Sméagol, Gollum and the Great Spiritual Battle

The great spiritual battle inside us is a universal human experience. In his letter to the Romans Paul wrote that he did not understand his own actions: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

This is the experience of every person who wishes to do what is right but Gollum or Sméagol has not wanted to do what is right ever since the day he murdered Déagol in order to take the Ring from him. What possible struggle could still continue in the heart of someone who has not willed the good for over five hundred years? That Tolkien could even imagine the possibility of such a struggle in the heart that is so corrupted tells us what he believed about the capacity of the heart to go on fighting, about the greatness of the person. For our greatness lies in our capacity for freedom; either freedom for the good or for the wrong. Does Sméagol still have such capacity?

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings that suggests that he has at least a remnant of the capacity for such a struggle even as Gandalf once hinted that he might. It takes place as the hobbits draw close to the Morannon the Black Gate that forms the only way into Mordor upon its northern border. They camp in a pit that is “cold and dead” even as the land about them is also. As Frodo sleeps Sam overhears a strange conversation in which Sméagol talks to himself, or rather to Gollum. It would appear that they know each other for there is a kind of familiarity in their speech with each other that suggests that they have been doing this for a very long time indeed. Gollum is angry and cruel, seeking to regain the Ring, seeking to make those who have hurt him pay for what they have done. Sméagol, on the other hand, is a cringing, whining creature. Do we have here something of a hint of the creature that lived before he took the Ring? Was Sméagol a weak creature who immediately desired the Ring seeing it as something that might help him overcome his own weakness? Was Gollum the persona that he developed in his own spiritual battle? For the one who wishes to do right the battle is always against that within themselves that does what is wrong. It is a battle that they lose again and again but they keep on fighting. For Gollum it is the weak and miserable Sméagol that must be overcome if he is to survive. For Gollum the Ring must be regained if he is to defeat his own weakness as well as those who are his enemies. For such a person the shadow is goodness understood as weakness.

But whoever wins out it is clear that both Gollum and Sméagol are small, unhappy creatures. The limit of Gollum’s ambition is to become strong, to become “Gollum the Great”. And his greatness will be expressed by eating fish “every day, three times a day, fresh from the sea.” Perhaps before we smile at this we might want to examine what we wish for when we are tempted to be great. In what manner would we express our greatness? In what does true greatness lie if it does not lie in our fantasies?

We have already spoken of greatness not as the desire for power over others as Gollum, Sauron or Saruman would have us believe but as the desire for goodness. We have seen that those who desire goodness will have to fight throughout their lives against that within themselves that will do wrong. It is the battle that expresses greatness. It is the battle that declares that we are free people. As Paul puts it later in his letter: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

One thought on “Sméagol, Gollum and the Great Spiritual Battle

  1. Smeagol does seem to recognize, and have some desire for a kind of goodness. He feels some gratitude towards Frodo, and I do not think his desire to be helpful is wholly manipulative. Meeting Faramir is really a negative turning point for him, but I like that Tolkien seems to say that there is hope for Smeagol, and that his choices were real ones.

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