08 October 2014

The Naming of Sméagol

In The Taming of Sméagol a newly captured Gollum asks the hobbits about their destination:

'And where are they going in these cold hard lands, we wonders, yes we wonders?' He looked up at them, and a faint light of cunning and eagerness flickered for a second in his pale blinking eyes.
Frodo looked straight into Gollum's eyes which flinched and twisted away.  'You know that, or you guess well enough, Sméagol,' he said quietly and sternly. 'We are going to Mordor, of course.  And you know the way there, I believe.' 
'Ach! sss!' said Gollum, covering his ears with his hands, as if such frankness, and the open speaking of the names, hurt him.
(TT 4.i.616)

Those last words -- 'as if such frankness, and the open speaking of the names, hurt him' --  bear special notice.  The names -- plural and definite, including both Mordor and Sméagol  --  assert a sureness about the truth of this explanation that makes the words 'as if' seem a courtesy paid in passing.  In a legendarium born from a single name such an emphasis on names and their power is never to be ignored. And so, when I noticed not long ago that the narrator, while speaking in his own voice, rarely calls Gollum Sméagol, it led me to investigate the use of this name. Let's look at The Two Towers since that is where it occurs most often by far.

For starters, the name Sméagol is used there 145 times, all of them, unsurprisingly, in Book Four.  Of these instances ninety-five are Gollum referring to or addressing himself.  That's 65 percent of the total.  How fascinating that after being seemingly hurt by hearing his name openly spoken Gollum then proceeds to use it with such tiresome frequency (even more tiresome if you're counting).  It suggests that Frodo's calling Gollum by his true name has opened a door within him that had long been shut.  Now back in The Shadow of the Past Gandalf had said of Gollum that:

'There was a little corner of his mind that was still his own, and light came through it, as through a chink in the dark: a light out of the past. It was actually pleasant, I think, to hear a kindly voice again, bringing up memories of wind, and trees, and sun on the grass, and such forgotten things.'
(FR 1.ii.55)  

It was also in this very conversation with Gandalf that Frodo learned Gollum's real name, which Gandalf, there can be little doubt, had learned directly from Gollum.1 It is further true that Gandalf calls him Sméagol only in telling the story of how he came by the Ring five hundred years earlier; in speaking of the 'present' he always calls him Gollum.  So even quite early in the Tale we can see a connection established in Frodo's presence between Sméagol and the other 'forgotten things' of Gollum's past. We also see, later in the same conversation, Gandalf express the admittedly wan hope that 'Gollum can be cured before he dies' (FR 1.ii.59).

Thus, by addressing Gollum as Sméagol, Frodo evokes (and perhaps seeks to evoke), the memory of these things, just as Gandalf implies Bilbo had done.  Yet the portrait of Gollum is too complex and cunning for evocation to lead simply to reformation, even if it opens the door to the hope of a cure. The signals from Gollum remain mixed throughout, just like Sméagol and Gollum themselves.  (I almost feel I should say 'himselves'.)

And how could it be otherwise when the first two times Gollum uses his own name he equates Sméagol with the Ring itself: 'Don't ask Sméagol.  Poor, poor Sméagol, he went away long ago.  They took his Precious, and he's lost now' (TT 4.i.616)?  No Precious, no Sméagol.  The implication of this is clear. Gollum also sees a distinction between himself and the lost Sméagol, though it is not the same distinction as Gandalf saw.  For in Gollum's mind Sméagol was lost not with the murder of Déagol centuries before, but with the loss of the Ring to Bilbo.

The complexity of this portrait is also clear in the first thing Gollum does after he is called Sméagol.  Once Sam and Frodo pretend to trust him and feign sleep, he tries to escape (4.i.617), making no attempt to recover the Ring he has sought since the desire of it drove him from the darkness beneath the Misty Mountains 75 years earlier (FR 1.ii.57; RK B 1089).  The hobbits  --  'The thieves, the thieves, the filthy little thieves.  Where are they with my Precious? Curse them. We hates them,' (TT 4.i.613)  --   seem to be asleep, all at his mercy now, and his Precious is right at hand.  And Gollum runs (TT 4.i.617).

