Monday, September 28, 2015

Gollum: How does the Ring work its evil?

The following is one of the topics from my research from last Thursday. The question came to me while I was reading "The Making of Middle Earth" section on Gollum. It struck me that there is never in clear explanation to why Smeagol was affected by the ring so strongly and so rapidly. Based on what we know about the Ring of Power it seems that Hobbits have a certain level of resistances to its evil influence. The rough explanation of why this is the case is that Hobbits are on the whole innocent creatures of simple taste. They find their greatest happiness among family, friends, nature, and peace and quiet. What then makes Smeagol different?

My nearest conclusion was Smeagol had a kind worldly desire for physical treasures that the other Hobbits do do share. The closest the other Hobbits come to this is that sense of Tookishness. Tolkien paints this as a positive desire for adventure, to experience the world for its own value and not for the treasures they might uncover along the way. Bilbo is fundamentally different from Smeagol, because his desires are those that lead to purity of the heart and soul. Smeagol's desires are center around the concept of self-gratification and thus lead to a tainted heart and soul. Thus when faced by the incredibly manipulative influence of the ring Smeagol was easily seduced by what the ring offered. Bilbo, on the other hand, was effected in a more indirect way. He saw the ring as a memento of his past adventures and a means to create new ones, therefore it required many decades to even begin to corrupt Bilbo.

This leads me to my next question. Smeagol may not have very much in common with the other Hobbits who come into contact with the ring, but he certainly is similar to the other characters who are seduced its power. Just few that come to mind immediately are Isildur, Boromir, Faramir, and Galadriel. These characters are all affected in different ways, and definitely to varying degrees. The first thing I did was to set about setting up these characters on a continuum of how much they were affected by the Ring as well as how quickly this occurred. I came to this order, first being most affected and last being least: Smeagol, Isildur, Boromir, Faramir, Galadriel.

My next goal was to determine what character trait, attributable to each of these character lead to the ring influencing them. Galadriel was influenced by the desire for the power to protect her people for evil. However, she recognized that this was not something that could be granted by the treacherous ring. It would only serve to weave further evil through her. She acknowledged that Frodo was the solo individual who could bear the ring into Mordor and thus he was the rightful bearer. Faramir was possessed by his own ego. He was so eager to earn gratification from his people and recognition from his father that he almost made the mistake of claiming the ring for his own. Only through watching the effect the ring was having on Frodo and seeing the end results in Gollum, was he able to break its grip. Boromir was similar to Faramir expect his desire came more out of personal pride to uphold the reputation he already had to solidify his place among the greatest men in history. He went further than his brother and actually attempted to take the ring from Frodo. Isildur was almost instantaneously possessed by the power of the ring. He was motivated primarily by greed. It was so pervasive that he refused to destroy it even when give the option and understanding, at least to some degree the potential consequences.

Smeagol possessed almost all of these traits, however he had one that was unique to him. Smeagol was envious. He was not only greedy but he was covetous of the possessions of others. Tolkien places this at the top of his list of great sins that the ring can feed off of. If the ring can make you feel like you are deprived and it is the entire world against you, then it is easy for control you. It is mightiest when you are isolated from the rest of the world. This was Smeagol's unfortunate fate.

From this I was able to derive a kind of order of these character's sins: Envy, Greed, Pride, Ego, Power. Additionally I would like to propose that each of the three major races outside of Hobbits has a special weakness to the ring. The Elves have their vanity, Sauron plays to this with the original plan of the rings. If it weren't for the deception of Celebrimbor, the Children of Iluvatar would have fallen into darkness. The Dwarves have their greed, their desire for gold and wealth is their downfall on multiple occasions. This is the case with the coming of the dragon Smaug, as well as the releasing of the Balrog in Moria. The Men are most affected by their desire for power. This desire is so strong and consuming that it ends up transfiguring 9 of the great kings of men into the Nazgul, the darkest, most twisted of the servants of Sauron. It is certainly a lot of information to sift through but this is my best conclusion. Thoughts?

3 comments:

Varda said...

