Michael Foster
Dr. Mark Hall
8 April 2002

Gollum's Addiction

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 xxiii).

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 ring
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 (Rogers, 122-123).

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.

Works Cited
Carnes, Patrick Ph.D. Out of the Shadows. Center City: Hazelden, 1992.
Chaplin, J.P. Dictionary of Psychology. New Revised Edition. New York: Dell
Publishing, 1975.
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
Publishers, 1980.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

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