'Well,' said Frodo, standing up and drawing his cloak more closely round him. 'You sleep for a bit, Sam, and take my blanket. I'll walk up and down on sentry for a while.' Suddenly he stiffened, and stooping he gripped Sam by the arm. 'What's that?' he whispered. 'Look over there on the cliff!'
Sam looked and breathed in sharply through his teeth. 'Ssss!' he said. 'That's what it is. It's that Gollum! Snakes and adders! And to think that I thought we'd puzzle him with our bit of a climb! Look at him! Like a nasty crawling spider on a wall.'
* * *
Down the face of a precipice, sheer and almost smooth it seemed in the pale moonlight, a small black shape was moving with its thin limbs splayed out. Maybe its soft clinging hands and toes were finding crevices and holds that no hobbit could have ever seen or used, but it looked as if it was just creeping down on sticky pads, like some large prowling thing of insect-kind. And it was coming down head first, as if it was smelling its way. Now and again it lifted its head slowly, turning it right back on its long skinny neck, and the hobbits caught a glimpse of two pale gleaming lights, its eyes that blinked at the moon for a moment and then were quickly lidded again.(TT 4.i.612-13)
For so important a character, Gollum arrives rather late on the scene, first appearing on page 612 of 1,031 in the single volume 50th anniversary edition. That's well beyond halfway through (59.35%). By 'first appearance' I do not suggest, clearly, that Gollum's significance before now has also been slight, or that his presence has not been felt. Quite the contrary. He was brought up in a critical connection in A Long-expected Party (FR 1.i.33-34), discussed at great length in The Shadow of the Past (FR 1.ii.52-60), and spoken of again in The Council of Elrond (FR 2.ii.249, 251, 253-56). Ever since Moria he has been stalking the Company (FR 2.iv.312, 318; vi.345; ix.382-86; x.395, 402). For all that, the closest anyone, the reader included, has come to catching more than a glimpse of him so far is when Frodo, with sword drawn, confronts a shadow on the dark banks of the Anduin (FR 2.ix.383-84). From that point onward he vanishes from the narrative (with one important exception: TT 3.iii.455-56) for over two hundred pages, until Frodo and Sam mention him (TT 4.i.604-05) on the morning of the day on which they spy him crawling down the the cliff face.
Before we examine the earlier passages to see what they reveal about the portrayal of Gollum prior to his arrival 'on stage' in The Taming of Sméagol, let me address a couple of points a sensitive reader might raise. Since Gollum was introduced in The Hobbit, why not start there? There are several answers to this, I think, First, the portrayal of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings must stand or fall on its own merits regardless of how well or ill it matches what is found in The Hobbit. Second, Tolkien rewrote the portrayal of Gollum in The Hobbit to suit the portrayal in The Lord of the Rings in 1944, precisely when he was writing Book Four of The Lord of the Rings in which Gollum plays so large a role, beginning with his entry in the scene quoted above.1 As a result, it may reasonably be argued, the later work became the primary text on Gollum, supplemented and crucially supported by the earlier in theme and character. It is also true and relevant, moreover, that not everyone reads The Hobbit first. I did not. In fact I believe I read The Lord of the Rings several times before I turned to the earlier work, and found myself put off for quite a long time by its very different tone. Consequently I deprived myself of opportunities for deeper insight. In view of all this, I will discuss the material in The Hobbit, but only after examining Bilbo and Frodo's conversations with Gandalf about Gollum in the first two chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring.
What about the assertion that Gollum disappears for more than two hundred pages? Someone might reasonably object that, while it's accurate as far as pages are concerned, it's misleading in terms of narrative time. Within the story Gollum is referred to by Aragorn on the day the fellowship was broken, 26 February, and meets Frodo and Sam in The Taming of Sméagol three days later, on 29 February (FR 2.x.402; RK 1092). True enough. But it is also true that the reader does not experience their story in this way. We do not cross the river straightaway with Frodo and Sam. No, we follow the other members of the Company for ten eventful days, which, to be brief, include '[o]rcs, and talking trees, and leagues of grass, and galloping riders, and glittering caves...and golden halls, and battles' (RK 6.iv.955).2 Starting with the heroic death of the redeemed Boromir and ending with the defeat of the traitor Saruman, Book Three contains enough of pity and fear, courage and wonder, to stand as an epic all on its own. So even when we return to Frodo and Sam in Book Four, a mere three days after their last appearance in The Breaking of the Fellowship, it does not feel like so brief a time has passed.3 Chronologically, the objection is a point well made, but in terms of narrative it neglects the overwhelming impression made by the high and extended drama of Book Three.
