Gollum, also known as Sméagol (OE, pron. [ˈsmæ͡ɑːɣoɫ]), was a creature (originally a Stoorish Hobbit) who bore the One Ring. He lived in the Misty Mountains for most of his life. In T.A. 2941 he lost the Ring to Bilbo Baggins. For the rest of his life he sought to recover his 'precious' 'birthday present'. In T.A. 3019 he followed the Fellowship of the Ring and met Frodo Baggins. After leading Frodo into Mordor and betraying him to Shelob he finally seized the Ring in Sammath Naur. In his euphoria he died and destroyed the Ring after falling into the cracks of Mount Doom.
Sméagol was a Hobbit of Stoor-kind who lived on the banks of the Anduin in the later Third Age. These Hobbits had migrated to the Gladden Fields and became a riverland people under a Matriarch. Sméagol was the Matriarch's grandson and spent the early years of his life living with his extended family during the Watchful Peace, when Sauron was in the East.
He had some amount of education in lore, as during his youth he had learned of the events concerning the War of the Last Alliance against Sauron.
Around the year T.A. 2463, on his birthday, with his close relative Déagol they went fishing in the Gladden Fields. It was there that Déagol found a gold ring, after being pulled into the water by a large fish. Sméagol demanded the ring as a birthday present and strangled Deágol when he refused. Sméagol became the fourth Ring-bearer after Sauron, Isildur, and Déagol.
After this event, he started to make a gurgling sound from his throat; for this his family called him 'Gollum'. Sméagol was quickly corrupted further by the ring and, banished by his people, was forced to find a home in a cave in the Misty Mountains. The Ring's malignant influence twisted his Hobbit body and mind and prolonged his life far beyond its natural limits. He called it his 'Precious' or his 'Birthday Present,' the latter as a justification for killing Déagol.
Gollum lived longer than any other Hobbit could, and for over four hundred years he managed to live on raw fish, which he caught from his small raft, and Goblins from the nearby Goblin-town. In later years he found Hobbit and Elven food repulsive. The Ring's corrupting influence as well as centuries of isolation in the Misty Mountains took a deep toll on him both physically and mentally. He became disfigured and grotesque in appearance, and by the time he met the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins he was afflicted with almost complete madness.
Departure of the Ring
In July T.A. 2941, during the Quest of Erebor, Bilbo stumbled upon the subterranean lake on which Gollum lived and found the Ring. Gollum had lost the Ring in the network of caves leading to the lake, though in fact it is more proper to say that the Ring abandoned Gollum, for it was known to have a will of its own. As Gandalf said later, it looked after itself, trying to get back to Sauron.
After the famous Riddle Game, during which Gollum was unaware of his loss, Gollum refused to show Bilbo the promised way out and plotted to murder him. When he went to get his 'birthday present,' however, he found that it was gone. He suddenly realised the answer to Bilbo's last riddle - 'What have I got in my pocket?' - and flew into a rage. Bilbo inadvertently stumbled across the Ring's power of invisibility as he ran, allowing him to follow Gollum to the entrance of the cave. There, Bilbo at first thought to kill Gollum, but was overcome with pity, so he jumped over him to escape. As Bilbo ran, Gollum cried out, 'Thief! Thief, Baggins! We hates it forever!'
His addiction to the Ring was so great that he overcame his hatred and fear of the Sun, the Moon and other creatures. He left the Mountains and pursued Bilbo, but the trail was cold. He made his way into Mordor, where he was captured by the Nazgûl and forced to reveal what he knew about the Ring. Thus Sauron's spies learned from him the names 'Shire' and 'Baggins'. By T.A. 3017 Gollum was then set free, but caught by Aragorn, who turned him over to Gandalf.
The Wizard managed to interrogate him and learned parts of the history of the Ring which he had not previously known. He placed him in the care of the Silvan Elves living in Thranduil's Woodland Realm of Mirkwood. In June of T.A. 3018, Orcs raided the Elves of Mirkwood (in an obviously coordinated attack) allowing Gollum to escape. He resumed his search of the Ring and he was brought into Moria but could not open the Doors of Durin.
