. Alas, not me: February 2015

25 February 2015

That Vile Creature -- An Observation Revisited

Last month I posted an observation on Gollum's first appearance as a character in The Two Towers.  I noted then that both this passage (4.i.612-613) and the paragraph in The Hobbit (97) where Bilbo spares Gollum out of pity feature a significant shift in the pronouns used to describe Gollum: the shift from "it" to "he" reflects the failure to maintain the pretense that Gollum is a "thing" and not a person.  It is only in the moment that Bilbo is unable to see Gollum as an 'it,' as a 'thing,' that he discovers pity.

But there's another passage that also deserves mention in this context.  In The Shadow of the Past Gandalf has been explaining to Frodo that Gollum had been captured by Sauron and revealed to him what happened to the Ring and where it was:
'The Shire -- [Sauron] may be seeking for it now, if he has not already found out where it lies.  Indeed, Frodo, I fear that he may even think that the long-unnoticed name of Baggins has become important.'
'But this is terrible!' cried Frodo.  'Far worse than the worst that I had imagined from your hints and warnings.  O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do?  For now I am really afraid.  What am I to do?  What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance!'
'Pity?  It was Pity that stayed his hand.  Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo.    Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so.  With Pity.'
'I am sorry,' said Frodo.  'But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.' 
'You have not seen him,' Gandalf broke in. 
'No, and I don't want to,' said Frodo.  'I can't understand you.  Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds?  Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy.  He deserves death.'  
'Deserves it? I daresay he does.  Many that live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.'
(FR 1.ii.59, emphasis Tolkien's)
Admittedly, Frodo never calls Gollum 'it' here, but his words --  'What a pity Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance' --  echo the thoughts that ran through Bilbo's mind -- '...while he had any strength left....He must stab the foul thing' (The Hobbit, 97).  Frodo of course knows the true story of Bilbo and Gollum, and that Bilbo very nearly did 'strike without need.'1  And that tale is clearly qute present in his mind right now, since he and Gandalf have both brought it up several times already.2 That whole scene in The Hobbit in fact underlies much of their conversation here.  It is one of the two main elements that condition Frodo's reaction to what Gandalf is telling him, the other being Frodo's terror of Sauron. Both of these converge in the revelation that Sauron has learned about Bilbo and the Shire from Gollum, which sparks Frodo's harshness here.3

And just as in this passage Frodo recalls the thoughts of Bilbo long ago, so, too, does Frodo remember his conversation with Gandalf later, at another crucial point (TT 4.i.614-615), with Gollum at his feet and his sword at Gollum's throat.4  And seeing Gollum makes all the difference.  He pities him, and spares him, just as Bilbo had done.5 And here, too, his thinking echoes Bilbo's because he decides that it is not right to kill Gollum outright, and when he has not yet done them any actual harm.6

So, given this continuum of recollection, it hardly seems likely that Frodo's words to Gandalf in The Shadow of the Past echo the thoughts of Bilbo in The Hobbit only by coincidence.  But what is by far most interesting is what Frodo does with his memory here.  Not having seen Gollum, he can deny him the humanity that Bilbo saw and pitied. 'That vile creature' is a step backwards from Bilbo's understanding that Gollum was 'miserable, alone, lost.'  To Frodo, here and now, Gollum is 'the foul thing' Bilbo at first felt he must stab and blind, no longer 'he,' but 'it.'


1 Frodo's knowledge of the true story was first established explicitly at: FR 1.i.40; see also FR Pr. 12-13.

2 FR 1.ii.48, 54-60.  For further discussion of this scene, see here.

3 Just how extreme Frodo's final statement here is may be gauged from his later statement that 'no hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire' (RK6.viii.1006). His last three words also make an interesting qualification, given that he knows that Gollum murdered Déagol to obtain the Ring. I have to wonder if this is part of the reason Frodo rejects Gandalf's claim that Gollum is a hobbit. The words 'Now at any rate...Orc' must refer to Gollum's new connection with Sauron, whom, Gandalf has implied, sent Gollum out '[o]n some errand of mischief' (FR 1.ii.59)

4 It is worth remembering that Frodo does not lower his sword until he feels pity for Gollum.

Given how vividly his conversation comes back to him here, 'relives this conversation' might be a better description than 'remembers.' He does remember it with interesting differences, however. Some parts of the conversation are left out entirely, and in one case he alters and expands something Gandalf said.  He changes 'Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement' (FR 1.ii.59) to 'Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety' (TT 4.i.615).  It's easy to see how where 'fearing for your own safety' comes from, since Frodo was admittedly terrified during the original conversation. But a detailed analysis of what is included, excluded, and changed will have to await another day.  Christopher Tolkien believes that the differences in wording between The Shadow of the Past and The Taming of Smeagol were accomplished 'perhaps not intentionally at all points.'  See The War of The Ring: The History of Middle-Earth, vol. VIII (2000) 96-97.

