Dr. Mark Hall
8 April 2002
The character of Gollum, as seen in J.R.R. Tolkien's
The Lord of the Rings, is an odd creature. Although
he is the source of continual torment, he also
reveals small insight of an unusual hope. Perhaps
one of the most compelling themes in the books
revolves around Gollum's powerful dependence
on the one ring. Just like the self-destructive
condition of a clinical addict, Gollum's unhealthy
association with the ring poisons his mind and
drives him towards ruin.
The Dictionary of Psychology defines addiction
as "increased tolerance to a drug, physical
and psychological dependence, and withdrawal
symptoms when administration of the drug is
stopped" (Chaplin 11). Although there are
several types of addiction, all of them share
the same fundamental flawed belief system and
destructive consequences. All addictions are
vicious cycles that prohibit addicts from trusting
other people. Without any outside help, the
addict cannot regain control of his life. The
addiction grows stronger as it feeds itself
(Carnes 20). Most addicts live their lives with
constant pain and alienation. Many live in solitary
isolation out of irrational fears of being discovered.
Because addicts don't trust others, they routinely
sever any intimate contact with others, further
distancing themselves from salvation (Carnes
Tolkien introduces Gollum in The Hobbit as a
truly pathetic creature.
"Deep down here by the dark water lived
Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don't know
where he came from, nor who or what he was.
He was Gollum - as dark as darkness, except
for two big round pale eyes in his thin face."
(82, ch. 5)
Gollum's existence, like that of an addict,
is purely solitary. He prefers to live alone
in the darkness of the underground lake with
the ring as his only companion. The lack of
outside contact makes Gollum suspicious of everyone.
During the riddle game with Bilbo Baggins, the
paranoid depression of Gollum's character is
evident through his choice of riddles. The "Darkness"
riddle, like Gollum himself, "hides under
hills." In addition, the darkness "ends
life" and "kills laughter." In
the riddle of "time," Gollum uses
several nasty words like "devours, gnaws,
bites, grinds, slays, and ruins." Each
of these verbs closely represents the pathetic
life of this long-lived monster (Green,79).
The dual nature of an addict is characterized
by sincere delusions. The addict can promise
anything, and even sincerely mean it, but ultimately,
the addiction overwhelms their good intentions
(Carnes 7). This split-personality can be seen
in Gollum's character in The Two Towers when
Gollum appears to be having a conversation with
himself. The eerie debate between Gollum's two
personalities is physically manifested with
different vocal sounds and glowing eyes. "Smeagol
was holding a debate with some other thought
that used the same voice but made a squeak and
hiss." (Tolkien, Two Towers 618, ch. 11)
In this part of the book, Gollum actually argues
with himself. Two independent personalities
argue the sides of good and evil.
Part of the addictive cycle is feelings of despair.
Despair is a result of the failure to stop the
addictive action. When an addict fails to live
up to his expectations, he is left hopeless.
From this inability to overcome the addiction,
self-pity and self-hatred add to the addict's
depression (Carnes 12). When Gollum realizes
that Bilbo has stolen the ring, he feels that
his world has ended. "All at once there
came a blood-curdling shriek, filled with hatred
and despair. Gollum was defeated. He dared go
no further. He had lost: lost his prey, and
lost, too, the only thing he had ever cared
for, his precious" (Tolkien, Hobbit 98).
Having lost his humanity and salvation, Gollum's
depraved state is still not beyond grace (Gasque
161). Just as addicts are not beyond redemption,
Gollum, throughout the Lord of the Rings, had
opportunity to save himself. Many recovering
addicts rely on a twelve-step program that guides
them to recovery. If adapted to Gollum's ring
addiction, the steps would be:
1. Gollum must admit he is powerless over the
2. He must believe that a power greater than
himself, and the ring, can restore his sanity
3. He must decide to turn his will and life
over to God
4. He must make a moral inventory of himself
5. Gollum must admit to God and others the exact
natures of his wrongs
6. He must be ready for God to remove the defects
of his character
7. Gollum must ask God to remove his shortcomings
8. He must make a list of those he has harmed
and be willing to make amends
9. He must make amends to those he has harmed
10. Gollum must continue to take personal inventory
and admit when he is wrong
11. He must improve his contact with God
12. He must carry this message to other ring
addicts and practice the above principles
Tolkien's characters are ultimately hopeful,
despite their respective sadness, and this hope
comes from the reality of the world. As a sub-creator,
Tolkien's art and beliefs are solidly linked
Tolkien uses the character of Gollum to illustrate
the depraved state of humanity. Gollum is not
merely evil, nor does Gollum necessarily desire
to become evil, but rather he is under its control.
His addiction, manifested in the ring, consumes
him and controls his thoughts and actions, and
ultimately serves as his demise.
Carnes, Patrick Ph.D. Out of the Shadows. Center
City: Hazelden, 1992.
Chaplin, J.P. Dictionary of Psychology. New
Revised Edition. New York: Dell
Gasque, Thomas J. "The Monsters and the
Critters." Tolkien and the Critics. Notre
Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1968.
Green, William H. The Hobbit: A Journey into
Maturity. New York: Twayne Publishers,
Rogers, Deborah Webster and Ivor A. Rogers.
J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Twayne
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. Boston: Houghton