The War of the Ring
Gollum picked up the trail of the new Ring-bearer, Frodo Baggins, as he and the Fellowship of the Ring traveled through Moria. On January 15, T.A. 3019 the Fellowship was divided when Gandalf disappeared while fighting a Balrog. Gollum continued trailing the remaining members. It is unknown how he crossed the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, but he came with them to Lothlórien without their knowing. Gollum, floating on a log, followed their boats down Anduin to Rauros.
He pursued Frodo and Sam across the Emyn Muil when they struck out on their own towards Mordor. Gollum followed them, but after a confrontation in which he bit and nearly strangled Sam, Frodo subdued him. Frodo tied an Elvish rope around Gollum's ankle for a leash, but the mere touch of the rope pained him. Taking pity on the wretched creature, Frodo made Gollum swear to help them. Agreeing to the oath, Gollum swore by the 'Precious' itself, and Frodo released him. The unlikely company, guided by Gollum, made their way to the Black Gate, the entrance to Mordor.
Frodo's kindness brought out the 'Sméagol' personality, and he made at least some effort to keep his promise. The two had a strange sort of bond from both having been Ringbearers; in Gollum, Frodo saw his possible future, and so wanted to save him so he could save himself. Gollum also feared Frodo, and also thought that helping him would deprive Sauron from the Ring.
When the Black Gate was reached and found to be well guarded, Gollum convinced them not to go that way, saying that they would be caught and Sauron would regain the Ring. Gollum said he would lead them south, where he knew of another entrance into Mordor.
Frodo and Sam were caught by Faramir, and Gollum followed them. When Frodo allowed Faramir to briefly take Sméagol prisoner, however, he felt betrayed, allowing the 'Gollum' personality to take control. Faramir found out that the place Gollum was taking them was called Cirith Ungol. He then warned Frodo and Sam of the evil of that place.
Frodo, Sam, and Gollum left Faramir and began crossing the pass of Cirith Ungol in the border-mountains of the Ephel Dúath. Gollum visited the great spider Shelob, because he was planning to betray the Hobbits to her and then get the Ring for himself. When he returned the Hobbits were asleep. The sight of Frodo sleeping nearly moved Gollum to repent. However, Sam woke up and spoke harshly to Gollum, and all hope of redemption was lost. Gollum followed through with his plan and led Frodo and Sam into Shelob's Lair. For this service to Shelob, the Orcs of Cirith Ungol knew Gollum as 'Her Sneak'. Just as Frodo warned him, Gollum's betrayal of his oath ultimately led to his undoing, for Frodo and Sam escaped from Shelob's lair and came against all odds to the volcano Orodruin, or Mount Doom. Gollum followed them all the way, seeking a chance to surprise them and take the Ring. When Frodo and Sam had almost reached their destination, he attacked, but failed to get the Ring. Sam, who had hated Gollum on sight, tried to bring himself to kill him, but relented out of sheer pity and disgust, turning his back on the beaten creature.
Moments later, Frodo was standing on the edge of the Crack of Doom, but, unwilling to destroy the Ring, claimed it for himself and put it on. Then Gollum attacked again. The two fought whilst Frodo was invisible and finally Gollum bit off Frodo's finger.
Here Frodo's kindness in sparing Gollum's life was rewarded, for Gollum then teetered on the edge of the great pit, lost his balance and fell in, taking the Ring and finger with him with a last cry of 'Preciouss!'. Had Gollum not lived to play this final part, there would have been a good chance that Sauron would have regained the Ring, as he knew where Frodo was as soon as he put the Ring on.
Sméagol was a Hobbit, but he spent long centuries (thanks to the Ring) in darkness and damp, influenced by its evil power. It is possible that thanks to his hardy Hobbitish nature that he was not reduced to a wraith. However, he was reduced to a small, extremely thin and wiry person, with scrawny neck, pale skin, flat feet, long thin hands with clammy fingers, and large pale eyes that seemed to glow. His sense of sight, as well as his hearing and smelling, were very good, due to the time he spent underground.
He could move and climb silently like a spider, and although he had only six teeth left, he could give deep bites, even able to bite off Frodo's finger.
