Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Two Towers

Part two of the widely known and much-loved Lord of the Rings. When I reviewed Fellowship of the Ring in March I focused mainly on the parts that were not put in the movie or were less known – this time I just want to focus on one very interesting character.

You guessed it – Gollum.

Having said that, I realise I should probably start explaining the One Ring before I start my rant about Gollum. So let’s get that done and over with first.

I don’t think I’ll need to go in specifics about the Ring’s history – Sauron pretended to be nice and beautiful to trick the elves into sharing their knowledge about forging rings, and he used that knowledge to forge a master ring. The ring is a part of him - he literally forged his power into it - which is why he was weakened to his lidless eye form when the ring was cut from his hand. Thus, we can see the ring as a sort of psychological copy of Sauron: and we all know Sauron is known for being a deceiving, tempting, and greedy bastard. You don’t become Morgoth’s favourite making giftbaskets. When he hears that the dwarves of Erebor (watch the Hobbit and you’ll know who I’m talking about) know more about the One Ring he sends messengers first, promising the dwarves gifts beyond their wildest dreams if they would only share the location of this ‘lesser ring’. He could probably have captured and tortured one of them instead – but he likes tempting the dark side in people (and dwarves): he wanted them to betray their friend Bilbo. Sneaky bastard.

So let me clarify: the ring does not simply turn good people into bad people, not even over a long duration of time. Gollum isn’t evil, or at least not because of the ring. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What the ring does, in my humble opinion, is wakening a feeling of greed. This is why Gandalf and Galadriel refuse to have anything to do with the ring: they are already so ancient and powerful that they’d easily conquer Middle-Earth, or at least a large part of it- but at what cost? They are probably some of the last people to want Middle-Earth to change, even though they know it’s inevitable. Galadriel especially, who got into so much trouble just because she wanted a piece of land to care for when she still lived in Valinor, would think twice before doing anything foolish.

as if she needs to be given more power.
They do not want to feel the overwhelming urge to have more. Even Sam, who bears the ring when Frodo is drugged on spider juice, suddenly gets a vision where he overthrows Sauron and creates a giant garden in Mordor before he shakes himself and realises all he really wants is his little garden in Bag End.
So no taking over minds. More like taking over priorities. The people bearing the ring would only want to do good – thinking that if they ruled things would be done right and proper. But they would want to do so at whatever cost, and that’s the catch.

So now let’s talk about our dearest Slinker & Stinker. After all, he’s such a deliciously layered character.

Gollum, of course, started out as Sméagol, a hobbit who was a bit introverted and liked to study roots. He enjoyed listening to Grandmother, who was a leader of their village, and he often tagged along with Déagol when he went fishing so he could dig in the mud.

"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."
― Tolkien

And then he obtains the ring out of Déagol's dead hands. My theory behind this is that the ring was quite tired of lying in that river for so many years, so when these hobbits got close he boosted up his power so he’d definitely be found – he wanted to be owned again (or I guess when he’s worn he kinda becomes the owner). Both hobbits feeling this urge, this powerful desire could only lead to murder.
Sméagol, being a hobbit and sturdy of mind, did not immediately feel the overwhelming urge to kick his grandmother off her throne, but as he was not warned for the ring’s powers he did become greedy for little things; he became what you could call 'naughty'. He started to steal from others, which is quite easy when you can be invisible. Eventually the grandmother grows tired of his shenanigans and sends him away. And even then Gollum doesn’t exactly become greedy: he looks up and sees the Misty Mountains, and he thinks "It would be cool and shady under those mountains. The Sun could not watch me there. The roots of those mountains must be roots indeed; there must be great secrets buried there which have not been discovered since the beginning."  All things considered, Sméagol seems to be quite the biologist to me, maybe even a philosopher. He has ambition, yes, but not to own or to lead.

So then he begins his hermit existence in the deepest of caves in the Misty Mountains for a couple of hundreds of years. And of course such a thing changes you. He forgets his own name and starts to call himself Gollum – quite frankly, he reminds me of a half-senile grampa that demands to be pampered and spoon-fed but still manages to flick the beans to the TV with deadly precision. Quite a stereotype indeed. Gollum’s desires are simple: fish and darkness. And while these two are amplified to the extreme, they do no damage to the world beyond the one he has created around his hypothetical hospital bed: plenty of fish nearby if you live on a giant lake, and you can’t get pitch-blacker than being under a frickin mountain.
Then Bilbo comes and goes, taking the Precious with him. The only thing that had any value to Gollum, the only memory from his past, peaceful life – never mind the inner turmoil (the ring, whilst still influencing Gollum by merely existing, must be less powerful when it’s not in such near vicinity) when The Ring loosens its hold over his mind. Speaking of a major existential crisis of elephaunt proportions.

