My Endless Tolkien Series, Part 10

Originally published at Part Time Monster as “Gollum the Footpad.”

I’m doing a reading of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as a series of encounters between the One Ring and the other characters. I’ve given an overview of Gollum’s life, talked about the murder of Deagol, and discussed his loss of the Ring to Bilbo Baggins. We’ve arrived at his first appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring, nearly 80 years after his encounter with Bilbo in The Hobbit.

Gollum’s path intersects that of the Company of the Ring in Moria on January 13, TA 3019. He’d GollumFinalescaped the custody of the elves of the Woodland Realm the summer before and disappeared without a trace in August. Apparently, he found his way into Khazad-dum from the east and was lurking in the vicinity of the West-gate when the company entered Moria. (1)

Here’s the first hint that Gollum has arrived. This is on the night the Company enters Moria:

Yet Frodo began to hear, or to imagine that he heard, something else: like the faint fall of soft bare feet. It was never loud enough, or near enough, for him to feel certain that he heard it; but once it had started it never stopped, while the Company was moving. But it was not an echo, for when they halted it pattered on a little all by itself, and then grew still. (2)

I like this introduction. Even though we know, if we’ve been paying attention since chapter 2, that this must be Gollum, we don’t see him. And monsters are always at their most disturbing when they are present, but unseen. Then there’s the fact that Frodo hasn’t made the connection yet, and wonders at first if he’s just imagining things. This is very good for building suspense. It’s reinforced a few pages later:

As the road climbed upwards, Frodo’s spirits rose a little; he still felt oppressed, and still at times he heard, or thought he heard, away behind the Company and beyond the fall and patter of their feet, a following footstep that was not an echo. (3)

Now we’re sure that someone is following – there can be no doubt. This is the last we hear of Gollum until after the fateful encounter at the bridge and the escape from Moria. Somehow, though, Gollum exits Moria himself and picks up the trail of the Fellowship very quickly.

Frodo catches his first real glimpse of Gollum the night of the escape from Moria. The Company has covered so much ground, the Hobbits are exhausted, and they’ve had to stop and take a look at Frodo’s and Sam’s wounds. They’ve eaten, and are listening and watching for signs that the Orcs are pursuing them.

Frodo did not answer. He looked at Sting, and the blade was dull. Yet he had heard something, or thought he had. As soon as the shadows had fallen about them and the road behind was dim, he had heard again the quick patter of feet. Even now he heard it. He turned swiftly. There were two tiny gleams of light behind, or for a moment he thought he saw them, but at once they slipped aside and vanished. (4)

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Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 7

Originally published May 29, 2014 at Part Time Monster as “Gollum Makes the Story Work.” The whole series is archived here.

I’m reading the One Ring as a character and tracing its interactions with the other characters chronologically to see what it tells us about the nature of good and evil in Middle GollumFinalEarth.

Next up is Gollum. I regard him one of the three most important characters in the story. We can’t understand Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam until we get a handle on Gollum. Today I’ll provide an overview of his life as briefly as possible and discuss my general impressions of his importance.


Robert Foster (1) puts Gollum’s birth year at c. Third Age 2430. Gollum dies and destroys the One Ring in the fire of Mount Doom in TA 3019, so he lives nearly 600 years thanks to the influence of the Ring. He is originally named Smeagol, and is a Hobbit of a matriarchal riverland group who live near the Gladden Fields, where Isildur loses the Ring at the dawn of the Third Age.

About 2463, his cousin, Deagol, finds the Ring while fishing. Using his birthday as an excuse, Smeagol demands the Ring, and when Deagol won’t hand it over, Smeagol murders him. Soon after, he’s driven out of his community and hides in the Misty Mountains with the Ring for nearly 500 years. (2)

In 2941, the Ring slips away from Gollum just as Bilbo happens by. Bilbo finds it and pockets it. There’s an exchange in which Bilbo gives Gollum his last name. Bilbo flees, taking the Ring with him. (3) For the next 78 years, Gollum is consumed by his desire to reacquire the Ring and everything he does is motivated by his need to regain it.

Suspecting Bilbo took the Ring, and armed with the name “Baggins,” Gollum leaves the Misty Mountains to look for Bilbo. At some point as he’s following Bilbo’s trail, he associates “Baggins” with the Shire. Decades later, as Sauron is consolidating his power and preparing to launch the War of the Ring, Gollum is captured by agents of the Red Eye, taken to Mordor, and interrogated. This is how Sauron learns the name. The appearance of the Ringwraiths in the Shire at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring is a direct result of Gollum’s interrogation. (4)

Sauron releases Gollum in 3017. Aragorn captures him not long after and turns him over to Gandalf. Gandalf also interrogates Gollum, and learns details of the story of the Ring he’d been unable to figure out on his own from the encounter. He leaves Gollum in the custody of the Elves of Mirkwood. Gollum escapes in June of the following year during an orc attack and goes back to searching for the Ring. (5)

He catches up to the Fellowship outside the west gate of Moria and stays on their trail through Moria and Lothlorien. Frodo and Sam capture him in the hill country above the Rauros Falls after the breaking of the Fellowship.