6 At TT 4.i.615 Frodo says 'No....If we kill him, we must kill him outright,  But we can't do that, not as things are.  Poor wretch! He has done us no harm.' Compare this to Bilbo's 'No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now.  Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet' (The Hobbit, 97).  In earlier drafts of The Lord of the Rings the echo had been even stronger.  Both in The Taming of Smeagol and The Shadow of the Past it was pointed out that killing Gollum would have been 'against the Rules.' Frodo's statement that they cannot kill him 'not as things are' is a survival of this notion of fairness, that it is wrong to kill an unarmed foe who is at your mercy.  See HME as cited above n. 5.

21 February 2015

Gollum before The Taming of Sméagol (II)

And I waited.  Until that night when he left this house. He said and did things then that filled me with a fear that no words of Saruman could allay.  I knew at last that something dark and deadly was at work.  And I have spent most of the years since in finding out.
(FR 1.ii.48)
So speaks Gandalf, recounting to Frodo his alarm at the way Bilbo had behaved the night he departed Bag End seventeen years earlier.  We have already seen that Bilbo's behavior that night suggests much about Gollum, that he is jealous of his ownership of the Ring, and of his right to claim it for his own; and that he is willing to kill to keep it.  Gandalf is of course here explaining to Frodo how he became convinced that Bilbo's magic ring was The One Ring. That is his point, but in making it he reveals more about Gollum than the reader had known before:1

A shadow fell on my heart [when Bilbo found his ring], though I did not know yet what I feared.  I wondered often how Gollum came by a Great Ring, as plainly it was -- that at least was clear from the first.  Then I heard Bilbo's strange story of how he had "won" it, and I could not believe it.  When I at last got the truth out of him, I saw at once that he had been trying to put his claim beyond doubt.  Much like Gollum with his "birthday present".  The lies were too much alike for my comfort. Clearly the ring had an unwholesome power that set to work on its keeper at once.
(FR 1.ii.47-48)
And Gandalf has already delineated for Frodo some of the effects that the 'unwholesome power' of a Great Ring has on its keeper.  In addition to turning the keeper into a liar, who will say anything to justify his claim to the Ring, and someone ready to commit murder to keep it (FR 1.i.34):
A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until every last minute is a weariness.  And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the Dark Power that rules the Rings.  Yet sooner or later -- later, if he is strong or well meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last -- sooner or later the Dark Power will devour him.
(FR 1.ii.47, emphasis Tolkien's)
Frodo's concern here is quite naturally with his ring, the effect it had on Bilbo, and the woe that Sauron's attention might bring down upon The Shire.  But he's as mystified as he is terrified, and so Gandalf proves to him that his ring is The One and begins to narrate its history.  In doing so of course he comes back to Gollum, but he does so in a way that justifies Gildor's later cautioning Frodo about the subtlety of wizards (FR 1.iii.84).  When he reaches Gollum's part in the history of the Ring, Gandalf doesn't tell Frodo that it's Gollum he is speaking of.  Rather, he tells the story of Sméagol and Déagol, two people of whom neither Frodo nor the reader has ever heard before (FR 1.ii.52-54).2

What of them?  From the first the portrayal of Sméagol sounds a troubling note.  For although he is likely of hobbit kind and apparently of good family (FR 1.ii.52-53), he seems to have been strangely different:
The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Sméagol.  He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunnelled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on the trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.
(FR 1.ii.53)
The substance and movement of this description is revealing.  Sméagol is always seeking, but never finding.  He dives, he burrows, he tunnels, ignoring what is green and alive around him.  Note how each clause of the semicolonic structure includes a new element, until the clause after the last semicolon ('and he ceased....') where the use of 'or' begins to exclude the life and beauties of the world above, and this leads to the final full colon and the verdict: 'his head and his eyes were downward.' 

