28 March 2015

Again That Vile Creature, With A Special Guest Appearance by Grendel

In a series of recent posts I've been analyzing the portrayal of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings prior to his entry to the stage in The Taming of Sméagol.1 One point I have touched upon is that the way Bilbo and Frodo see Gollum -- whether as an it or as a he, whether as a thing and a creature or as a person -- has a great impact on whether they can and do pity him.  And, though I am not yet ready to address this scene completely here and now, Sam finally attains the ability to pity Gollum at precisely the moment when Frodo, corrupted by the Ring, loses it and sees Gollum as only a thing once more.2
'Down, down!' [Frodo] gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the Ring. 'Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray or slay me now.'  
Then, suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire....  
Sam's hand wavered. His mind was hot with wrath and the memory of evil. It would be just to slay this treacherous, murderous creature, just and many times deserved; and it also seemed the only safe thing to do. But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum's shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again. But Sam had no words to express what he felt.  
'Oh, curse you, you stinking thing!' he said. 'Go away! Be off!'

(RK 6.iii.944)
If you've read my previous posts, the references to Gollum as it and thing and creature will seem familiar, but note also the effect that possession of the Ring has had on Frodo.  Just as Gollum is a shape and a shadow, a creature and a thing, so Frodo is a figure, not now or no longer a him, but also an it.  But even as this figure is 'untouchable now by pity' (a very bad sign), Sam at last discovers that same pity in his own heart, Sam who nevertheless still sees Gollum as a thing.

Clearly, however, Gollum has once again become for Frodo 'that vile creature' which -- not whom -- he thought it a pity that Bilbo did not kill.  Sam's thoughts, among other things, also remind the reader of that moment, and of Frodo's assertion that Gollum was ' "as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy.  He deserves death" ' (FR 1.ii.59).  This signifcant recurrence of the word 'creature' here argues that an examination of the uses of this word throughout The Lord of the Rings might prove interesting.

'Creature/s' occurs 105 times in The Lord of the Rings, 95 times in the tale itself, and 10 times in the prologue, synopses, and appendices.  Usage varies, describing a wide range of living or sentient beings, good, evil, and in between.  From the thinking fox in the Shire (FR 1.iii.72) to Treebeard's rhyme, 'Learn now the lore of living creatures' (TT 3.iv.464); from Gandalf's 'hobbits really are amazing creatures' (FR 1.ii.62) to Elrond's puzzled comment on Bombadil: 'He is a strange creature' (FR 2.ii.265); from Quickbeam and other ents (TT 3.viii.549, 568) to Grishnákh and the fell beasts the Nazgûl ride (TT 3.iii.447; 4.iii.645); and from the kind-hearted description of a post-Lockholes Lobelia as a 'poor creature' (RK 6.ix.1021), and of Bill the Pony as 'a poor old half-starved creature' (FR 1.xi.179), to Frodo's Ring-induced visions of Bilbo as Gollum (or something very like him), and Sam as an orc:
To his distress and amazement [Frodo] found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands. He felt a desire to strike him.
(FR 2.i.232)
[Frodo] panted, staring at Sam with eyes wide with fear and enmity. Then suddenly, clasping the Ring in one clenched fist, he stood aghast. A mist seemed to clear from his eyes, and he passed a hand over his aching brow.  The hideous vision had seemed so real to him, half bemused as he was still with wound and fear.  Sam had changed before his eyes into an orc again, leering and pawing at his treasure, a foul little creature with greedy eyes and a slobbering mouth.
(RK 6.i.912)
Yet, despite the broad range of usage, the preponderance of uses is decidedly negative. Only 22 of the 95 uses can be called positive or neutral (23% -- see the starred items in the list below).  The other 73 are generally negative, as in the two quotes just above, or specifically describe beings that are evil.  28 of these 73 (38.4%) refer to orcs, trolls, Nazgûl, or other 'creatures of Sauron.'  But even more, 34/73 (45.6%), refer to Gollum.  No other single 'creature' -- not orcs nor even the Nazgûl -- comes close to his total.  So not only does the usage of the narrator (Frodo) show a decided preference for 'creature' as a description of evil beings, but in his eyes Gollum almost seems to define the category.