Sméagol was the most inquisitive and curious-minded of his community. He was an inquisitive Hobbit who was interested in roots and beginnings. He owed his name to his interest in roots and deep pools; he burrowed and tunnelled under trees, plants, and mounds.
During his centuries of loneliness and under the Ring's influence, he developed a sort of multiple personality: his evil personality was a slave to the Ring and would kill for it, overwhelming his former self, who still vaguely remembered things like friendship and love. Not having anyone else to speak to, he often quarrelled with himself. Gollum both loved and hated the Ring and himself. He often referred both to the Ring and himself as 'my Preciiouss', perhaps confusing the two entities.
Years later, Samwise Gamgee would name the good personality 'Slinker' (for his fawning, eager-to-please demeanour), and the bad personality 'Stinker'.
Other aspects of the Ring's corruption was the aversion to all living creatures, especially the Elves and all things Elven. The Elven rope burnt his skin, and lembas tasted like dust to him and choked him.
Sméagol, as a Hobbit, was perhaps good at heart, and his killing was entirely the Ring's doing. But it's also likely that Sméagol was harboring dark thoughts to begin with. Their argument bases on several points, including...
- The sight of the Ring at the Council of Elrond or at many points in the journey of the Fellowship did not cause anyone to suddenly murder someone else.
- It is possible for Hobbits to be evil; for instance, Ted Sandyman and Lotho Sackville-Baggins.
- Bilbo was corrupted far more slowly by the Ring because his adventures with it began with an act of mercy, while Gollum began his with murder.
Sméagol's (pron. [ˈsmæ͡ɑːɣoɫ]) name is Old English one, from sméah, and adjective meaning 'creeping in, penetrating'. It is etymologically related to the word smials. This title was also applied by the Anglo-Saxons to the Biblical Cain, from the story of Cain's murder of his brother Abel in Genesis. This draws a clear connection between the two.
Sméagol is the translation of an actual Westron name Trahald. The meaning of which was 'burrowing, worming in' or 'apt to creep into a hole'. In both Westron and Old English, Sméagol's name is related to Smaug's: Smaug's name in 'true Dalish' was Trāgu, and the Trah- stem in Trahald and Trâgu is thus an analogue of the Germanic stem present in both Sméagol and Smaug.
Tolkien explained in his 'Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings' the origin of the name Sméagol in the lemma on smials:
“Smials. A word peculiar to hobbits (not Common Speech), meaning 'burrow'; leave unchanged. It is a form that the Old English word smygel 'burrow' might have had, if it had survived. The same element appears in Gollum's real name, Sméagol.”
The name Smaug which means 'squeezed through a hole' is thus related.
In Tolkien's recordings of The Lord of the Rings he also pronounced it 'SMEE-gol' or 'SMEE-AH-GOL', suggesting that éa should either be pronounced as a long 'i'-sound or as a diphthong ea, and not as two distinct vowels 'e' and 'a'. Tolkien had a habit in his writing to put diacritics in varying places, as can also be seen in the name Eärendil, which also occurs spelt Ëarendil.
Other versions of the Legendarium
In the first edition of The Hobbit, Gollum did not appear quite as wretched or as bound to the Ring. Tolkien revised this characterisation to fit the concept of the Ruling Ring developed during the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien then explained the version given in the first edition as a lie that Bilbo made up to tell the Dwarves and Gandalf.
In The Silmarillion, it is mentioned that the One Ring was found 'ere the Kings failed in Gondor'. This can mean that originally, Gollum's age was intended to be considerably more than six hundred years (further reinforced by certain places in The Lord of the Rings like Gollum referring to tales about an uncorrupted Minas Ithil or Gandalf comparing his people to 'fathers of the fathers of the Stoors'). In fact it seems likely that Sauron leaving the Mirkwood in 2063 T.A. and some Hobbits settling there after that are details added for the purpose of making the smaller age possible; perhaps in order to make it possible for Gollum and the other characters to have the same language.
John Garth has suggested that the character of Gollum carries echoes of the 'night-haunting, man-eating' ogre Grendel in Beowulf.