Nor does the picture grow less complicated after Frodo compels him to swear by the Ring in the next scene and 'the new Gollum, the Sméagol' begins to emerge.  For this Gollum, too, is problematic and conflicted.  Despite 'the Sméagol's' usefulness and friendliness, Sam dislikes and mistrusts him even more 'if possible' than the old Gollum (TT 4.i.619), and Frodo trusts him only provisionally (TT 4.i.624, iii. 640, iv.649).

And there are few things that demonstrate Frodo's much underestimated caution towards Gollum more than the fact that Frodo calls him Sméagol only when addressing him directly. The sole exception is when Frodo, in a highly formal context, responds to Faramir's asking him whether he takes 'this creature, this Sméagol under [his] protection.' (TT 4.vi.690).  In addition to still addressing him as Gollum at times (TT 4.i.614, 615; iii.640), Frodo also still thinks of him as Gollum (4.i.615; iii.643; vi.686-87), which he continues to do in The Return of the King (RK 6.i.914; ii.929; iii.947).

This practice of Frodo the character is supported by the custom of Frodo the narrator, who refers to him as Gollum 251 times in Book Four, but calls him Sméagol a total of seven times in only three places.2  The first is in the title of the initial chapter of Book Four, The Taming of Sméagol, a title for which I believe the text suggests a 'tricksy' meaning  --  namely, that it is not Gollum, but Sméagol, who is tamed.  However that may be, it is nevertheless a chapter title, and so more of a comment upon the narrative from the editorial heights than a part of the narrative itself.  On the second occasion the narrator uses 'Sméagol' five times, in the famous scene, witnessed by Sam, in which the two different 'thoughts' that are Gollum argue with each other  (TT 4.ii.632-34). Here the narrator's use of Sméagol helps to differentiate clearly between these 'thoughts,' separating the more threatening Gollum from the less threatening Sméagol.3

In the third instance the narrator adopts a high mythic style to trace the history of 'Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world,' and explain Gollum's knowledge of her:

Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her, Sméagol who pried into all dark holes, and in past days he had bowed and worshipped her, and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him, cutting him off from light and from regret.  
 (TT 4.ix.723)

Note how the very syntax of 'Sméagol' here, in apposition and logically subordinate to the grammatical subject 'Gollum,' mirrors the reality it describes.  'Sméagol' is parallel but secondary, intimately linked yet adjectival, a rhetorical alternative to the repetition of the subject.  Sméagol modifies Gollum, and yet his role as the one 'who pried into all dark holes' must have been crucial to finding her.

This passage, moreover, is like a bookend or a counterbalance to the passage in The Shadow of the Past quoted above (FR 1.ii.55), in which Gandalf speaks of the pleasant memories Bilbo's kindly voice stirred in Gollum, and of the bit of light that still reached him out of the past.  Whatever slender hope that passage seemed to offer, this seems to take away, and conclusively so since it comes after Gollum's betrayal of the hobbits and the missed opportunity to repent upon the stairs (TT 4.viii.714).4 Indeed the grimness of that final coordinate clause ('and the darkness...regret.') makes Gollum's failure to repent, the necessary precursor to a cure, feel almost predictable, as if we should have known.5 That is not the case, as I believe the larger context of the Tale in Book Four demonstrates, but it adds further complexity. Gollum's being cut off from light and regret both makes repentance more difficult for him, and shows clearly how strong the urge to repent must have been for him to get as close to it as he does.