So setting aside for the moment what we know of Gollum from The Hobbit, let's turn now to the early passages in The Fellowship. What can we glean solely from the text we have before us? The first mentions of Gollum come with a certain cunning. Much is suggested, little explained. After Bilbo has disappeared from the party and returned to Bag End, Gandalf presses the reluctant hobbit to leave the Ring behind as he had promised (cf. FR 1.i.25) to do:
'...Also I think you have had [the Ring] quite long enough. You won't need it anymore, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.'
Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. 'Why not?' he cried. 'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things. It is my own. I found it. It came to me.'
'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf. 'But there is no need to get angry.'
'If I am it is your fault,' said Bilbo. 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My Precious. Yes, my Precious.'
The wizard's face remained grave and attentive, and only a flicker in his deep eyes showed that he was startled and indeed alarmed. 'It has been called that before,' he said, 'but not by you.'
'But I say it now. And why not? Even if Gollum said the same thing once. It's not his now, but mine. And I shall keep it, I say.'
Gandalf stood up. He spoke sternly. 'You will be a fool if you do, Bilbo,' he said. 'You make that clearer with every word you say. It has got far too much hold on you. Let it go! And then you can go yourself, and be free.'
'I'll do as I choose and go as I please,' said Bilbo obstinately.
'Now, now, my dear hobbit!' said Gandalf. 'All your long life we have been friends, and you owe me something. Come! Do as you promised: give it up!'
'Well, if you want my ring yourself, say so!' cried Bilbo. 'But you won't get it. I won't give my Precious away, I tell you.' His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.
Gandalf's eyes flashed. 'It will be my turn to get angry soon,' he said. 'If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.' He took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room.
Bilbo backed away to the wall, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocket. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air of the room tingled. Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed and he began to tremble.
'I don't know what has come over you, Gandalf,' he said. 'You have never been like this before. What is it all about? It is mine, isn't it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn't kept it. I'm not a thief, whatever he said.'
'I have never called you one,' Gandalf answered. 'And I am not one either. I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.' He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and troubled.
Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief not to be bothered with it any more. It has been growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt like it was an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. I don't know why. And I don't seem able to make up my mind.'
'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.'
Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.' Then he shrugged and smiled ruefully. 'After all that's what this party business was all about, really: to give away lots of birthday presents, and somehow make it easier to give it away at the same time. It hasn't made it any easier in the end, but it would be a pity to waste all my preparations. It would quite spoil the joke.' '
Indeed it would take away the only point I ever saw in the affair,' said Gandalf. '
Very well,' said Bilbo, 'it goes to Frodo with all the rest.' He drew a deep breath. 'And now I really must be starting, or somebody else will catch me. I have said good-bye, and I couldn't bear to do it all again.' He picked up his bag and moved to the door.
'You have still got the ring in your pocket,' said the wizard. 'Well, so I have,' cried Bilbo. 'And my will and all the other documents too. You had better take it and deliver it for me. That will be safest.'
'No, don't give the ring to me,' said Gandalf. 'Put it on the mantelpiece. It will be safe enough there, till Frodo comes. I shall wait for him.'
Bilbo took out the envelope, but just as he was about to set it by the clock, his hand jerked back, and the packet fell on the floor. Before he could pick it up, the wizard stooped and seized it and set it in its place. A spasm of anger passed swiftly over the hobbit's face again. Suddenly it gave way to a look of relief and a laugh. 'Well, that's that,' he said. 'Now I'm off.'
