The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 51-53
Gandalf is answering a question that Frodo asked him fearfully and desperately.
“How on earth did it come to me?”
Frodo is speaking of the Ring of Power forged by Sauron so that he might become lord of all the earth. In a few short minutes Frodo has journeyed from being a hobbit enjoying a comfortable if rather a dull life to one at the very centre of the great events of his age. He has already protested against the apparent injustice of his fate. If Gandalf had invited him to be a part of an adventure he might have responded with more enthusiasm. To go on an adventure would have been a conscious and carefully considered choice, although when Bilbo made that choice it had to be done in haste before the possibility passed him by for ever. Frodo is given no choice. The Ring has come to him and its maker is searching for it.
And so Gandalf gives him a brief overview of the history of the Second and Third Ages, of the evil desire of Sauron and the brave resistance of Elendil of Gondor and Arnor and Gil-galad, the High King of the Elves. He speaks of how Isildur, son of Elendil, cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand but how he failed to destroy it, eventually losing it in an orc ambush in the Gladden Fields in which he lost his life. He tells Frodo how the Ring remained hidden for long years there until it was found by hobbit like creatures near their ancestral home.
The Ring was found by Déagol, friend of Sméagol, a friend, that is, until the moment in which Sméagol murdered him because the Ring “looked so bright and beautiful”. And so began Sméagol’s unhappy career as a creature of power and menace, a career in which he began as a hobbit and ended as Gollum, a name given to him in contempt by his fellows but one that eventually he took for himself, or at least for that expression of himself that was entirely under the power of the Ring.
In Peter Jackson’s films we are given the impression that Sméagol’s decision to murder his friend was because of the overwhelming and entirely malicious power of the Ring and it is true that the Ring plays a key role in the whole unhappy affair. But Tolkien would not allow so simple an explanation. Before the moment of the Ring’s discovery and the murder, Sméagol had a career. We learn that he “was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he into green mounds”. In other words he was a scientist.
Now before all the scientists who are among my readers cry out in protest let me say that I do not believe that Tolkien was against the scientific method in and of itself. What he tried to get us to see is that knowledge can never take the place of wisdom. Poor Sméagol may have learnt all that there is about the roots and beginnings of things but he never learnt how to find love, or joy, or peace. He may have stolen a tool that could give him power but he had to trade happiness in order to gain it. As Gandalf was to say later to Saruman, those who break a thing in order to find out what it is leave the path of wisdom. Sméagol, like Saruman, was a breaker, a manipulator, and a fool!
Sméagol’s journey took him deeper into the roots of things, away from the warming sun, the gentle breeze and the kind company of friends and kinsfolk. He went down into the tunnels underneath the mountains, down into the dark. It is the inevitable end for one who chooses power over others in stead of the service of others. The dark may not be physical as it was in Sméagol’s case but it is utterly isolating. It is the reality that comes when someone turns inward, centreing only upon themself, turning away from others.
But at last a moment of grace broke into Sméagol’s dark world in the form of a hobbit who was utterly lost. But would Sméagol recognise it when it came?
10 thoughts on “Gandalf Speaks of How Sméagol Took the Ring and So Became Gollum.”
The characters who are wise all seem to know a lot. Knowledge is a prerequisite for wisdom to JRRT, I think. The last paragraph gets to the heart of the matter – isolation is what keeps Gollum from getting on to the next stage.
An isolation both chosen and enforced?
That sounds like a quotation, but darned if I can figure out what of. (Chosen is the important part.)
Ha Ha! If it is a quotation then it is entirely unintended (with all due respect to Sigmund Freud!)
Fascinating. I start my Master’s Degree Thesis next fall, and it will be on Smeagol-Gollum. This will be great for it. Thanks for the insights!
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
I am really excited about your Master’s thesis. Is that with Signum University? I will be honoured to be of assistance in any way.
Thanks! 🙂 Yes, it’s with Signum. In the spring I will be doing Intro to Anglo-Saxon and Norse Myths and Sagas.
God bless you, Anne Marie 😊
See you in class, A-M!
In my corner of Middle-earth A-M is Auntie Mary, my wife’s aunt and the last surviving member of her generation in that family, so I did a double take thinking of my A-M sharing a class with you, Joe! May you have joy of one another’s company at Signum!