If we turn to Sam's uses of Sméagol, it is clear that he, too, becomes increasingly aware of the complications that the very notion of a Sméagol poses for dealing with Gollum.  Aside from trusting 'the new Gollum, the Sméagol' less than the old (4.i.619), he's at first fairly sure the distinction won't make a difference in practice: 'Sméagol or Gollum, he won't change his habits in a hurry, I'll warrant' (4.ii.622-23). But maintaining that attitude soon proves challenging:

Sam frowned.  If he could have bored holes in Gollum with his eyes, he would have done.  His mind was full of doubt.  To all appearances Gollum was genuinely distressed and anxious to help Frodo.  But Sam, remembering the overheard debate, found it hard to believe that the long submerged Sméagol had come out on top: that voice at any rate had not had the last word in the debate.  Sam's guess was that the Sméagol and Gollum halves (or what in his own mind he called Slinker and Stinker) had made a truce and a temporary alliance: neither wanted the Enemy to get the Ring; both wished to keep Frodo from capture, and under their eye, as long as possible  -- at any rate as long as Stinker still had a chance of laying hands on his 'Precious'.  Whether there really was another way into Mordor Sam doubted.
(TT 4.iii.638-39)

Yet alongside his doubts and suspicions Sam also arrives at moments here and there where he displays something I can only call 'not-unkindliness' towards Gollum.  In Ithilien, for example, when Gollum brings Sam the rabbits he requests, Sam offers to cook for Sméagol in some surprising future that no one could have expected Sam ever to envision:

'But be good Sméagol and fetch me the herbs, and I'll think better of you.  What's more, if you turn over a new leaf, and keep it turned, I'll cook you some taters one of these days. I will: fried fish and chips served by S. Gamgee.'
(TT 4.iv.654)

I want to emphasize here --  since I don't think I had ever noticed this before now, and had to consult six different editions dating back to the 1960s to be fairly sure there was no typo --  that the correct reading of the text clearly seems to be what I have reproduced above: 'But be good Sméagol and....' That is, while Sam is indeed addressing Gollum directly here, he is not calling him by name (which would be 'But be good, Sméagol, and....').  He is telling him to be 'good Sméagol' rather than 'bad Sméagol,' namely Gollum. It's a subtle difference, but it suggests an awareness on Sam's part that a real change in Gollum may be possible, even if not inevitable or, for that matter, at all likely.

This fits in both with the banter that goes on between Sam and Gollum in the passage, especially Sam's mockery of Gollum's manner of speech just two paragraphs above, and Sam's telling Frodo when he wakes up that the rabbits are 'a present from Sméagol...though I fancy Gollum's regretting them now' (TT 4.iv.655). But neither has Sam, in asking Sméagol to hunt for them and in speaking to him not unkindly, forgotten who they are dealing with.  For just that very morning Sam had come across in the woods the remnants of a 'dreadful feast and slaughter....he said nothing: the bones were best left in peace and not pawed and routed by Gollum' (TT 4.iv.651).

And not only that: as they are eating the stewed rabbit a little later Sam warns Frodo that they should not both fall asleep together: 'I don't feel too sure of [Gollum], There's a good deal of Stinker -- the bad Gollum, if you understand me -- in him still, and it's getting stronger again' (TT 4.iv.655-56).  Sam has not forgotten the overheard conversation between Slinker and Stinker, in which Gollum had had the last word, a word that had dismayed even Sméagol: 'She might help.  She might, yes' (TT 4.ii.633).

Sméagol/Gollum is a complex, tormented soul.  Gandalf felt that a cure for him was not beyond all hope, and Frodo thought that he was 'not altogether wicked' (TT 4.vi.691) but Faramir's assessment that 'malice eats [this creature] like a canker, and the evil is growing' (4.vi.691) is also correct.  Even Sam, as hostile and suspicious as he usually is of Sméagol/Gollum, is well aware of the straining, shifting currents of good and evil within him.  The one thing that this examination of the use of 'Sméagol' has told us is that there is no hard and fast, black and white, split between the two 'thoughts' or, as Sam sees it, 'halves' that are Sméagol and Gollum.  He is as trackless and treacherous as the Dead Marshes themselves.

