Many times over the course of this semester, we have discussed that one of fantasy’s major problems is that it almost always puts good and evil in black-and-white terms. To me, this is especially apparent in Lord of the Rings. Almost every character within the trilogy is either wholly good or wholly evil, at least in the way Tolkien presents them to the reader.
The one character that is the exception to the rule is Gollum/Smeagol. He is a representation of the dichotomy of good and evil encompassed in one character. Smeagol is made relatable and pitiable because Tolkien gives his readers a glimpse into his past (something he doesn’t even do with some of his larger characters, like Gandalf). We learn that Smeagol was once a creature very much like a hobbit, who lived almost exactly as Frodo and the others did. His struggle over the Ring, his torture and suffering because of it, are revealed to the reader in both the trilogy and its prequel, The Hobbit. We are able to see his transition both physically and mentally from Smeagol into the creature Gollum, who is seen as someone completely corrupted and warped by the Ring’s power. Yet, at the same time, parts of Smeagol still exist within him and are shown to the reader as if the creature has some sort of multiple personality disorder. To me, this makes Gollum one of the most dimensional characters of the entire story.
Gollum is so important as a character because I believe he represents the potential of every other character in the story, and also the potential of the Ring. He is the biggest embodiment of the Ring’s power, showing how it warped him physically into a disgusting creature, unnaturally prolonged his life, and drove him mentally insane to the point of death, following the Ring into its fiery demise. He is the example of what Frodo could become, and an example of what every person destroyed by the Ring’s power once was.
It is interesting to me that Tolkien decided to handle good and evil in this way. Instead of making it apparent in every character, he used one specific character as a representation of the push and pull of it within each of us. In a way, the dimensions of Gollum/Smeagol make every other character seem deeper and more layered as well. Because of this, we are able to love the ‘good’ characters while still understanding the potential weakness and darkness within them.