Having described Sméagol's character, Gandalf shows it in action. While Déagol sits in their boat fishing, Sméagol goes 'nosing about the banks' of the river, no doubt ignoring the beauty of the 'great beds of iris and flowering reeds' that cover the Gladden Fields in spring. But he has nevertheless been keeping his eye on Déagol from behind a tree. He sneaks up behind him and demands the ring that not he -- not Sméagol the diver into deep pools -- but Déagol had found at the bottom of the river.
' "Give us that, Déagol, my love," said Sméagol, over his friend's shoulder. 
' "Why?" said Déagol. 
' "Because it's my birthday, my love, and I wants it," said Sméagol. 
' "I don't care," said Déagol.  "I have given you a present already, more than I can afford.  I found this, and I am going to keep it." 
' "Oh, are you indeed, my love," said Sméagol; and he caught Déagol by the throat and strangled him, because the gold looked so bright and beautiful.  Then he put the ring on his finger.'
(FR 1.ii.53)
Even before Sméagol has become the Ring's keeper, with love professed three times he kills a friend to get what he wants. It is impossible to know here where the unwholesome power of the Ring begins and native villainy ends. It's like some black inversion of Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crows, announcing dawn and repentance. 

But for Sméagol only more darkness will come.  Soon the invisibility conferred by the Ring allows him to learn 'secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses.  He became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was hurtful. The ring had given him power according to his stature' (FR 1.ii.53).  Like the description of his downward looking nature, this, too, ends in a verdict.  The Malice of Gollum (the name he has now earned from his revolted family), will play a role as important in the end as the Pity of Bilbo. It also links him from the first to Sauron, to whom Gandalf has already attributed malice as a motive.3

Gollum's family now 'shunned' and 'kicked him' because of what he had become. Finally his sneaking and spying and thieving caused such strife that 'his grandmother, desiring peace, expelled him from the family and turned him out of her hole' (FR 1.ii.53-54). His own grandmother disowned him.  Again we have something that passes for a judgement -- if your grandmother casting you out is not damning, what is? -- and this is not Gandalf's judgement, but that of Gollum's family at the time.
'He wandered in loneliness, weeping a litttle for the hardness of the world, and he journeyed up the River, till he came to a stream that flowed down from the mountains, and he went that way.  He caught fish in deep pools with invisible fingers and ate them raw.  One day it was very hot, and as he was bending over a pool, he felt a burning on the back of his neck, and a dazzling light from the water pained his wet eyes.  He wondered at it, for he had almost forgotten about the Sun. Then for the last time he looked up and shook his fist at her. 
'But as he lowered his eyes, he saw far ahead the tops of the Misty Mountains, out of which the stream came,  And he thought suddenly: "It would be cool and shady under those mountains.  The Sun could not watch me there.  The roots of those mountains must be roots indeed; there must be great secrets buried there which have not been discovered since the beginning." 
'So he journeyed by night up into the highlands, and he found a cave out of which the dark stream ran; and he wormed his way like a maggot into the heart of the hills, and vanished out of all knowledge.  The Ring went into the Shadows with him, and even the maker, when his power had begun to grow again, could learn nothing of it. 
'Gollum,' cried Frodo.  'Gollum?  Do you mean that this is the very Gollum-creature that Bilbo met?  How loathsome!'
I think it is a sad story,' said the wizard, 'and it might have happened to others, even to some hobbits that I have known.'
'I can't believe that Gollum was connected with hobbits, however distantly,' said Frodo with some heat.  'What an abominable notion!'

(FR 1.ii.54)
First let's consider Frodo's reaction.  While it is difficult to know if he realizes who Sméagol is before Gandalf reveals it, you would guess that the reference to a birthday and a present should at least have made Frodo cock an eyebrow.  What is certain is how Frodo responds to the realization.  He is appalled.  Though Gandalf thinks the story of Sméagol is 'sad,' Frodo finds it 'loathsome,' and he rejects the notion that Gollum was a hobbit, or anything remotely resembling one, as 'abominable.' More than that, besides denying that Gollum could be a hobbit, he calls him that 'Gollum-creature,' thus refusing him any form of humanity at all.  He is a creature, not a person.  And Frodo will keep up this pitiless refrain throughout the scene -- 'What a pity Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance' (FR 1.ii.59).

Now let's ask a question.  Why does Gandalf withhold the name of Gollum? Why doesn't he just say openly and immediately that Gollum and Sméagol are one? Because Gandalf is up to more than merely narrating the history of the Ring, and trying to save the world. As we all know, one of the most important and often quoted sentences in The Lord of the Rings is Gandalf's assertion that
'My heart tells me that [Gollum] has some part to play yet, for good or for ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many -- yours not least.'
(FR 1.ii.59)
Those last few words -- 'yours not least' -- how often we overlook them.  How often we omit them from our discussions of the role of Pity. I know I have certainly neglected them.  We focus on the tides of fate, on 'chance if chance you call it,' on the Rings of Power, and Towers White and Dark, and the doom of Elves and Men, Dwarves and Hobbits; and on the Pity that saves the world from a 'second darkness' (FR 1.ii.51). And it's easy to do so because Pity accomplishes precisely that.