Gollum swears an oath of service to Frodo and guides the hobbits to the pass of Cirith Ungol, the most lightly-guarded entrance to Mordor. There he betrays Frodo to the monstrous spider Shelob in hope of regaining the Ring after she discards Frodo’s possessions. The plan fails, thanks to Master Samwise.

From there, he trails the hobbits to Mount Doom, where he makes a last, desperate attempt to regain the Ring. He finally takes it after Frodo claims the Ring for himself by biting off Frodo’s finger, and falls with the Ring into the fiery Crack of Doom.

By the end of the journey to Mordor, Gollum is so broken, he has two distinct personalities that talk to one another at times. One struggles to be loyal to Frodo and help keep the Ring away from Sauron. The other plots murder and betrayal to regain the Ring. Samwise calls these two aspects of Gollum’s personality “Slinker” and “Stinker.” (6)


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Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 6

Originally published at Part Time Monster on March 7, 2014, as “The Death of Isildur.” This is the final installment on Isildur. We’re taking a break from these for the April A to Z Challenge, but they will start back up with Gollum in May.

I considered moving on to Gollum this week, but the Disaster of the Gladden Fields is too important to exclude from this series. It is in this episode that we first catch a glimpse of the One Ring as an independent character, and it connects the War of the Ring to the the First and Second Ages of Middle Earth.

Isildur’s position as the central figure here, and the fact that this is an event of his making, make him the most significant figure of the Second Age. They also make him a tragic hero (1).

As with most of the other events we’ve looked at so far, our most complete source for the death of Isildur is Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (2). We also have significant accounts from Gandalf (3) and Elrond (4).

First, let’s look at the “historical” account. After refusing to destroy the Ring and claiming it as an heirloom, Isildur returns to Minas Anor, plants the White Tree in memory of his brother Anarion, who was slain in the War of the Last Alliance, and counsels his nephew in statecraft. All this is covered in a few sentences in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, but, the events of LOTR make it clear that Isildur remains in the south for a couple of years (5). It is during this period that he authors the scroll that eventually allows Gandalf to identify the Ring. Finally, Isildur leaves the southern kingdom to his nephew:

But soon he departed, and after he had given counsel to Meneldil, his brother’s son, and had committed to him the realm of the south, he bore away the Ring, to be an heirloom of his house, and marched north from Gondor by the way that Elendil had come; and he forsook the South Kingdom, for he purposed to take up his father’s realm in Eriador, far from the shadow of the Black Land.

But Isildur was overwhelmed by a host of Orcs that lay in wait in the Misty Mountains; and they descended upon him at unawares in his camp between the Greenwood and the Great River, nigh to Loeg Ningloron, the Gladden Fields, fore he was heedless and set no guard, deeming that all his foes were overthrown . . .  Isildur himself escaped by means of the Ring, fore when he wore it he was invisible to all eyes; but the Orcs hunted him by scent and by slot, until he came to the River and plunged in.

Then the Ring betrayed him and avenged its maker, for it slipped from his finger as he swam, and it was lost in the water. Then Orcs saw him as he laboured in the stream, and they shot him with many arrows, and that was his end. Only three of his people ever came back over the mountains after long wandering; and of these one was Ohtar his esquire, to whose keeping he had given the shards of the sword of Elendil. (6)

Four phrases in this passage deserve close reading; I’ll cover them in order with bullet-points.

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Monday Music and Weekly Preview


This is quite a stellar group of musicians all on one stage.  On with the preview.

  • I don’t have this week’s Doctor Who ready to go at Part Time Monster yet, but I’m hoping to get it out sometime today so as not to interfere with tomorrow’s schedule.
  • All the photo features are running at Just Gene’O this week to make room for some written posts here. I’m hoping to have a Top Ten Tuesday tomorrow and a Thursday Thirteen later this week.  I’d also like to put together a post about frequent challenges to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’d intended to do this for Banned Book Week, but I wasn’t able to get it done.
  • The Feminist Friday discussion will be at Things Matter this week, and if you missed Hannah’s Banned Book Week Blog Party over there, you can find a ton of banned book posts in her archives.

BONUS LINK: This is for you comics fans. (I know you’re out there!) Check out CompGeekHolly’s first impression of the new Gotham series.

Have a great week!