The evil of these creatures, we should note, lies not just in the eye of the beholder, as does that of the crickets of the Midgewater Marshes (FR 1.xi.183), of Sam as seen by Shelob (TT 4.x.728), or of Sam as seen by Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol (RK 6.i.912).  Rather, they are evil in intention and action.  They are also almost all beings whose original natures have been corrupted, either individually or as a race: Gollum and the Ringwraiths by their rings, and orcs and trolls by the interventions of successive Dark Lords.3

Now here we need to draw attention to an intertextual link with Beowulf, specifically with Tolkien's translation of, and other remarks upon, on the poem. At lines 99-104 the poet mentions Grendel for the first time:
Swa þa drihtguman    dreamum lifdon,
eadiglice,     oð ðæt an ongan

fyrene fremman    feond on helle;
wæs se grimma gæst    Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa,    se þe moras heold,
fen ond fæsten;
Which Tolkien translates:
Even thus did the men of that company live in mirth and happiness, until one began to work deeds of of wrong, a fiend of hell.  Grendel was that grim creature called, the ill-famed haunter of the marches of the land, who kept the moors, the fastness of the fens....
 (Beowulf, p. 16, ll. 81-85)

Creature renders gæst in line 102 of the Old English, which Bosworth-Toller defines as 'The soul, mind, spirit, spiritus, animus.'  Now one might object that this is just a coincidence, but Tolkien had clearly devoted some thought to the translation of the one word by the other.  In the appendix to his essay, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, he discusses 'Grendel's Titles,' like feond on helle, and in that context he says of gæst:
... it cannot be translated either by the modern ghost or spirit. Creature is probably the nearest we can now get.  Where it is genuine it applies to Grendel probably in virtue of his relationship or similarity to bogies (scinnum ond scuccum), physical enough in form and power, but vaguely felt as belonging to a different order of being, one allied to the malevolent 'ghosts' of the dead.5 
And in his commentary on this same passage Tolkien writes:
The Old English féond on helle is a very curious expression.  It implies, of course, that Grendel is a 'hell-fiend', a creature damned irretrievably. It remains, nonetheless, remarkable; for Grendel is not 'in hell', but very physically in Denmark, and he is not yet a damned spirit, for he is mortal and has to be slain before he goes to Hell.  There is evidently a confusion or twilight in the thought of the poet (and his age) about these monsters, hostile to mankind.  They remain physical monsters, with blood, able to be slain (with the right sword).  Yet already they are described in terms applicable to evil spirits; so here (*102) gæst.
(Beowulf, p.119, emphasis Tolkien's)
And in a note on gæst here Christopher Tolkien points out that '[i]n all the texts of the translation [gæst] is rendered "creature".'  

Consider also part of Gandalf's description of Gollum:
'[t]he wood was full of the rumour of him, dreadful tales even among the beasts and birds.  The Woodmen said that some new terror was abroad, a ghost that drank blood.  It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles.'
(FR 1.ii.58)
Ghosts that drink, and climb, and creep, and slip through windows are quite clearly 'physical monsters, with blood, able to be slain.'  Tolkien has taken 'ghost,' the direct etymological descendant of gæst, and used it here much as he has argued gæst is used in line 102 of Beowulf.

Similarly, Faramir says of the Nazgûl: 'to them the Enemy had given rings of power, and he had devoured them: living ghosts they had become, terrible and evil' (TT 4.vi.692).  The Nazgûl, too, were 'physical enough in form and power' -- we should not confuse their invsibility with incorporeality -- else they would not need or even be able to ride horses, to wear cloaks or wield swords, open gates or knock on doors, be washed away by floods or killed by swords. And they, too, as we will recall, are called creatures as well as ghosts.

So we can see that the use of 'creature' to describe Gollum is hardly a neutral term. It does not just dehumanize him, as 'thing' does, but by itself almost defines him as evil, as being 'as bad as an orc,' and like the Ringwraiths themselves.  It classes him among the servants of Sauron, since not only orcs and trolls and wraiths are named 'creature' -- the very slaves of his will -- but so, too, are Saruman and Wormtongue (TT 3.ix.573; RK 6.vi.980), more remote servants who, like Gollum, mean only to serve themselves.6 Finally, we can see the link between 'creature' and gæst in Tolkien's thought, which can enhance our understanding of both The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf.

2 There is much in this scene on the slopes of Mt Doom that needs to be parsed, but to do so properly, with even the slim hope of a well founded understanding, requires working my way through the entire spiritual and psychological journey of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. That's going to take a while. 