I think one aspect of your analysis that I want to discuss first is the effect of the ring on Isildur compared to Bilbo and even Frodo. Though Bilbo lives many years without becoming corrupted by the ring, when he is asked to give it away, he has trouble but eventually is able to part with it. Isildur and Frodo are both given the chance to physically destroy the ring. Both pause at the last moment, turn around, and claim the ring as his own. Gollum is really the only reason the ring is destroyed in the first place, Bilbo is never faced with the task of destroying the ring, and Galadriel/Boromir/Faramir/Gandalf never possess the ring at all. As a result of these degrees of involvement, I think the degree to which the ring affects each character is related to their contact with the ring and their role in its journey. However, I do believe the ring affects each man for a different reason, and I think your analysis of causation is completely accurate. Therefore, consider the next few paragraphs as questions stemming from the effect of the ring on the characters.

In terms of Gollum/Sméagol, the ring spends significantly more time in Gollum's possession than it does with Bilbo or anyone else, and therefore we cannot be sure if the ring would have eventually affected Bilbo or Frodo in the same way given the same duration. The ring seems to have had a more harmful effect on Frodo in a short amount of time, but then again the ring desired to be taken back to Sauron and not destroyed.

Also, one aspect of the books and films which has always made somewhat minimal sense to me is the drastic difference between Boromir's blatant obsession with the ring and his brother's simple desire to bring it to Gondor. To me, Faramir is the better man of the two, but his relationship with his father causes insecurities and a need to prove himself. Boromir, while a weaker person in general, is essentially the star-child of Gondor and his father's favorite. I've never really understood why Boromir exhibits such immense weakness around the ring while his brother, who has significantly more to prove, has a stronger resistance.

Thoughts on this?

Manwë said...


I agree with the idea that the effect the ring has on characters is greatly correlated with the amount of time they spend with the ring and how often they wear it. I also think that the will of the ring would also be very important- I like the idea that the ring's power may be concentrated in different circumstances, like it could sense that Frodo wanted it destroyed and therefore the ring amped up its power to try to better control Frodo and those surrounding him.
As for the difference between Boromir and Faramir, I too am somewhat sketchy as to the reasons that one was more susceptible than the other. I think while reading the books I dismissed it as Faramir being an underdog character that was just inherently ‘better,’ perhaps less spoiled and more reasonable. Also it is made explicitly clear during the meeting that the ring is truly evil and must be destroyed because it will only cause doom- yet Boromir, perhaps because of his upbringing, sees himself as better and of stronger will than all the others- which is really a jerk move, but then again in the end he does 'redeem' himself by admitting his wrongs and taking fault.

Lórien said...

I'll try to respond first to Varda's question about Gollum. I think there is no doubt that if either Bilbo or Frodo would have been left with the ring for as long as Gollum they too would have ended up just like him. What interested me was the how quickly the "symptoms" of the ring's corruption befell each of them. For example Frodo carried the ring much longer than Isildur. It is my feeling that if Frodo could have destroyed the ring at an early opportunity like Isildur it would not have been as difficult for. Now Smeagol on the other hand takes the most extreme action that we ever see prompted by the ring. He murders someone, and not just anyone but his closest friend. This happens as soon as he sets his eyes upon the ring. Yes Bilbo struggled to let go of the ring but he was able to, after nearly sixty year of having the ring. Smeagol killed his best friend just so he could possess the ring at all. Seems to me Tolkien must have been trying to say something about the characters and how the ring interacts with them. Afterward it is constantly hinted that the ring somehow coaxed Smeagol into killing Deagol.

The other topic of discussion is Boromir. I will have to be careful here because I would actually look to the films for a lot of evidence on this. Personally, I think that the Boromir/Faramir relationship is one of the areas where the films actually improved upon the books. That aside however, I'm not sure that Faramir is necessarily any stronger than his brother. They are both great men in their own ways, and both realize their mistakes after they undergo a similar changes. I think the difference lies in their motivations. Boromir is prideful, he seeks the protection of his country and the glory as its greatest defender. Faramir on the other hand is more interested in being recognized by his father. Faramir cares less about glory in battle, and more about being loved as he feels his brother is loved. This I think is the key difference between the two men. Perhaps this is why they are affected differently by the ring.