“In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole …” are famous opening lines from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
But actually, there was a Hobbit who lived in a nasty, dirty cave. A creature that was once called Smeagol among Riverland Stoor-kind hobbits, twisted by the nature of the One Ring of which he was the fourth bearer. The creature was called Gollum.
Elrond pointed out in The Fellowship of the Ring that Frodo as the One Ring bearer “has shown an extraordinary resilience to its evil”.
On the other hand, Sméagol has shown almost no resilience at all and it was easily twisted in body and mind by the One Ring’s malignant nature.
“He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. Sméagol’s life is a sad story”, says Gandalf to Frodo in the mines of Moria.
The Ring has brought Gollum an unexpectedly long life but also suffering. Gollum was never free and for 475 years he was a prisoner of his desire. Once Precious was lost, Gollum’s life became a quest to repossess the One Ring.
It was Frodo’s kindness that awakened Sméagol in Gollum; however, the One Ring’s malignant influence on Gollum couldn’t be undone and in the end, he was completely consumed by the desire to possess the ring, whether in life or death. Gollum saw his end in the fires of Mount Doom as the last bearer of the One Ring. He was 589 when he died and when we take into account the fact that he had the Ring for 475 years, we can easily conclude that he has spent 81% of his life obsessing over the One Ring.
Mercy and forgiveness should be granted even to those that don’t deserve it – we can settle on that to be one of the most important messages learned from Tolkien’s stories.
A crime that set his path
After strangling his cousin Deagol immediately upon Deagol’s discovery of the One Ring, Smeagol returns to the village as a slave to the One Ring’s will. His peers avoided him and he became a loner who muttered to himself and gurgled to his throat, which is why they called him “gollum”. He was eventually banished from the family and their hobbit hole. His new home was a wet and dirty cave in the Misty mountains – much unlike cozy holes in the ground. He survived by eating fish “raw and wriggling”.
Tolkien on Gollum
In one of the letters, Tolkien wrote:
“By temporising, not fixing the still not wholly corrupt Sméagol-will towards good in the debate in the slag hole, he weakened himself for the final chance when dawning love of Frodo was too easily withered by the jealousy of Sam before Shelob’s lair.”
Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies
Gollum was a groundbreaking CGI character built around the voice, movement, and expressions of Andy Serkis. In the Fellowship of the Ring he was voiced by Dominic Monaghan who played Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, in absence of Serkis.
John Lennon was particularly keen to play the role of Gollum in the 1960s but Tolkien rejected the idea. Imagine that.