3 Treebeard says that '[t]rolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves' (TT 3.iv.486); and Frodo: 'The Shadow that bred [Orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real things of its own.  I don't think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined and twisted them....' (RK 6.i.914).  Before the time of this tale, orcs had begun to appear who did not fear daylight (TT 4.iii.449, 452; vii.540; RK A.1053), and trolls who 'were no longer dull-witted, but cunning' (FR 1.ii.44; RK F.1132). It nowhere says explicitly in The Lord of the Rings that Orcs were first made by Morgoth from Elves, but that is reasonably inferred from the statements just quoted.  See The Silmarillion (50):
Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa, that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.
Tolkien thought much about the origins of the Orcs in his later years.  See Morgoth's Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One.  The History of Middle-Earth (New York, 1993) x.408-424, a fascinating series of notes and essays in which Tolkien wrestles with the nature of Orcs and its theological implications.

4 For a fine discussion of intertextuality in Tolkien and Beowulf, I would like to refer the reader to Sørina Higgins' lecture on the topic in Professor Tom Shippey's current course at the Mythgard Institute, Beowulf Through Tolkien, and Vice Versa, but the recording is not available to the public at this time.  Should that change, I will add the link.

5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays, ed. C. Tolkien (London, 2006) p. 35.  The emphasis in the quotation is Tolkien's.

6 Gandalf suspected that Gollum had been released from Mordor '[o]n some errand of mischief' (FR 1.ii.59). Frodo also believes this to be true (TT 4.iii.643: 'Were you not rather permitted to depart, upon an errand?'). Which Gollum admits, with an explanation ('Indeed I was told to seek for the Precious; and I have searched and searched, of course I have. But not for the Black One. The Precious was ours, it was mine I tell you.' TT 4.iii.643). He also had had contact with orcs (TT 4.iii.42), perhaps including Grishnákh, who clearly knew who Gollum was (TT 3.iii.455-56).


Occurrences of 'Creature/s' in The Lord of the Rings.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Prologue p. 2 ('the world after being full of strange creatures beyond count')
Prologue p. 10 ('There were many reports and complaints of strange persons and creatures prowling about the borders [of the Shire], or even over them')
Prologue p. 11 ('[Gollum] was a loathsome little creature')
Prologue p. 12 ('this slimy creature,' i.e. Gollum)
Prologue p. 12 ('[Bilbo] would not use [the Ring] to help him kill the wretched creature at a disadvantage,' i.e. Gollum)

1.ii.44 ('murmured hints of creatures more terrible than [orcs and trolls]')
1.ii.54 (Gollum)
1.ii,58 (Gollum)
1.ii,59 (Gollum)
*1.ii.62 ('Hobbits really are amazing creatures.')
*1.iii.72 ('A few creatures came.... A fox....')
1.iii.83 (black riders)
*1.iii.84 ('[The Elves] are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon earth,')1.iv.90 (of a Black Rider: 'A long-drawn wail came down the wind, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature.')
1.v.108 (Frodo dreaming, apparently of Black Riders)
*1.vii.129 (Bombadil speaks of "the strange creatures of the forest")
*1.viii.145 (The narrator, quoting Bombadil's words, " 'free to all finders, birds, beasts, Elves or Men, and all kindly creatures.' ")
1.ix.152 ("[Sam] had imagined himself meeting giants taller than trees, and other creatures even more terrifying")
*1.xi.179 (Bill the Pony: 'a poor half-starved creature')
1.xi.183 ('there were also abominable creatures haunting the reeds and tussocks that from the sound of them were evil relatives of the cricket')
1.xi.189 ('the Riders can use men and other creatures as spies')

2.i.232 (Frodo's vision of Bilbo as 'Gollum')
2.ii.253 (Gollum)
2.ii.255 (Gollum)
*2.ii.265 (Elrond on Bombadil)
*2.iii.284 (No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at all times, especially birds.')2.vi.348 ('...to the east the lands are waste, and full of Sauron's creatures....')
2.vi.350 (Gollum)
2.ix.383 (Gollum, 3 times),
2.ix. 387 ('a great winged creature, blacker than the pits in the night')

The Two Towers

Synopsis: 'Already they had become aware that their journey was watched by spies, and that the creature Gollum, who had once possessed the Ring and still lusted for it, was following their trail.'