But Gandalf is a wizard, and therefore subtle.  As his words suggest when taken all together, he gives thought to the fate of Middle-Earth, and the Shire, and Frodo, too.  His pity reaches even further, into the future and to all in darkness.4 Gandalf suppresses the identity of Sméagol because he is trying to elicit Frodo's pity -- and given Frodo's reaction, he is entirely correct to do so  -- in order to save Frodo also and especially, but, as we shall presently see, not even Gollum is absent from his thoughts.

Previously Gandalf had pointed out that he knew 'once he had got the truth out of [Bilbo]' that his ring 'had an unwholesome power that set to work on its keeper at once' (FR 1.ii.49); that 'sooner or later' a Ring of Power will 'devour' that keeper regardless of his strength or intentions (1.ii.47); and that Bilbo's behavior the night he left had frightened him and convinced him that 'something dark and deadly' was at work.  Since that night, Gandalf has been worried about Frodo, who has been the keeper of the Ring for seventeen years now. Note the shift in Gandalf's tenses, from past when speaking about Bilbo, to the present and present perfect when speaking about Frodo.  His anxiety for Frodo is a constant thing.
'No, I was not troubled about dear Bilbo any more, once he had let the thing go.  It is for you that I feel responsible. 
'Ever since Bilbo left I have been deeply concerned about you, and about all these charming, absurd, helpless hobbits.  It would be a grievous blow to the world, if the Dark Power overcame the Shire; if all your kind, jolly, stupid Bolgers, Hornblowers, Boffins, Bracegirdles, and the rest, not to mention the ridiculous Bagginses, became enslaved.'
(FR 1.ii.49, emphasis original)
Note also how he embeds Frodo firmly in the Shire among his fellow hobbits, yet singles him out. Just as Bilbo and Sméagol, the hobbits, were set apart by the Ring, so, too, is Frodo.5  And in answer to Frodo's denial that Gollum could be a hobbit, Gandalf insists upon it, averring that he knows more about the history of hobbits than hobbits do, and that Bilbo and Gollum understood each other as well as only two hobbits could (FR 1.ii.54). When Frodo again rejects this claim, Gandalf uses the assertion that Gollum was a hobbit to introduce his strongest plea for pitying Gollum on his own merits (as it were):
'But there was something else in it, I think, which you don't see yet. Even Gollum was not wholly ruined.  He had proved tougher than even one of the Wise would have guessed -- as a hobbit might.  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.
'But that of course would only make the evil part of him angrier in the end -- unless it could be conquered. Unless it could be cured,' Gandalf sighed. 'Alas! there is little hope of that for him.  Yet not no hope.  No, not though he possessed the Ring so long, almost as far back as he can remember.  For it was long since he had worn it much: in the black darkness it was seldom needed. Certainly he had never "faded".  He is thin and tough still.  But the thing was eating up his mind, of course, and the torment had become almost unbearable. 
'All the "great secrets" under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering.  He was altogether wretched. He hated the dark, and he hated light more: he hated everything, and the Ring most of all.'
(FR 1.ii.54-55)
It all starts off with such promise in the first paragraph. After hearing of the murderous, malicious, sneaking Gollum whose offenses were so rank that his own grandmother cast him out, who shook his fist at the sun and who 'wormed his way like a maggot into the heart of the hills,' we are now afforded a glimpse of the last remnant of Sméagol the hobbit, whom Bilbo the hobbit had touched.6  It's a rare, poignant moment that evokes pure pity for Gollum, the last for a very long time.

