– Originally posted at Part Time Monster as “Gollum Dies.”
This is the 13th in a long series about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the final post on Gollum. You can find previous installments of the series on my Tolkien page at Just Gene’O.
After his confrontation with Samwise outside Shelob’s Lair, Gollum is absent from the story for awhile. The hobbits survive several ordeals without his assistance and arrive at Mount Doom on March 25. By the time they reach the final leg of their journey, Frodo is so exhausted and the Ring is so heavy Sam is forced to carry him. As Sam is struggling up the steep path toward the Crack of Doom with Frodo in his arms, we learn that Gollum has managed to follow the hobbits across Mordor and has found an opportune vantage from which to ambush them. Gollum drops on them from above and attacks. (1)
By the time Sam recovers his feet, Gollum and Frodo are so entangled, Sam can do nothing but watch. Frodo finds the strength to fight, and Gollum has been weakened by the journey:
He [Frodo] fought back with a sudden fury that amazed Sam, and Gollum also. Even so things might have gone far otherwise, if Gollum himself had remained unchanged; but whatever dreadful paths, lonely and hungry and waterless, he had trodden, drive by a devouring desire and a terrible fear, they had left grievous marks on him. He was a lean, starved, haggard thing, all bones and tight-drawn sallow skin. A wild light flamed in his eyes, but his malice was no longer matched by his old griping strength. Frodo flung him off and rose up quivering. (2)
Frodo looms over Gollum, clasping the Ring, and we see its power manifested one last time:
” . . . Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than a shadow of a living thing . . . a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire . . .
‘Begone, and trouble me no more! if you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’ (3)
Considering the way things play out in the next few pages, that last line has the ring of prophecy. I find it interesting that Frodo tells Gollum exactly what’s going to happen. I wonder if Frodo’s warning is an unwitting curse enabled by the power of the Ring. After this confrontation, Frodo leaves Sam to deal with Gollum and continues toward the Crack of Doom.
Gollum does what he is wont do when he’s forced to deal with sword-brandishing Hobbits: He grovels and begs Sam to spare his life.
‘Don’t kill us,’ he wept . . . ‘ Let us live, yes, live just a little longer. Lost lost! We’re lost. And when Precious goes we’ll die, yes, die into dust.’ (4)
I wonder if this is true. It’s plausible to me that Gollum might actually be so transformed by the Ring at this point that he could literally crumble to dust were the Ring to be destroyed. We’ll never know, and have no way of judging whether Gollum actually believes it or not, but it’s an interesting idea. It makes the recovery of the Ring a matter of survival for him. Sam’s empathy overcomes his anger and his survival instinct here, and he allows Gollum to live. After Sam turns to go after Frodo, Gollum predictably follows.
Samwise catches up with his master at the Crack of Doom just as Frodo is overcome by the Ring, claims it as his own, and puts it on his finger. Before Sam can so much as utter a word, Gollum hits him from behind and he blacks out after the fall. I love that Sam goes unconscious here because this final confrontation between Frodo and Gollum is seen from Sam’s point of view and we have no idea how long he is unconscious. It could be a minute or 15, and we have no idea what’s done or said while Sam is out. It can’t be an extremely long time, though, because we learn in the next couple of paragraphs that Sauron is aware of the location of the Ring and the Nazgul are racing toward Mount Doom. (5)
Sam comes to his senses after a space break and sees Gollum struggling with the invisible Frodo right at the edge of the precipice above the fires of doom. Finally, Gollum bites off Frodo’s Ring finger and is so gleeful at recovering the Ring, he forgets where he’s standing.
But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle. It shone now as if verily it was wrought of living fire.
‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. ‘My Precious! O my Precious!” And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone. (6)
Here we see Gollum’s oath to serve the master of the Ring fulfilled in an extremely literal way. Without a doubt, had he not taken that last misstep, Sauron would have crushed the army of the West and the Ring would have been taken by the Nazgul. So, by taking the Ring from Frodo, Gollum is doing the work of Sauron. I think Gollum’s fall is a bit of divine intervention. There’s absolutely no doubt that the natural order of Middle Earth rewards good and punishes evil (eventually). In the end, Frodo simply cannot give up the Ring, so Gollum takes it along with Frodo’s finger, and Providence tips Gollum over the brink into the fires of doom. It’s a fitting end to Gollum, and to Sauron; and it allows Frodo to escape the Ring, though not without losing a piece of himself.
These posts have been a lot of fun to write, and I appreciate all the reads and encouragement I’ve gotten for this series over the summer. I’m taking a pause to write about Doctor Who beginning the week of August 24. I’ll pick this back up with Bilbo and Frodo once the new season of Doctor Who is done. In the meantime, I’ll have occasional Tolkien posts at Sourcerer. I have several ideas for shorter, easier-to-write posts about various episodes from The Silmarillion, I’m brainstorming a post about “The Scouring of the Shire,” and I really have to talk about the book-to-movie adaptation of Faramir, which was my primary motivation to write this series in the beginning.
Until next time 🙂 🙂 🙂
1. The date of this final encounter is from “The Tale of Years,” in The Return of the King, p. 375. All other notes for this post are from “Mount Doom,” in The Return of the King, pp. 210-225.
2. pp. 220-221.
3. p. 221.
4. p. 221.
5. p. 223.
6. p. 224.