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Precious: The Impact of the Character Gollum on The Lord of the Rings

Updated on May 18, 2013

By Hannah C. Price

There are many tragic characters in the Lord of the Rings saga, but arguably none are quite as tragic as Gollum. This abused and twisted character is fascinating to study because he is so complex. There are two sides to his personality and the constant internal war he endures gives him complexity. His story begins and ends tragically as Gollum treads the path of self-serving evil, and as Galadriel says in the prologue for the Fellowship of the Ring, “the power of the One Ring cannot be undone.”

Gollum was not always a wretched creature of darkness. He was once named Smeagol, a person much like a hobbit, a member of the river folk with family and friends and a love of fishing. However, the finding of the One Ring of power was his undoing and he murdered his cousin to obtain it. This event changed Smeagol’s life forever, corrupting him beyond all imagining. His hobbit-like visage slowly melted away after years of being poisoned by the ring, eventually turning into an ugly, misshapen creature with an unnatural long life of over 500 years. Smeagol also developed a split personality, dividing himself into good and evil sides. The good side (Smeagol) and the evil side (Gollum) became two completely different personalities with their own natures and behaviors, engaging in lengthy conversations and battling for the soul of the unfortunate creature.

When Gollum/Smeagol enters the story of The Lord of the Rings as a chief player, his true nature is in question. Frodo, the new ring-bearer, pities Gollum and believes that Gollum still has some good left in him (despite nearly being killed by the creature). Frodo’s loyal companion Sam believes otherwise, trying to convince Frodo that the One Ring has corrupted Gollum beyond all hope. Frodo chooses to be optimistic, giving Gollum a chance to redeem himself by becoming a guide for Frodo and Sam into the dark land of Mordor. This second chance ignites the battle between good and evil within Gollum and in the Two Towers the good side wins out. Smeagol takes over the creature’s personality and he becomes a helping hand for Frodo and Sam for a short while. During this part of the journey, Smeagol’s formerly playful nature is revealed as he fishes, hunts and generally tries to help his “master” Frodo. While Sam still mistrusts him and keeps him on a short leash, Smeagol’s chief desire in this period is to help the “master of the precious” (precious being what Gollum calls the ring).

However, the evil side of Gollum is always lurking beneath the surface. When the traveling trio are ambushed and taken captive by Faramir, a Robin Hood-esc character who serves the city of Minas Tirith, Smeagol begins to believe that Frodo has betrayed him. “The master trick-st us!” he proclaims. This belief provides an opening for Gollum to sneak back into the picture and start to overtake Smeagol. At the end of the Two Towers, Gollum has completely taken over Smeagol, turning the good side of the creature into a side of trickery and scheming.

The Return of the King finds Gollum helping Frodo and Sam under the guise of Smeagol. However, Gollum’s chief desire is to obtain the ring, something that he learns he cannot do under the protective eye of Sam. Gollum turns Frodo against Sam and lures Frodo into the cave of the giant spider Shelob. This event puts the story on its final course as Frodo realizes that Gollum is truly evil and is nearly killed by the spider. Gollum comes close to getting his “precious” ring back, but Sam spoils his plans by rescuing Frodo (first from the spider, than from the orcs who capture him). Gollum ends up over the edge of a cliff, and disappears from the story until Frodo and Sam make it to the great mountain of fire at the heart of Mordor. But Gollum is always trailing behind the pair, scheming all the while of how to get the One Ring back. At Mount Doom the final battle ensues, and while Gollum succeeds at getting his ring back, his joy is short-lived as he plummets into the river of lava below, perishing in the fires alongside his precious ring.

Gollum’s tragic story is a crucial element to the story of the Lord of the Rings, for it is because of him that the ring is ultimately destroyed. As the story reveals, the One Ring is altogether evil, corrupting everything and everyone it comes into contact with. It destroys the minds of both men and hobbits, eventually weaving its way into the pure heart of Frodo and preventing him from accomplishing his task of destroying the ring. The One Ring cannot be simply tossed into the fires where it was forged, for no one is strong enough to resist the power of the ring. Even Frodo, the hobbit who perseveres through the greatest hardship and trials with his strong will (and the aid of Sam), cannot bring himself to destroy the ring. At the last moments in the great battle, Frodo stands at the edge of the river of fire, poised to fulfill his destiny and destroy the ring. But victory slips through his fingers as evil finally takes hold over Frodo’s heart and he decides to keep the Ring. This point is where Gollum plays his biggest role. Frodo and Gollum fight for control of the ring in the heart of Mount Doom as Sam watches helplessly in the background. Ultimately, Frodo loses the ring and his finger as Gollum reclaims his “precious.”

One of the most enduring images in the film series is the sight of Gollum standing at the edge of the lava river, holding the ring above him, smiling with joy as his efforts are rewarded. The following images are also memorable as the injured Frodo wrestles Gollum over the edge of the cliff. Gollum becomes the vehicle that transports the One Ring to its fiery end, cradling his “precious” until the fire consumes both.

The tireless pursuit of our heart’s desires can be both good and bad, as the Lord of the Rings shows us. The good heart of Frodo desires to save the world and destroy evil, while Gollum’s heart, corrupted by his evil desires, yearns only for his own self-satisfaction. However, evil overcomes Frodo as well as Gollum, demonstrating how none of us can defeat evil alone. Gollum unwittingly becomes the instrument of the ring’s destruction, as a power greater than even the One Ring ordains that good will eventually win over evil and even the worst circumstances can be used to achieve that end.

(originally published in Femnista'


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    • Windsweptplains profile image

      Hannah Price 4 years ago from The windsweptplains of Colorado

      I heartily agree with you DNSiclari. Gollum/Smeagol is one of my favorite characters because of his depth and intrigue. He is multifaceted and complex, not solely a villain but he can also have heart and humor. I definitely hope that he will yet have a part to play in the upcoming Hobbit installments.

    • DNSiclari profile image

      Douglas and Nikki Siclari 4 years ago from United States

      I think that it is Genius that the director has made the character the comic relief as well as a hidden villain. I know that this is based off of Tolkien's book but the director has really developed this character further. It is my hope that the character will emerge more in the next two installments of the Hobbit.