And yet Gandalf's pity is not blind.  As his contrast between 'the little corner of [Gollum's] mind that was still his own' and the 'evil part of him' suggests, he sees that the largest part of Gollum's mind is evil.  He does not ignore or conceal the evidence of his repulsive deeds of ancient days when he still might have been called Sméagol, or the horror of his current actions now that he has emerged from beneath the mountains to hunt for Bilbo:
'[Mirkwood] was full of the rumour of him, dreadful tales even among the beasts and the birds.  The Woodmen said that there was some new terror 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)
And his evil has led him inevitably to Mordor, which 'draws all wicked things' (FR 1.ii.58), and from which he has lately returned, so Gandalf thought, '[o]n some errand of of mischief' (1.ii.59).7 Given the Ring, given the malice that moves both Gollum and Sauron, it seems inevitable that they meet, and at least appear to be in league.8 From murderer of poor Déagol to vampire-like cannibal of children in their cradles, from outcast consumed with self-pity9 to vengeful ally of Sauron, Gollum may stir Gandalf's fathomless pity, but that does not alter the truths of his character that the wizard so clearly sees and portrays. The Ring has devoured so much of him that only a little of him has not been 'wholly ruined,' the very last of Sméagol, the bit for which Gandalf has 'not no hope' of a cure (FR 1.ii.55).  Yet even so Gandalf cannot deny that Frodo is right when he declares that Gollum deserves death.  All he can do is urge him to pity, and explain that life is often more complicated than verdicts of death would have them be. Let us turn back again to a fuller quotation of the passage with which we began when we asked why Gandalf did not identify Sméagol:
'Deserves [death]! I daresay he does.  Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.  I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.  And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring.  My heart tells me that  he has some part to play yet, for good or for ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many -- yours not least.'
(FR 1.ii.59)
That Gollum deserves death is a large part of the reason why Gandalf fails, and why he suppressed the identify of Sméagol in the first place.  He hoped to win Frodo to pity before he knew the truth, and to suggest through the fact that Sméagol was a hobbit, that the same could have happened to Bilbo, and still might happen to him. But Gandalf cannot make an argument strong enough, or present a portrait of Gollum pitiable enough, to overcome Frodo's fear of Sauron and loathing of Gollum, passions which play the same role here as Bilbo's anger and jealousy of the Ring did the night he left.10 Every time Gandalf appeals to pity, Frodo rejects him, ultimately scorning even his claims of experience.  He does not care that his friend has seen Gollum, and he doesn't want to see him for himself.

Nor is it accidental that Gandalf never refers to Gollum as Sméagol anywhere but in this conversation.  This isn't just Gandalf being clever, as it might at first seem, and using the name as a rhetorical tool.  It also confirms something for us, that for him Sméagol is a remote figure gone so far away that there is little or no hope that he can ever return.11 'Not no hope' in fact, but almost none.  The same may be said of his attempt.to convince Frodo, who from the start resists Gandalf 'with some heat' (FR 1.ii.54).  And he continues to resist until the moment the subject of Gollum is dropped.  Frodo's last words on Gollum here --  'All the same...even if Bilbo could not kill Gollum....' (FR 1.ii.60) -- are words of unwilling concession and chilling disappointment. They are hardly to his credit, but they reveal the depths of his fear, his loathing, and his failure to comprehend the implications of possessing the Ring that Gandalf has been trying to get across to him.

In A Long-Expected Party we could learn little about Gollum, only what we were able to glean from Bilbo's words and deeds. The Shadow of the Past lends a substance to his character that goes beyond hints and inferences.  Gollum is the murderer of a friend, a cannibal who preys on the young and weak; he is vengeful, resentful, full of justifications and self pity; he is a sneak, a spy, a liar, a spirit of malice; at best he is a tool of Sauron, at worst a servant. He hates even that which he holds most precious.  The Ring and the Dark Power that rules it have devoured him almost completely.

Thus far the portrayal of Gollum.  Given all that Gandalf has said, and all that Frodo learned from Bilbo, Frodo's loathing is entirely justified.  It is also clear that there was a darkness in Gollum before he ever touched the Ring, a darkness that, as it were, responded to its call.  It may have 'an unwholesome power that set[s] to work on its keeper at once,' but it makes a difference who that keeper is.  The touch of the Ring alone is not enough to work the instantaneous corruption of its keeper. It does not have this effect on Bilbo or Frodo, who possess the Ring for many years, or on Gandalf who handles it (FR 1.ii.49-50).  Moreover, the wizard's description of what the Ring would do to him if he took it fits in with this assessment.12  And when Frodo says that he will keep the Ring to guard it, Gandalf replies that 'whatever it may do [to you], it will be slow, slow to evil, if you keep it with that purpose' (FR 1.ii.62).  This statement can only remind us of almost the last thing Gandalf says about Bilbo and the Ring:
'What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!' [cried Frodo.] 
'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'
(FR 1.ii.59)

Gandalf's Pity is high and pure.  It is written out, along with Mercy, in Mythic Capitals.  It is aware of the crimes or sins of its object, and does not excuse them. It can even agree that those crimes may merit death.  It proceeds, as Saint Augustine would put it, 'with a love of men and a hatred of their sins' ('cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,' letter 211.11).  When combined with the Mercy that does not 'strike without need' and that spares those who in fact deserve punishment, it comes near to Grace.13