The two characters who know him best, Frodo and Sam, are ambivalent about him in different degrees.  Frodo does not trust him, and is not fooled by him.  He knows he's dangerous, and that even the promise made on the Ring itself will only hold him for so long.  But Frodo's experience with the Ring since The Shadows of the Past has changed him.  (And not just what he has suffered himself, but what he has seen others suffer because of the Ring, specifically Boromir, who tried to take the Ring from him by force mere days before he meets Gollum and shows him mercy.) For him calling Gollum Sméagol is an attempt to reach the 'little corner of his mind that,' as Gandalf said 'was still his own,' Frodo does so out of Pity, not self-interest.  That he still calls him Gollum sometimes and thought and later wrote of him as Gollum probably reflects his understanding of how meager the hope of curing him was, and perhaps also the reality of how the Tale turned out.  In the end he proved to be Gollum, and so he was called, but it was a very near run thing.

Sam, ever protective and fearful for his Master, has not yet learned Pity.  His experience of the Ring and his seeming failure of Frodo lie before him yet.  He has also heard the Sméagol/Gollum debate and seen Gollum's hands grasping for a sleeping Frodo's throat.  So, while he can be not unkindly to Sméagol and can allow a glimmer of hope for him, he cannot forget the growing danger Gollum poses.  And it's true that Gollum merits his suspicions, even at the moment of his near repentance,6 but as Bilbo, Gandalf, and Frodo saw, and as Sam will see (RK 6.iii.944), Sméagol deserves his Pity.

In so narrow a view as I have taken here, it is all too easy to mistake, to misunderstand, to misrepesent, unwillingly, uniwttingly, the complex joint portrait of all three of the main characters of Book Four.  What is really needed is an in depth, page by page exploration at length of the rich web woven here.


1While it is nowhere explicitly stated that Gandalf learned the name Sméagol from Gollum himself, there really is no other possibility. Note how in telling Frodo the story of Sméagol and Déagol Gandalf witholds the information that Sméagol and Gollum are one until the very end. It may be that he's trying to set Frodo up to feel pity for Gollum when he reveals their identity.  If so, he fails, for the moment.  Later, when Faramir reaches Minas Tirith with the news that he had seen Frodo and Sam with Gollum, Gandalf says: '...my heart guessed that Frodo and Gollum would meet before the end' (RK 5.iv.815).  It is tempting to read this presentiment back into his conversation with Frodo at Bag End, but it may not be justified.

2'Gollum' occurs 305 times in Book Four. Fifty-four times it is used in direct address or direct speech by a character or in 'the gollum noise.' The other 251 times belong to the narrator.  Gollum actually never calls himself 'Gollum' as far as I have been able to find.  I am not counting the noise he makes in his throat as a form of self-address, even if others derived a name for him from it.  The text uses capitalization and italics to make clear the distinction between the 'gollum noise' and Gollum used as a name. Sam's 'Gollum! I'll give him gollum in his throat, if I ever get my hands on his neck' (TT 4.i.604) is the perfect illustration.  For further examples, see TT 3.iii.455-56; 4.i.613, 614, 615, 616.  Oddly enough, at least as far back as the 1960s American editions of The Lord of the Rings, but not of The Hobbit, were italicizing the 'gollum noise.'

3'Thought' is the word used in that scene to describe the two different aspects of Gollum that are speaking.  We would be quite naturally inclined to call them 'personalities,' but not Tolkien of course.  Aside from the fact that 'personality' as we mean it here is a coinage of only the late 18th century (OED s.v. 2), he probably would have disliked it for all of the freight of Psychology that it carried with it.  But in any event the word would have been ill suited stylistically for The Lord of the Rings.  On the other hand, however, 'thought' used in this sense seems unparalleled in recent centuries, though not entirely new.  The OED s.v. 1b shows an early meaning (two citations from the Lindisfarne Gospels, ca 950) which clearly appears to have the sense 'mind.'

4I am currently preparing a paper on the scene of Gollum's near repentance for presentation at Mythmoot III in January 2015. I will of course also post that paper here, but likely not for some time yet.

5This clause has always sounded to me like a dim and dark echo of the final verse of the 23rd psalm: 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'

6A point I owe to Corey Olsen.  See The Two Towers, Class 08: Doom and Great Deeds from about 25:00 onwards.