3.i.415 ('The River of Gondor will take care at least that no evil creature dishonours his bones')3.iii.447 ('...Grishnákh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad with arms that hung almost to the ground.')
3.iii.450 ('[Pippin] was famished but not yet so famished as to eat flesh flung at him by an Orc, the flesh of he dared not guess what creature.')*3.iii.467 ('Many of the trees seemed asleep, or as unaware of him as of any other creature that merely passed by.')
*3.iv.464 ('Learn now the lore of Living Creatures.')
*3.iv.474 ('Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn'),
*3.iv.480 ('They had expected to see a number of creatures as much like Treebeard as one hobbit is like another')3.vii.536 ('But these creatures of Isengard, these half-orcs and goblin-men that the foul craft of Saruman has bred....')
3.viii.546 ('No Orc or other living creature could be seen.')
*3.viii.549 (Ents: '...and turning again, the riders saw other creatures of the same kind approaching, striding through the tall grass.'
*3.viii.549 (Ents; 'So it seemed to be; for as he spoke the tall creatures, without a glance at the riders, strode into the wood and vanished.')
*3.ix.568 ('Quickbeam is a gentle creature....')
3.ix.573 (of Wormtongue: 'and he looked a queer twisted sort of creature himself.')

4.i.614 (Gollum, twice)
4.i.615 (Frodo remembering his conversation with Gandalf about Gollum at 1.ii.59)
4.i,615 (Gollum)
4.i.617 (Gollum)
4.ii.624 (Gollum, twice)
4.iii.645 ('And these winged creatures that they ride on now...')
*4.iii.645 ('...they can probably see more than any other creature.') This instance and the previous are two parts of the same sentence. So, while I set down the second as neutral, it may be tainted by the first.4.iv.657 (Gollum)
4.iv.657 (again Gollum)
4.vi.685 (Gollum 3 times)
4.vi.686 (Gollum)
4.vi.687 (Gollum)
4.vi.689 (Gollum, 4 times)
4.vi.690 (Gollum)
4.vi.691 (Gollum, twice)
*4.vii.696 ('no living creature, beast or bird, was to be seen, but in these open places Gollum....'). I count this instance as neutral, but the presence of Gollum may give it a whiff of evil.
*4.x.728 ('No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.') 
4.x.728 ('Now the miserable creature was right under her....')  This is Shelob's imagined perspective on Sam during their battle).  See n. on RK 6.i.912.
4.x.733 ('...may no foul creature come anigh you!')

The Return of the King

Synopsis: 'Already they had become aware that their journey was watched by spies, and that the creature Gollum, who had once possessed the Ring and still lusted for it, was following their trail.'

5.iv.815 (Gollum)
*5.v.832 (Ghân-buri-Ghân)
5.vi.840 (the fell beast, twice)
5.vi.841 (the fell beast)
5.x.885 ('the Orcs and lesser creatures of Mordor')
5.x.889 (The Mouth of Sauron speaking of Frodo)
5.x.892 (trolls)

6.i.900 ('the evil land of Sauron where his creatures still lurked')
6.i.911 (orcs)
6.i.914 (orcs)
6.i.912 (Frodo's vision of Sam as an orc,  Cf. Shelob's perspective on Sam above.  If this instance counts as negative, so, too, must that one.
6.ii.929 (Gollum)
*6.iii.934 ('turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue {not unlike Gollum in fact})
6.iii.944 (Gollum, twice)
6.iv.949 ('orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved' in an epic simile)
6.vi.979 (Treebeard, speaking of orcs: 'these same foul creatures')
6.vi.980 (Treebeard, speaking of Wormtongue: 'that worm-creature')
6.vi.980 (Treebeard, speaking of Saruman and Wormtongue: 'such creatures as these')
*6.ix.1021 (The narrator says of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins: 'When the poor creature died next spring....'  Cf. 'Then there was Lobelia. Poor thing....' in the previous paragraph on the same page.)
*6.ix.1029 ('none saw them pass, save the wild creatures' -- interesting, almost a full circle back to the fox and the elves from 1.iii.72)


A.1040 (Orcs, and other fell creatures),
A.1067 (Men or other creatures more evil);
B.1087 (Sauron begins to people Moria with his creatures)

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