After the lighthearted, humorous tone of the first dozen pages of the story, this scene is shockingly tense, moving from discomfort to anger to accusations to threats of violence. His face flushed and hard looking, his eyes alight with anger, his voice loud, his tone obstinate, one hand clutching the Ring, the other the hilt of his sword -- this is not the kindly and generous, clever and funny old hobbit we saw before -- when? Before Gandalf pressed him about the Ring, yes, but also before he used the Ring at the party. That Bilbo has disappeared, for now.
Can this dark turn that Bilbo takes be unconnected to his use of the Ring only minutes earlier? That does not seem quite likely. And it is precisely Bilbo's behavior where the Ring is concerned that prompts Gandalf to make the comparison between Bilbo and Gollum to which Bilbo reacts so strongly. But his reaction is itself rather telling and disturbing, because Bilbo does not deny the applicability of the comparison, as we might expect him to do.
Not at all.
Instead he denies its relevance.
'So what,' in essence, is this Bilbo's reply, which simultaneously accepts the accuracy of Gandalf's statement and seeks to dismiss its significance. None of this, however, escapes the wizard, whose manner now becomes stern and whose warnings now characterize Bilbo as a fool and a slave of the Ring if he is determined to keep it. When the hobbit responds by 'obstinately' asserting his freedom to choose and to act as he wishes, Gandalf stresses the obligations of their long friendship and demands that Bilbo keep the promise he had made to give it up. Again, as with the comparison to Gollum, Bilbo's response is not what the earlier scenes of this chapter, or even the earlier moments of this scene, might lead us to expect. From obstinacy Bilbo passes into a truculent paranoia, accusing his old friend and threatening him with his sword.
Even after Gandalf daunts him into backing down,4 Bilbo still speaks at first as if he were the wronged party, full of the same attempts at justification as he was before. Yet saying that Gollum would have killed him if he had not kept the Ring is the hollowest excuse of all. For, however true it may be, it reduces his claim to the Ring to one of expediency, and he is making the claim to someone he has just threatened with a sword himself. The threat of murder he has just made vitiates the pretext he offers about the threat of murder he had felt then: both center on keeping the Ring. But Gandalf lets this pass with a soft answer, and Bilbo's wrath turns aside and fades. He returns to himself, not quite knowing what had come over him, but aware that the Ring had something to do with it.
There's much we can see here about Bilbo, or, if one prefers to speak more cautiously, about the effect of the Ring on Bilbo. The use of the Ring, and indeed the mere possession of it (as Bilbo's remarks after his threat make clear), subvert the mind and the will. Even the fabulous birthday party and his soon to be legendary practical joke were made possible, and indeed necessary, by the Ring. As Bilbo himself says, they were his vain attempt to cozen himself into giving it away painlessly by giving away everything else along with it. As Bilbo's wrath runs off, his sense of humor returns, but what was so wry before has now become rueful. And the Ring remains in his pocket even after he again agrees to give it up. Another nudge from Gandalf, another twitch of reluctance, another flash of anger, and the Ring is finally delivered up. Then at last comes the laughter of heart's ease.
It has been necessary to quote and discuss this passage at such length because of the struggle that Bilbo goes through to give up the Ring he got from Gollum. It is a struggle of the will, and of the body5, which undermines the good of his character and turns him, when pressed to keep his promise, into someone who, as Gandalf sees it, resembles Gollum. Bilbo thus serves as the reader's first introduction to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. So if we are to believe Gandalf, which it seems we are since Bilbo doesn't dispute the accuracy of the comparison, what does this passage tell us of Gollum?
Explicitly? That he called the Ring 'My Precious,' that he would have killed Bilbo if Bilbo had not already found the Ring, and that he called Bilbo a thief. Implicitly? The words that prompt Gandalf to see the likeness between Bilbo and Gollum -- 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My Precious. Yes, my Precious.' -- reveal someone who dotes on the Ring with a most jealous gaze, an eye of vigilance and resentment, solicitude and suspicion. And even if Bilbo has become such a person only in and for this instant, it is still enough to tell us of Gollum, and to suggest why he might have wished to kill Bilbo and why he called him thief.
