Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: 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)

Now we’re even more sure that something is actually there. It’s not just footsteps. Those “gleams of light”  are Gollum’s eyes. But Frodo is still the only one who sees him. We know for certain it’s not an orc, though. Otherwise, Sting would be glowing.

"Gollum in Moria" by SiriusArtWorks/DeviantArt
“Gollum in Moria” by SiriusArtWorks/DeviantArt

The next, and final time we see Gollum in the first volume is on the Great River after the interlude in Lothlorien, but before the breaking of the Fellowship. Samwise spies Gollum floating on a log in the river, which confirms, without a doubt, that Frodo is not merely imagining things. Frodo and Sam discuss it as the party is camping for the night. Sam makes the connection with Bilbo’s story, and Frodo confides that he’s been concerned that Gollum is following them since before they entered Lorien. Sam agrees to stay up all night and watch, but Frodo insists that Sam wake him and let him take half the watch. (5)

Later, after Sam wakes Frodo, we get our first real look at Gollum from Frodo’s point of view.

Frodo was just yielding to the temptation again when a dark shape, hardly visible, floated close to the moored boats. A long whitish hand could be dimly seen as it shot out and grabbed the gunwale; two pale lamplike eyes shone coldly as they peered inside, and then they gazed up at Frodo on the eyeot. There were not more than a yard or two away, and Frodo heard the soft hiss of an intaken breath. He stood up, drawing Sting from its sheath, and faced the eyes. Immediately their light was shut off. There was another hiss and a splash, and the dark log-shape shot away downstream into the night. (6)

The thing that strikes me most about this passage is that Gollum’s hand is described as “whitish,” when up to this point, every color descriptor used for him has indicated that he is dark. Aragorn wakes up as Gollum splashes away, and reveals to Frodo that he’s known Gollum has been following them for awhile. Aragorn’s even tried to capture him a few times, but Gollum is too slippery.

That’s the last we see of Gollum until after the breaking of the Fellowship.

Observations

  • Presumably, Gollum entered Moria originally because he knew the Elves wouldn’t follow, and he needed a dark place to recover from his many ordeals. The fact that he’s lurking about the West-gate, though, suggest to me that he’s looking for a way through the mountains – perhaps soone_ring_by_lucasmt he can go looking for “Baggins” and “Shire.”
  • I wonder how he got out, and how he picked up the trail of the Fellowship so quickly. The best I can do is assume he entered Moria by some entrance unknown even to Gandalf, exited the same way, and picked up their trail again so easily because the Ring was close enough for him to sense it. The Ring may even be actively luring him during these episodes.
  • It’s curious that he was able to either follow the Fellowship through Lorien or skirt its edges while they rested there and wait for them on the river, without being apprehended by the Elves.
  • It’s equally curious that both Frodo and Aragorn knew Gollum was following them, but never had a single conversation about it until that night on the river, even though they had plenty of time in Lorien to talk about it.
  • These passages don’t tell us much about Gollum or the Ring we don’t already know, but I thought I needed to cover them to establish continuity between “Riddles in the Dark” and the journey to Mordor.

This post is the tenth in a series; you can read previous installments here. In the next installment, I’ll look at his encounter with Sam and Frodo on the Emyn Muil. I’d intended to do a post on Gandalf and Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum before I did this one, but practically everything I can glean about that from the text of The Lord of the Rings is included in the overview of Gollum’s life that I lined to at the top of the post.

Notes

1. “The Tale of Years,” in The Return of the King, pp. 372-3. I stated in an earlier installment that Gollum picked up the trail of the Fellowship outside the gate and followed them into Moria. That’s incorrect according to the history, and the way the action at the gate unfolds in the text makes it a logical impossibility.

2. “A Journey in the Dark,” in The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 325-6.

3. p. 328.

4. “Lothlorien” in The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 351.

5. “The Great River,” in The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 398-400.

6. p. 400

Images: “Gollum in Moria” by SiriusArtWorks/DeviantArt. One Ring image by lucasmt/DeviantArt.

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12 Comments

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  1. I never questioned the hand being ‘whitish’ it just conjured up a picture of his wet hand gleaming in the moonlight. And of course, not only would Frodo and Sam never have made it without Gollum, the ring would never have gone into Mount Doom, either. I don’t think you can probe too deeply into why Gollum was never discussed; we have to keep in mind that this is a story, meant to thrill and entertain, and that if everything were done reasonably and logically Frodo could have just flown to MD on an eagle. Job done. (Although then we come back to what would have happened without Gollum!)

