Now that I see him, I do pity him

“Very well,” he answered aloud, lowering his sword. “But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.”

As Frodo speaks these words Sam stares at him in some confusion for he seems to be addressing someone who is not there. Sam is there and so too is Gollum for Sam and Frodo have just captured him as he fell spider-like from the wall of the Emyn Muil. And the unseen person that Frodo addresses is Gandalf as he remembers the long talk they had in the April morning at Bag End when Gandalf revealed to Frodo the true identity of Bilbo’s ring and how it had come to Bilbo in the first place in the dark tunnels of the Misty Mountains.

On that day Gandalf told Frodo how Gollum had first taken the Ring by murder; how the Ring came to Bilbo, it seemed, by the strangest of chances as it began to try to find its way back to Sauron, its true master; how Bilbo had not killed Gollum when he had the chance, standing behind him, cloaked in the invisibility that the Ring gave him; but how Bilbo had already revealed his name and homeland to Gollum when they first encountered one another so that when Gollum eventually left the shelter of the mountain tunnels he had tried to find the Shire. Worst of all, Gandalf told Frodo, Gollum had fallen into Sauron’s hands and had revealed to him under torture all he knew so that the servants of the Dark Lord were searching for the Shire, for Baggins and for the Ring.

A terrified Frodo had cried out then, “What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!” so prompting Gandalf’s response, “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need.” And Gandalf went on to say that it was his belief that Gollum “has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many- yours not least”.

It is an easy thing to trace a history of violence and the history of the Ring from the moment of its conceiving and making in deceit was a history that was entirely violent. When we observe violence anywhere in the world we can be sure that it has been caused by previous actions of the same nature and by investigating we can begin to work back from one sad cause and effect to another. So in the history of the Ring we can journey back through Gollum’s murder of Déagol to the killing of Isíldur by orcs to Isíldur’s refusal to destroy the Ring after he had taken it from Sauron’s hand to the making of the Ring by the Dark Lord as he sought to bring all things under his rule. “One Ring to rule them all…”

But Bilbo’s Pity in the dark tunnels of the Misty Mountains is of a different order and in the showing of Pity something quite new and entirely unexpected entered the story. Even Gandalf does not know of what nature this new reality is, or whether it is “for good or ill”, but he chooses to place his trust in the uncertain and unexpected consequences of Bilbo’s Pity as against the melancholy certainty of the consequence of violence. So Gandalf did not kill Gollum to prevent his doing further harm when he captured him thus leaving open the door to Gollum’s escape from the Elves of Thranduil’s realm and to his pursuit of the Fellowship from Moria until the moment that Frodo and Sam caught him.

Once again Tolkien reveals his profound spiritual insight and offers us wisdom. We, like Frodo, are faced with the choice of making our choices according to Law with its just yet implacable principles or according to the fearful uncertainty of grace, pity and mercy. Sam longs to put an end to the uncertainty by putting an end to Gollum. Until this moment Frodo had wanted to put an end to uncertainty as well. Frodo now knows that he cannot do this. He too must follow the way of Bilbo’s Pity and of Gandalf’s. But to what end?

7 thoughts on “Now that I see him, I do pity him

  1. I love the way you capture the element of risk and courage here. Pity and mercy are not soft options by any means!

    I feel for Sam at this point, looking for the safe option, containing the unknown peril and protecting those he cares for. But it’s that imaginative, wandering spirit about which you wrote the other week, recognised by Gandalf, that allows Frodo, as Bilbo before him, to open his heart. He is not merely unguardedly naive though (he does not prevent Sam guarding Gollum, and puts Gollum under a binding promise) but he gives Gollum the opportunity to prove himself, to find faithfulness and to earn trust.

    I won’t pre-empt you Stephen, but it has troubled me how Gollum’s story develops… I look forward to reading your blog as the journey continues!

    One thing is for sure, the risk is worth taking… We face uncertainty and perhaps peril in a choice of mercy and trust but a “Melancholy certainty of the consequences of violence”.

    Thank you for this post again!

    • Mmmm… I think that you are absolutely right in the way you describe Frodo’s choice. If he is naive then it is deliberate. Sam thinks it is, at least at first, but then reflections on Sam belong to later postings. I read Denise Inge’s wonderful “A Tour of Bones” recently and her reflection on Thoreau’s desire to live life deliberately comes to mind. At the moment Frodo says “Now that I see him I do pity him” is a fine expression of such an intention.
      I look forward to more conversations as the story develops.

  2. Ah, Gollum… my ever-favorite, in his own tragic way.

    I’ve always found it interesting that, of all beings that ever held the Ring for any length of time, Bilbo is the only one to give it up willingly. He is also the first one to ever obtain it without violence. Does his pity, at the moment when he gained the Ring, contribute to his resistance of its power? I like to think so. Gollum lay brooding over a murdered friend, and created elaborate lies for himself in order to cover that guilt and lay “legitimate” claim to the Ring.

    Pity and compassion decide the fate of all of Middle Earth.

    • I agree entirely with you. I am sure that Bilbo’s mercy rules his own fate. I wonder if the Ring is somehow taken by surprise by Bilbo. Some other power is at work as Gandalf says.

      • Lol! I think it was trying to get away from him, and from Hobbits in general. It must have been very frustrating to find itself in hands that were not easily corrupted. For that matter, it seems to have been frustrated by Gollum, too, for hiding it away and not using it to its full potential.

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