Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Life, Death, and Immortality. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring guest posts, interviews, and giveaways!
Stephanie is the mind behind Chasm of Books and takes great pleasure in revisiting the works of Tolkien over and over again. She considers herself a great champion of Nicole Castroman’s debut novel, Blackhearts, and dabbles in photography while working towards obtaining an associates in Marketing. By day she is a QA Analyst; by night she is a blogger and a writer with many ambitions.
In no way do I consider myself a Tolkien scholar or expert, but there’s a question that has struck me. Why do we fear Gollum more than Sauron?
When The Return of the King film and novel were winding down – while we were watching Frodo and Sam trudge up Mt. Doom only to be momentarily stopped by Gollum – Gollum was in the back of our minds, not Sauron. The one, great evil of Middle Earth was overlooked and superseded by a small, vicious creature. We worried about Gollum even though Frodo and Sam were at the very heart of Mordor.
Every step of the way, even with each close call with the Nazgul, we – and probably Sam as well – feared Gollum more than we ever feared Sauron. When Frodo began calling him Smeagol, our anxiety grew. The very thing that was supposed to make us pity him, increased our fear. Why?
Even in the first novel, we knew Gollum pursued the fellowship – pursued Frodo. This increased my anxiety and terror more than anything else in the entire trilogy. Gollum was always our greatest fear. Smeagol kept Sam awake at night, not Sauron or the impossible task before them. So the question is why?
The answer, I believe, is quite simple and maybe scarier still. Gollum wasn’t always evil. Gollum was once an odd, but innocent hobbit. He had his issues but he wasn’t evil. He wasn’t perfect, but no one is. The great fear we have of Gollum is there because once, he was similar to us. Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and many others pity Gollum. Here’s why I don’t.
Frodo had a choice. Sam had a choice. Gandalf and Aragorn had a choice. Bilbo and Frodo made the most difficult choices of them all. Each of these characters turned away from the Ring. Yes, in the end Frodo chose the Ring, but not until after years of exposure and brutal battle waged against his very soul. Frodo fought until there was nothing left to fight with. And after the Ring was gone, he let go of it.
Gollum never tried to resist it and he never tried to truly let go of it even after it was taken from him. Fifty plus years, and he still dwelt on that single fact that he no longer had it. Yes, he was subject to Sauron’s influence far longer than the others, which would definitely be a hindrance but not an excuse to never try. Gollum looked upon the lure of evil and willingly and immediately submitted. Gandalf makes the importance of this decision quite clear:
“I don’t think you need worry about Bilbo. Of course, he possessed the ring for many years, and used it, so it might take a long while for the influence to wear off – before it was safe for him to see it again, for instance. Otherwise, he might live on for years quite happily: just stop as he was when he parted with it. For he gave it up in the end of his own accord: an important point. No, I was not troubled about dear Bilbo any more, once he had let the thing go. It is for you that I feel responsible.” (p. 64 The Fellowship of the Ring)
Boromir I pity. After years of fighting Sauron, he thought the Ring could bring them victory. He had noble intentions. He also warred with himself and resisted for a time. Boromir let it go too (figuratively). He even apologized for his actions. This possibility never crossed Gollum’s mind.
Gollum willingly and wholely gave himself to the Ring. This is why we fear him more. Gollum represents one of the deepest falls mankind can achieve and was destroyed by it: body and soul. He is amongst the vilest of villains and people. And Gollum could be a real person. That’s what terrifies us.
Sauron is a more impersonal evil. He isn’t something that a person today can become simply because his villainy takes on a more fantastical and omniscient attitude.
Gollum is closer to home for us. People can and have become like him and that is why he is the one who keeps Sam, readers, and viewers up at night. Gollum is something we could encounter in our own lives. Sam saw Gollum and saw who Frodo could become. He saw the vilest creature that walked Middle Earth because Smeagol chose evil. The orcs were acting as expected: within the realms of their nature. Smeagol chose it; and in him we recognize the horror that in this world, there are people who choose evil so completely.
“I deemed it the worst part of all my journey, the road back, watching him day and night, making him walk before me…I brought him there [Mirkwood] at last and gave him to the Elves… and I was glad to be rid of his company… For my part I hope never to look upon him again…” (p. 330 The Fellowship of the Ring)