Gollum: A Character of Complexities

By Robbie Hill

Age 16

I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was in third grade, and of all the characters that remained forever ingrained in my mind, Gollum was probably the one that stuck out the most. Gollum plays an interesting role in The Lord of the Rings, because he represents many things at once. He represents greed, ambition, cleverness, and yet at the same time also represents some long lost characteristic of himself that is not often addressed: goodness. In this essay, I will discuss the role of Gollum not only in The Lord of the Rings, but also as Tolkien’s iconic representation.

Of all the things I remember the best out of The Hobbit, it was probably the way Gollum talked to himself about the ring. For instance, in the fifth chapter, "Riddles in the Dark," there is a particular part that I am always rather fond of.

‘"What has it got in its pocketses?" The sound came hissing louder and sharper, and as he looked towards it, to his alarm Bilbo now saw two small points of light peering at him. As suspicion grew in Gollum’s mind, the light of his eyes burned with a pale flame. "What have you lost?" Bilbo persisted. But now the light in Gollum’s eyes had become a green fire, and it was coming swiftly nearer. Gollum was in his boat again, paddling wildly back to the dark shore; and such a rage of loss and suspicion was in his heart that no sword had any more terror for him.’

This passage really underlines Gollum’s want, or rather, need for the Ring; it dictates his overwhelming desire with an ideal description of his sudden change of character. I believe there is some symbolism in Gollum’s character because he represents greed to its’ greatest extent; Gollum is so incredibly greedy for this Ring, that he will even disregard Bilbo’s sword (and chance at dying) just to get his hands on his precious once again.

I think that perhaps Tolkien wanted to embody greed and ambition into a character in his story in order to demonstrate the greater evils in this world and what they can do to the greedy. Gollum, once a merry member of the River Folk, became a stretched, disfigured being once his greediness for the Ring took over. He was so greedy for the Ring, that he even killed his cousin Deagol for it. This has a greater representation with ambition, because Smeagol wanted the Ring bad enough to kill for it, despite his justifications that it was supposed to be his birthday present.

Yet while Gollum seems to embody evil and greed in any form, there is still some good left in him. Frodo sees it in Gollum, if only once, and calls him Smeagol instead of Gollum, almost as if he were trying to look past his evil lair (represented by the name Gollum) by addressing him by Smeagol (the representation of his good side). Although originally, in The Hobbit, I disliked Gollum for his evil character, I saw a different side of him in The Two Towers. It is typically clear when he is switching personalities, and Tolkien even addresses it in his writing.

‘"We’ll see, we’ll see,’ he said often to himself, when the evil mood was on him, as he walked the dangerous road from Emyn Muil to Morgul Vale, "we’ll see. O yes, it may well be that when She throws away the bones and the empty garments, we shall find it, we shall get it, the Precious, a reward for poor Smeagol who brings nice food. And we’ll save the Precious, as we promised. O yes. And when we’ve got it, then She’ll know it, O yes, then we’ll pay Her back, my precious. Then we’ll pay every one back!"’

In the bolded and italicized passage, it says, ‘when the evil mood was on him,’ which really says that Gollum has two sides; his evil side, and his good side. What makes this so utterly important is that whichever side is controlling him at the moment is whatever act he will commit. If he feels evil, if Gollum is controlling him, then he will lead the Hobbits into danger. If Smeagol, his good side, is controlling him, he will feel guilty and will treat the Hobbits with as much kindliness as he can muster.

Collectively, I believe this is Tolkien’s representation of the inner battle fought between the two halves of the self during a difficult decision. Throughout The Two Towers, we often see that Gollum is fighting with himself over what he should do about the Hobbits; the Smeagol half declares Frodo as a kind, nice master who has done nothing but try to help him. Gollum, however, believes he is nothing more than a "tricksy hobbit" who took his Precious. Usually, a typical human has disagreements with the inner self, (although maybe not quite so morbid,) over difficult decisions. It is often that we may stop and think using one half or the other of our minds to try to solve a problem. In Gollum’s case, he comes to the conclusion that he must have the Hobbits killed, one way or the other, to get back his Ring.

Altogether, Gollum is a unique, wonderful character that represents multiple ideas or emotions in Lord of the Rings. He represents greed and ambition, yet also displays his battles with himself, proving that he is not altogether evil. I think Gollum is a great character who is underrated and shows a complexity that represents far more than what appears on the surface, and there are great examples of this everywhere in the books. The question, of course, is whether the reader will be complex enough to see it.