Gollum plays a tricksey game


In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.

One of the central themes in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is that size and social significance do not always dictate level of impact. Sam and Frodo are Hobbits – seemingly inconsequential in character, and small in stature, and yet the two creatures save Middle Earth from certain annihilation. The Hobbits serve to illustrate that the ‘ordinary man’ can make a difference. Of course, Sam and Frodo do have a great deal of help in their quest to destroy the Ring. In Peter Jackson’s superb interpretation of Tolkien’s mythology, Gandalf prophetically advises Frodo that somehow Gollum has a part to play in the fate of the Ring. And the wise wizard is proved correct when, ultimately, it is Gollum who takes the Ring to its death.

Perhaps Gollum is the unsung hero of Lord of The Rings? The point is moot but irrespective of where sympathies lie, the fact is that the creature is unequivocally and infinitely as badass as beastly nuisances come. Other than the fact that the freaky little fiend has some sharp teeth and can deliver quite a bite –sadly, Frodo’s digested finger and many carefree river fish no longer live to tell the tale – Gollum does not have the physical prowess do pack much of a punch. What makes Gollum deadly dangerous is the creature’s mental instability and proficiency in the art of manipulation. Gollum wages mental warfare.

The creature is corrupted by the Ring’s evil and as the force of the Ring causes Gollum’s mind to depreciate, his countenance becomes something monstrous – hating the sun and its warmth, Gollum takes refuge in a cave under the Misty Mountains, and his appearance adapts to his dingy environment. Gollum’s physical degeneration is an outward symbol of his co-existing mental disintegration. Previously a Stoor Hobbit of the River-folk, who lived near the Gladden Fields, Gollum was originally known as Sméagol – he was later named ‘Gollum’ after forming a habit of making “a horrible swallowing noise in his throat,” sounding much like g-oll-um. Over time, Sméagol turns into Gollum; a small, bulbous-eyed, slimy creature who is able to slip through the shadows unnoticed.

Gollum’s mind is as slippery and perilous as his appearance. The creature’s enslavement to the Ring forces him to pursue it for the rest of his life after losing it to Bilbo Baggins. Gollum’s deranged obsession manifests in a severe case of Dissociative Identity Disorder. The creature’s multiple personalities pressure him to slip obscenely in and out of reason; an inconsistency reflected in his speech. Gollum communicates in an unusual manner, usually speaking in the first person plural when referring to himself and using the singular form of verbs. He also uses his own versions of words similar to the original words. He usually adds -es to the end of a plural, resulting in words such as “Hobbitses” instead of Hobbits or “birdses” instead of birds. A scene in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which poignantly reveals Gollum’s sad madness and debilitating torment, reads as follows:

Gollum: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little Hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!
Sméagol: No. Not master!
Gollum: Yes, precious, false! They will cheat you, hurt you, LIE.
Sméagol: Master is our friend!
Gollum: You don’t have any friends; nobody likes you!
Sméagol: I’m not listening… I’m not listening…
Gollum: You’re a liar and a thief.
Sméagol: No!
Gollum: *Murderer*.
Sméagol: Go away!
Gollum: “Go away?”
[Gollum laughs as Sméagol begins crying]
Sméagol: I hate you, I hate you.
Gollum: Where would you be without me, g-oll-um, g-oll-um? I saved us! It was me! We survived because of me!
Sméagol:[stops crying] Not anymore.
Gollum: What did you say?
Sméagol: Master looks after us now. We don’t need you anymore.
Gollum: What?
Sméagol: Leave now, and never come back!
Gollum: No!
Sméagol: Leave now, and never come back!
[Gollum screams in frustration]
[Gollum is silent]
Sméagol: [looks around] We told him to go away… and away he goes, Precious! Gone, gone, gone! Sméagol is free!

The creature’s mania, although comical at times, is menacing – as Sam and Frodo come to discover. Gollum becomes the Hobbits’ accomplice and companion on their journey to destroy the Ring. He is a tangible representation of the Ring’s destructive power, which is a very real threat to Frodo who carries the Ring and is constantly battling against its unyielding evil. Frodo is cognisant of the likelihood that he will end up like Gollum, and for this reason the Hobbit is sympathetic to Gollum’s condition. Frodo realises that the Ring may enslave him just as it has enslaved the creature whose very existence is driven by an intense lust for a Ring that is no longer in his possession. Gollum will do whatever it takes to satiate his parasitic yearning for the Ring, including murder;

Master betrayed us. Wicked, tricksey, false. We ought to wring his filthy little neck. Kill him. Kill him. Kill them both, and then we take the Precious and we be the master.

And for this reason the Frodo’s compassion is seemingly unwise. Whilst the Hobitt’s empathy is unabashedly annoying, albeit understandable, Tolkien’s reader and Jackson’s viewer are made aware that fate is running its course – Gollum must be tolerated for a reason that is systematically revealed.

Gollum lies and cheats, and he is calculating. Gandalf says of Gollum;

Gollum is a liar, and you have to sift his words.

The creature weaves an intricate plan to lure Sam and Frodo into Shelob’s web of death with the intention of taking back the Precious – a plan which includes temporarily destroying the bond of trust implicit between Sam and Frodo. Gollum is deceptive and manipulative, and yet strangely impulsive. It is Gollum’s insanity, his inability to reason (he will never give up the idea of the Ring on behalf of the greater good), which qualifies the creature as formidable, as opposed to any physical threat he may pose. That said, his grip is described by Tolkien in The Two Towers as “soft, but horribly strong” as he wrestles with Sam – it is assuredly Gollum’s craving for the Ring that amplifies his strength.

Gollum has a great propensity for violence and treachery and yet the creature, who is portrayed as a victim of the Ring, invokes sympathy. Gollum’s ambiguous nature is expertly rendered in Jackson’s film by the voice and actions of Andy Serkis, who acts the creature with great mercy – true to Tolkien’s imagining. Gollum’s vulnerability is demonstrated in Tolkien’s description of the creature in the chapter “The Taming of Sméagol”, after he has been captured by Sam and Frodo:

For that moment a change, which lasted for some time, came over him. He spoke with less hissing and whining, and he spoke to his companions direct, not to his precious self. He would cringe and flinch, if they stepped near him or made any sudden movement, and he avoided the touch of their elven-cloaks; but he was friendly, and indeed pitifully anxious to please. He would cackle with laughter and caper if any jest was made, or even if Frodo spoke kindly to him, and weep if Frodo rebuked him.

Despite the creature’s beguilement, Gollum’s fate seems unfair – he is, arguably, fortune’s play thing. Interestingly, Tolkien provides a not-so-pleasant-but-all-too-true explanation for Gollum’s plight. In the chapter “The Shadow of the Past”, Gandalf reminds Frodo that life isn’t fair;

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. . . . even the very wise cannot see all ends.

The fact is; the story needs Gollum in order to survive. But sentimentality aside, Gollum is a little too tricksey for comfort. As one of fiction and film’s most remarkable characters, Gollum translates into being the age-old struggle between good and evil. It is an imposing struggle that bears many casualties. As with Gollum, human beings are dangerous in their capacity for deception. The ability to invoke terror and death is not always reliant on a brutish appearance; a brutish, selfish, capricious mentality is often more damaging.