Gollum

Brooke Wolfe '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

When Gollum enters the action, the reader cannot help but focus all attention on the slimy, detestable, green-eyed creature who refers to himself as "we." Despite these odious traits, even Frodo, whose ring Gollum tries to steal numerous times, has sympathy for him and rescues him from Faramir's men. At one point he even considers killing Gollum, has his sword raised to him, but "pity stayed him" (II, 411). Frodo feels sympathy for him because he understands the burden of bearing the ring, believing that they can "reach one another's minds" (II, 285). The reader likewise cannot help but develop pity for complex character that lies in Gollum, especially when he transforms back into his original self, the hobbit-like Smeagol with pale eyes and a willingness to help his new master. Sam maintains suspicion of the creature throughout their encounters, no matter what transformation he takes. However, he treats Smeagol a bit kinder by referring to him as Slinker rather than the stinker he believes Gollum to be.

"Ach, sss! Cautious, my precious! More haste less speed. We mussn't risk our neck, must we, precious? No, precious -- gollum!" He lifted his head again, blinked at the moon, and quickly shut his eyes. "We hate it," he hissed. "Nassty, nbassty shivery light it is -- sss -- it spies on us, precious -- it hurts our eyes."

He was getting lower now and the hisses became sharper and clearer. "Where iss it, where iss it: my Precious, my Precious? It's ours, it is, and we wants it. The thieves, the thieves, the filthy little thieves. Where are they with my Precious? Curse them! We hates them." . . .

"It doesn't sound as if he knew we were here does it?" whispered Sam. . . .

Indeed Gollum had suddenly paused again, and his large head on its scrawny neck was lolling from side to side as if he was listening. His pale eyes were half unlidded. Sam restrained himself, though his fingersw were twitching. His eyes, filled with anger and disgust, were fixed on the wretched creature as he now began to move again, still whispering and hissing to himself.

Questions

1. Does the passage that describes Gollum as "an old weary hobbit . . . [a] starved pitiable thing" further cause the reader to feel any sympathy towards him? What other passages contribute to empathizing with Gollum?

2. When Frodo trusts Gollum, Sam always maintains suspicion. What are the qualities or actions of Gollum that make the reader suspicious?

3. The name Deagol in Old English means secret, which makes sense because his murder is Smeagol's secret; likewise the name Smeagol fits the character with its meaning of burrower or digger. What do you think the name Gollum means, or what connotation is Tolkien attempting to bring out with the name?

4. Before you reached the ending (or if you haven't yet), did you ever get the impression there was hope for Gollum, that he could overcome the corruption of the ring? If so, what gave you that impression?

5. What strategies does Tolkien use to focus the reader's attention so acutely on Gollum?

6. What effect does the interjection, "gollum!" in the middle of many of Gollum's requests have?

References

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.


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Last modified 25 February 2004