The tabulation below presents the uses of 'Sméagol' in the order in which they occur, separated by chapter (starting in The Two Towers, since the bulk of the uses occur there and since the story there is our focus), and annotated with  speaker and form of speech.  Having to count, over and over, the number of times Gollum calls himself 'Sméagol' gives one a new and better understanding of why Strider gagged Gollum while he marched him to the halls of Thranduil.

FrDA = Frodo, the Character, in Direct Address to Gollum
FrDS  = Frodo, the Character, in Direct Speech about Gollum
GS     = Gollum, addressing or referring to himself
FrN    = Frodo the Narrator.
SDA  = Sam, in Direct Address to Gollum
SDS   = Sam, in Direct Speech about Gollum
ST      = Sam's Thoughts as reported by the narrator.
FaDA = Faramir, in Direct Address to Gollum
FaDS  = Faramir, in Direct Speech about Gollum
GaDS = Gandalf, in Direct Speech about Gollum

Sméagol in The Two Towers:

The Taming of Sméagol:

01. 4.i.603 Title of Chapter = FrN
02. 4.i.616 FrDA
03. 4.i.616 FrDA
04. 4.i.616 GS
05. 4.i.616 GS
06. 4.i.618 GS
07. 4.i.618 GS
08. 4.i.618 FrDA
09. 4.i.618 GS
10. 4.i.618 GS
11. 4.i.618 FrDA
12. 4.i.618 GS
13. 4.i.619 ST
14. 4.i.619 GS
15. 4.i.619 GS
16. 4.i.619 GS

The Passage of the Marshes

17. 4.ii.620 GS
18. 4.ii.621 GS
19. 4.ii.621 GS
20. 4.ii.622 FrDA
21. 4.ii.622 GS
22. 4.ii.622 GS
23. 4.ii.622 GS
24. 4.ii.622 GS
25. 4.ii.622 GS
26  4.ii.622 SDS
27. 4.ii.623 GS
28. 4.ii.624 GS
29. 4.ii.625 FrDA
30. 4.ii.625 GS
31. 4.ii.625 GS
32. 4.ii.625 GS
33. 4.ii.625 GS
33. 4.ii.628 GS
35. 4.ii.628 GS
36. 4.ii.628 ST
37. 4.ii.628 GS
38. 4.ii.629 GS
39. 4.ii.629 GS
40. 4.ii.629 GS
41. 4.ii.632 FrN
42. 4.ii.632 GS
43. 4.ii.633 GS
44. 4.ii.633 GS
45. 4.ii.633 GS
46. 4.ii.633 FrN
47. 4.ii.633 GS
48. 4.ii.633 FrN
49. 4.ii.633 FrN
50. 4.ii.634 FrN
51. 4.ii.634 GS
52. 4.ii.634 GS

The Black Gate Is Closed

53. 4.iii.637 GS
54. 4.iii.637 GS
55. 4.iii.637 GS
56. 4.iii.637 GS
57. 4.iii.637 GS
58. 4.iii.637 GS (quoted back, inaccurately, at  # 73)
59. 4.iii.637 GS
60. 4.iii.638 GS
61. 4.iii.638 GS
62. 4.iii.638 GS
63. 4.iii.638 GS
64. 4.iii.638 GS
65. 4.iii.638 GS
66. 4.iii.638 GS
67. 4.iii.638 GS
68. 4.iii.638 GS
69. 4.iii.638 ST
70. 4.iii.638 ST
71. 4.iii.640 FrDA
72. 4.iii.640 FrDA
73. 4.iii.640 GS
74. 4.iii.640 FrDA (quoting, inaccurately, # 57)
75. 4.iii.640 FrDA
76. 4.iii.640 FrDA
77. 4.iii.640 FrDA
78. 4.iii.641 GS (as quoted by FrN)
79. 4.iii.641 GS
80. 4.iii.642 GS
81. 4.iii.643 GS
82. 4.iii.643 GS
83. 4.iii.643 GS
84. 4.iii.643 GS
85. 4.iii.643 FrDA
86. 4.iii.646 GS
87. 4.iii.646 GS
88. 4.iii.647 GS
89. 4.iii.647 GS
90. 4.iii.647 GS
91. 4.iii.647 GS
92. 4.iii.647 FrDA

Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

93. 4.iv.648 GS
94. 4.iv.652 GS
95. 4.iv.653 GS
96. 4.iv.653 GS
97. 4.iv.653 GS
98. 4.iv.654 GS
99. 4.iv.654 GS
100. 4.iv.654 GS
101. 4.iv.654 GS
102. 4.iv.654 GS
103. 4.iv.654 SDA
104. 4.iv.654 GS
105. 4.iv.654 GS
106. 4.iv.654 SDA
107. 4.iv.655 SDS

The Window on the West


The Forbidden Pool

108. 4.vi.686 GS
109. 4.vi.687 FrDA
110. 4.vi.687 FrDA
111. 4.vi.687 FrDA
112. 4.vi.687 FrDA
113. 4.vi.687 FrDA
114. 4.vi.687 GS
115. 4.vi.687 GS
116. 4.vi.687 FrDA
117. 4.vi.687 GS
118. 4.vi.687 GS
119. 4.vi.688 FrDA
120. 4.vi.689 FrDA
121. 4.vi.690 GS
122. 4.vi.690 FaDS
123. 4.vi.690 FrDS
124. 4.vi.691 FaDA
125. 4.vi.693 FaDS
126. 4.vi.693 FaDS

Faramir uses 'Sméagol' three times when speaking of him to Frodo, each time with evident distrust and loathing; and once he addresses him directly.  But Faramir knows of no other name for him than Sméagol.  Neither Frodo nor Sam call him Gollum in front of Faramir. Neither Sam nor, it would appear, Frodo had any intention of mentioning him if they didn't need to do so (TT 4.v.672; vi.685).

Journey to the Crossroads

127. 4.vii.695 GS
128. 4.vii.696 FrDS
129. 4.vii.696 FrDS

The Stairs of Cirith Ungol

130. 4.viii.713 SDS
131  4.viii.715 GS
132. 4.viii.715 GS
133, 4.viii.715  FrDA
134. 4.viii.715 GS
135. 4.viii.715 FrDA
136. 4.viii.715 GS
137. 4.viii.716 FrDA
138. 4.viii.716 GS

Shelob's Lair

139. 4.ix.717 FrDA
140, 4.ix.717 GS
141. 4.ix.719 FrDA
142. 4.ix.719 FrDA
143. 4.ix.723 FrN
144. 4.ix.724 GS
145. 4.ix.726 GS

GS = 94/145 = 64.82%

FrDA/S = 31/145 = 21.37%

FrN = 7/145 = 4.82%

ST/SDS/SDA = 9/145 = 6.2%

FaDA/FaDS = 4/145 = 2.75%

Sméagol in The Fellowship of the Ring

The Shadow of the Past

01. 1.ii.53 GaDS
02. 1.ii.53 GaDS
03. 1.ii.53 GaDS
04. 1.ii.53 GaDS
05. 1.ii.53 GaDS
06. 1.ii.53 GaDS
07. 1.ii.53 GaDS
08. 1.ii.53 GaDS
09  1.ii.56 GaDS

The Council of Elrond

10. 2.ii.255 Legolas says: 'Sméagol, who is now called Gollum.'

Sméagol in The Return of the King

Mount Doom

01. 6.iii.943 GS
02. 6.iii.943 GS

Appendix B in The Return of the King shows a noteworthy progression in the uses of both names.  He is 'Sméagol' when he kills Déagol (1087, under the year 2463), 'Sméagol-Gollum' for as long as he is under the Misty Mountains (1087, under the year 2470; 1089, under the year 2941), and 'Gollum' alone once he leaves the mountains to hunt for the Ring (1089, under the year 2944).

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