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    1. Been thinking about this comment since i first read it. My point with the whitish-ness is really that the description changes between the Hobbit and LOTR. LOTR gives us a Gollum that is more frog-like, color-wise.That’s something I’m alert to now as I read every remaining passage that metions Gollum from here on out. The Hobbit is clear that Gollum is black. LOTR is not so clear. I wasn’t pointing it out as an inconsistency, just as something interesting.

      I don’t think probing deeply into why Gollum was never discussed equates to insisting that everything be done reasonably and logically.

      I find it curious that an inventor of languages who could create this novel which makes such bold artistic claims (and really – the artistic claims LOTR makes are bold), would leave that conversation until the last minute without any explanation whatsoever. Because Gollum is so significant. Frodo’s heard all about him. Aragorn hunted him for the better part of a decade. Why would neither mention it to the other in a story this well-crafted, and when he’s been following them for so long? But curious is what I say about it. Interesting. Not good or bad. Something to geek on, mostly.

      I will say though, that the intention of the author doesn’t carry much weight with me, when I read a story. Don’t really care whether they’re trying to be entertaining or meaning to be profound. I just want the story to be good. And LOTR certainly is that.

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      1. Surely entertaining is good? I don’t mean the word in the sense of humorous, but in the sense that you keep wanting to turn the page. I think the reason gollum isn’t disccussed before is because, if he had been, the dramatic tension would have been lost; both in using up time in talking, and in loss of mystery. You have to look at it from the point of view of a story teller – there’s a pace and a rhythm that needs to be kept up. You could also count it as dramatic irony, in that the reader can put two and two together, but the protagonists haven’t. Actually, this made me go back and look at Beowulf (which I think LOTR owes a lot to). You might argue, in much the same way, that it was odd the warriors never discussed if there were any others like Grendel.

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        1. The question of why Aragorn and Frodo don’t discuss Gollum earlier is really interesting, one I hadn’t thought of before. But I remember when I read their exchange, it reaffirmed and was consistent with the portrayal of Aragorn – alert and observant of even the most discreet details. That he was aware of Gollum, then, was not so surprising – but why not discuss it, warn the others? Reflecting on this, I think perhaps it shows two things:
          1. Aragorn’s qualities as a leader. Sometimes in a position of leadership it’s good to consult and keep everyone aware of what’s going on, get everybody on the same page and build that trust. But on some occasions, it might be good for a leader to keep an observation to him/herself if it’s not likely to help the team. Aragorn might have judged that telling everyone about Gollum might have simply stressed everyone out further. They suffered trauma in Moria, witnessing the fall of Gandalf with their own eyes; they’re being pursued by orcs; they’re hurrying on not just to flee their enemies, not to reach a safe haven, but into yet further danger. There’s no mental respite for the fellowship – except in Lothlorien. It may have been the case that Aragorn didn’t want to burden the group when they so desperately needed rest, especially Frodo; after all, what could they do about Gollum – perhaps telling them would have made them more alert in order to protect themselves, but perhaps Aragorn felt he had it covered and simply resolved to take that responsibility on himself?
          2. Aragorn knows and sees lots of things – the fact that he didn’t share his knowledge of Gollum with Frodo suggests there must be plenty of other things out there that he is aware of, we just don’t know about it. It is just one small bit of characterisation among others that helps to build a sense of Aragorn’s wisdom and trustworthiness. He plays a protective role without having to remind people of it or seek credit for it – not unlike the role he will play as king.
          Might be a bit of a stretch to draw these conclusions, maybe it is all just about pace and rhythm! Even if it is, it still has an impact on characterisation, even if unintended. Is it possible for characters to develop of their own accord? A sort of internal consistency that the author helps to create, but no longer has (or needs to have) complete control over as the story unfolds. ?
          Anyway, this has become a rather long comment – thanks for posing the question!!

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  2. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    I can do a passable Gollum impression and since three Christmas’s ago I am actually the current keeper of ‘My Precious’ which is on a chain because too big for me to wear often. There are times when I would be more than happy to let it disappear me but so far no luck. If like us you have read and watched The Lord of the Rings you will enjoy reading posts on Part Time Monster. Thanks Diana.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s been ages since I’ve read LotR, but this post was really well done and evocative. I feel like it means something, that Gollum was almost part of the fellowship in a sense, traveling behind and with them for such a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a nice point. He is, in a sense. Frodo and Sam would never have reached Mount Doom without Gollum.

      I’m glad this post worked for you. It was a bugger of a post to write, and not much feedback so far. So thanks!

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