As he will remain for most of The Lord of the Rings the Gollum we glimpse here is a shadow cast from offstage, a murderous, resentful ghost from the past, summoned into the present by Bilbo's words and deeds on the night of the party. He may also be seen as a harbinger of what Bilbo might permanently turn into if he does not let go of the Ring and become free. But we see him only through Bilbo (who is also the source of all Gandalf's current knowledge), and there is at this point no hint that he will ever enter this Tale. Nor would we want him to. We begin with a negative impression, however darkly reflected through Bilbo.
Three more posts will follow on this subject. The next will cover what we learn of Gollum in The Shadow of the Past. Then I will turn to considering the material from The Hobbit and the Prologue. Finally I will consider the remaining references, from The Council of Elrond through to the end of The Fellowship, together with the one mention in Book 3. This should allow us to assess how we have been prepared for the actual arrival of Gollum in Book 4.
1 The dating of the composition of Book Four is most prominently attested by the author's own words in the Foreword to the Second Edition (FR xxiii). For the dating of these revisions to The Hobbit to this same period, see John Rateliff The History of the Hobbit, revised and expanded one-volume edition (London, 2011) xxvii and 731-32.
Tolkien could have easily left The Hobbit as it was, and still represented the story Bilbo told at first as a lie. But he didn't, which bespeaks more than a donnish cleverness that he and the other Inklings would have laughed about at The Bird and the Baby. By rewriting the earlier work to match the later one he evinced a desire for intertextuality and indicated which work he considered the primary text.
2 Ten days: 26 February to 5 March (RK 1092). Keep in mind that in the Shire-reckoning February (like every other month) has 30 days, not 28, and the Tale of Years in Appendix B is presented as composed by hobbits (RK 1107; Cf. also FR 14 on the writing of the appendices).
3 It is worth noting that, even though the narrator indicates how much time has passed, he immediately undermines what he has just said:
Not even Frodo and Sam are sure how long it has been since they left the others. It seems to me that time plays different roles in Books Three and Four. In Book Three the passage of time and the covering of distance are factors critical to the unfolding of events. We are constantly reminded of the importance of 'how long' and 'how far.' In Book Four the journey they are on is not to be measured in days and leagues. I hope to examine this question elsewhere.It was the third evening since they had fled from the Company, as far as they could tell: they had almost lost track of the hours during which they had climbed and laboured among the barren slopes and stones of the Emyn Muil, sometimes retracing their steps because they could find no way forward, sometimes discovering that they had wandered in a circle back to where they had been hours before.(TT 4.i.603)
There is a passage in Patrick O'Brian in which he describes what time is like in a ship long at sea out of the sight of land. The rising and the setting of the sun, the ship's bells, the ceremony of noon, the changing of the watches, all the indicators commonly used to keep track of time cease to measure the passage of time and begin only to mark the orderly succession of the days. I wish that I could find O'Brian's more precise and elegant formulation of this phenomenon, which I believe aptly describes role of time in Book Four.
4 What exactly does Gandalf do here? Is it mere physical intimidation and moral authority, or is it something more? I believe there's a clue in 'Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit,' which is reminiscent of the moment in The Mirror of Galadriel when Galadriel holds each of the Company with her eyes and seemed to test each of them mind to mind (FR 2.vii.357). This clearly seems to be an example of what she later describes as using the will to dominate others (FR 2.vii.366). That, I believe, is what Gandalf is doing here, not in order to compel Bilbo to give up the Ring (cf. his comments at FR 1.ii.60, where he denies that he could make Frodo give up the Ring 'except by force, which would break your mind'), but to compel him to back down from the savage pitch he has reached.
5 Bilbo's jerking his hand back as he tries to set the Ring and envelope down is soon echoed by Frodo's attempt to throw the Ring into the hearth at Bag End in the next chapter, only to find that he had put it back in his pocket after all (FR 1.ii.60). For the end of this road, see RK 6.iii.935, 942-43. Note how Frodo makes no attempt not to clasp the Ring when Gollum attacks them on the slopes of Mt Doom only moments after he has begged Sam to help him keep his hand off it (RK 6.iii.943-44). Next of course he puts it on and claims it for his own -- 'The Ring is mine' (RK 6.iii.945). Related to this may be the perception that the weight of the Ring increases as Frodo draws closer to Mordor. But this is another interesting study for another day.