that I won't do it again.

But that is the thing about free will -- the choices you make have consequences. Frodo chose to trust Gollum. By doing that, Gollum kept him from being captured at the black gate and got him into Mordor via the stairs. Sam could have taken the Ring and left Frodo to his own end. We even see that Sam could have claimed the Ring for himself. All these choices.

If you look at all of these choices, we were very lucky. Lucky that Frodo didn't kill Gollum earlier. Lucky that Sam gave back the all-powerful Ring. Lucky that Shelob was a spider who doesn't kill prey, but keeps them alive. Lucky that Faramir had more wisdom than his brother and didn't try to take the Ring to Gondor. Lucky that he asked Frodo about Gollum rather than just shooting him. Lucky that neither Bombadill, Gandalf, Elrond, or Galadriel took the Ring for themselves (especially as it was offered!). Lucky that Pippin looked into the Palantir and took Sauron's eye away to far off lands. And lucky for Aragorn, so that he could use the Palantir and scare Sauron into thinking that Aragorn must have the Ring and was coming to challenge him with it, distracting him. Lucky that Gollum lived all those years and the Ring didn't betray him earlier and fall off when Orcs would have found him or the Ring, or both. Lucky that Bilbo found the Ring. Lucky that Bilbo and Gollum had enough in common that the Riddle Game was understood -- I am not sure that had I been underground in a Goblin's cave, that I would have known the rules and been ready to play that quickly. Lucky that the dwarves were superstitious and needed one more traveller. Lucky that they took on a burgler with no experience, and that it was Bilbo (an honest hobbit) who didn't use the Ring to steal Michael Delving blind (and the rest of Hobbiton). Lucky that Bilbo didn't get eaten by the Trolls, or drown with the barrels, or get killed in the battle of 5 armies, or in his dealings with Smaug. Lucky that Bilbo was a good guy who given the opportunity to disappear at will decided not to and instead stuck around to raise his nephew. There are a whole lot of choices here, places where had the choice gone the other way, the story would have died a-bourning. So some will say that it is the wishes of Eru to right a wrong choice made by Sauron long ago. Others will disagree.

The question of "why not just pop in and do it Himself/not allow it to be made in the first place" is because had He done that, what would have been the point? Unless he unmade every bad decision ever made or to be made (much like killing me as a thief) someone else would have just gone about the same choice later. Saruman perhaps. He could only guarantee that all decisions would be good, if he removed the ability to choose. At which point, you would have no choice but to believe in him, or else you wouldn't exist. Choices are dangerous things. We make them every day without thinking.

So the question now becomes, "Why Frodo and Sam?" And here is why I believe it was Frodo and Sam and not Glorfindel, Gandalf, or some other. Frodo and Sam were gloriously common. They didn't come from aristocracy or a line of kings. they were halflings -- not great Elf Warriors, not men of Arms. They had no magical qualities that people could ascribe to them. They were not powerful, but their choices were. Knowing that they were the least likely heroes ever, they chose to try to become them nonetheless. Frodo was wise, but he knew little about the world outside of the Shire. He knew some Elvish, and he chose to take his studies wisely. Sam didn't have the schooling, but had the common sense and ability to and desire to learn. In this way, Eru showed that we needn't feel impotent because we aren't Saruman, or Gandalf, or Giant Trolls, or Strong. We can make choices that can change the world from a bleak environment where evil is everywhere, to a place where Good prospers. Where friends protect each other. Where caring for others is more important than caring for just yourself. Where your POWER is your ability to CHOOSE.

Had he come and done it himself, we would all sit there and say, "Sure, he did it. He is ERU. He has all the power. I can't. I'm not a God. My choices don't matter." and thus would we have sunk into chaos, as we felt impotent to make changes that would right things.

I will stop there. Thank you for your post, Vison.