Then Gollum starts to wander all over Middle-Earth,following Bilbo’s footsteps all the way to the Lonely Mountain and back, and then eventually to Mordor. And there he meets a 'friend'. I’ll give you a clue. She has too many legs and eyes.

Shelob is pure, pure evil. She’s the essence of evil. She will kill your kittens and dribble their intestines down your throat when you’re sleeping. She’s fucking gross and eeeeeeevil. She literally vomits darkness.
Nobody owns her, though Sauron likes to claim ownership – she does and eats whatever she damn well pleases. And for some reason she “spares” Gollum. Maybe it’s because he loves darkness, all we know is that she takes hold of his mind, clouding it with darkness.

This is important.

When Gollum was alone in his cave under the Misty Mountains he was always talking to his ring or just complaining out loud, which sounds relatively sane. But the Andy-Serkis-Should-Have-Gotten-An-oscar-For-This scene where Gollum talks to himself? That’s Shelob. She is “the green gleam in his eyes” when he is up to something – like luring hobbits to their graves, which happens to be Shelob's lair. It isn’t the ring that gives him the split personality: it’s literally Shelob being a fucking long-distance parasite (creeped out much?) that Gollum can only seem to control when Frodo is being friendly to him.

Guys, this is why Gollum is such a relatable character. Because we all have a bit of Shelob’s voice in us that we try to suppress, no matter how often it hisses at us that we don’t have any friends and that nobody likes us. And it doesn’t matter how often we yell at it to leave now and never come back, it will always sneak back up on us when we’re alone. We just have to hope that we’ll have a friend to stab our Shelobs in the stomach so the voice will temporarily back off - which might even be done by a stupid, fat, hobbit.

And people still ask me what I see in this ‘fairytale’.

Just one more thing. There is a very important scene with Gollum in chapter 2 of book 4 where Gollum is talking to himself and Sam overhears him plotting.
“Gollum was talking to himself. Sméagol was holding a debate with some other thought that used the same voice but made it squeak and hiss. A pale light and a green light alternated in his eyes as he spoke.”
I won’t put the whole hissing debate here where ‘green lights’ is trying to convince ‘pale lights’ to take the ring and kill the hobbits. Green lights is convinced that if they take the ring, then they are the master, and since they promised to be nice ‘to the master of the ring’ it would be okay to kill the hobbits. Pale lights doesn’t want to kill Frodo, because Frodo is nice to him.
“No, sweet one. See, my precious: if we has it, then we can escape, even from Him, eh? Perhaps we grow very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Sméagol? Gollum the great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day, fresh from the sea. Most Precious Gollum! Must have it. We wants it, we wants it, we wants it!”
At this point poor Sméagol is battling the power of the ring over his mind. The power of the ring grows stronger the closer it gets to its true master, and for the first time Gollum truly becomes so greedy that he wants to rule. Let me remind you that it only took Galadriel five seconds. I think that deserves some recognition.
I am not sure how much of Shelob is present in this debate – the greed is definitely the ring, the tricking as well. But I do recognise the feeling of wanting to push everyone away when I am feeling very, very sad. I think it is partly Shelob who wants to destroy Gollum’s only chance of healing emotionally.
Green lights eventually reminds Pale lights of ‘her'. Shelob can kill them for him so he can take the ring after she’s thrown away the bones. Sméagol doesn’t give in yet, but he does lead them to Cirith Ungol. He’s not sure if he will warn Shelob that there’s a meal of fresh hobbit meat coming. But then Frodo ‘betrays’ him in Ithilien. He surrenders Gollum to the hands of the men of Gondor, yet Gollum doesn’t know that the other option would have been his death. So it is this, this last betrayal by the only one who was truly nice to him, that pushes him to malice.

I just thought I needed to explain this.

Until next time,


PS: compare the emotional state between 'Hobbit' Gollum and 'Two Towers' Gollum. PJ, you're awesome.

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