Such Pity is impossible for Frodo to comprehend.  Even as he reluctantly concedes the wisdom of Gandalf and Bilbo's pity for Gollum  --  'All the same...even if Bilbo could not kill Gollum....' (FR 1.ii.60) -- he is too afraid, too filled with loathing, and too inexperienced to share the feeling.  The crimes and character of Gollum are too undeniably dark for that, and have been portrayed as such at such great length that it is quite difficult for the reader, who experiences Middle-Earth through the eyes of Frodo (and the other hobbits), to see Gollum except as he does here.  The effects of this will be long-lasting.


1 As I pointed out in my first post we cannot assume that the reader has read The Hobbit or the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, and, therefore, knows something about Gollum already. I will discuss the portrayal of Gollum in those texts in my fourth post on this subject.

2 In fact no reader, not even one who had read The Hobbit or the Prologue, could have immediately recognized Sméagol as Gollum. The names Sméagol and Déagol and their tale appear here first.  The first clue that Sméagol and Gollum are the same is the mention of his birthday.

3 'And hobbits as miserable slaves would please [Sauron] far more than hobbits happy and free.  There is such a thing as malice and revenge' (FR 1.ii.49).  But when Frodo asks for an explanation of this statement, Gandalf never gives him one.  Is this because there is no explanation of the malice and vengefulness of evil?

4 RK 5.iv.813-814: ' "You think, as is your wont, my lord, of Gondor only," said Gandalf. "Yet there are other men and other lives, and time still to be. And for me, I pity even his slaves." '

5 We have already seen in the text that Frodo is set apart from other hobbits, and the Ring has already begun to effect him.  He is not aging normally (FR 1.ii.43), he is restless, he is reluctant to part with the Ring even for a moment (FR 1.ii.49), and cannot bring himself to do anything that might harm it (FR 1.ii.49-50, 60-61). Indeed there is a strong parallel between the behavior of Frodo here and Bilbo's in the scene with Gandalf in chapter one, though obviously matters here never approach violence.

6 This passage also lays the foundations for the famous 'two thoughts' scene at TT 4.ii.632-634.  Already there are two of him.

7 Cf. Gandalf's account of his interview with Gollum, whom Aragorn captured after he left Mordor (FR 1.ii.57; emphasis Tolkien's):
'He muttered that he was going to get his own back. People would see if he would stand being kicked, and driven into a hole and then robbed. Gollum had good friends now, good friends and very strong. They would help him. Baggins would pay for it. That was his chief thought.' 
In The Hunt for the Ring Tolkien wrote:
But Sauron perceived the depth of Gollum's malice towards those that had 'robbed' him, and guessing that he would go in search of them to avenge himself, Sauron hoped that his spies would thus be led to the Ring.
(UT 357). 
Though this passage harmonizes with what Gandalf thought and said in The Shadow of the Past, that in itself is no proof that Tolkien had this in mind when he was writing that chapter.  Christopher Tolkien, however, argues that The Hunt for the Ring was part of the the writings referred to by his father in a letter of 1964 (not, alas, in The Letters) as being extant at the time of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and originally intended for inclusion (UT 11).

8 Malice is ascribed directly to Sauron at 1.ii.49, and Gollum is said at 1.ii.53 to have put the fruits of his invisibility to 'malicious uses.' Later, at 2.ii.254 Gandalf speaks of the Ring as being 'fraught with all [Sauron's] malice,' and just over two hundred words later Strider says that '[Gollum's] malice is great and gives him a strength hardly to be believed in one so lean and withered' (2.ii.255). For Gollum's malice, see further TT 4.i.622, vi.688-89, 691; RK 6.iii.943.

Though it should surprise no seasoned reader of The Lord of the Rings, the catalog of characters possessed of malice is nevertheless rather breathtaking. Aside from Sauron (FR 2.ii.269; TT 4.iv.659 ; RK 5.iv.808; ix.879; 6.i.898; 6.iii.935, 942), we have in the order in which it was first used of them: Old Man Willow and the trees of the Old Forest (FR 1.vii.130); Caradhras (FR 2.iii.293); orcs (FR 2.ix,386); Wormtongue (TT 3.vi.520); Minas Morgul/The Nazgul (TT 4.vi.692; RK 5.iv.823); Shelob (TT 4.ix.719, 720, 724; x.728, 730); the Witch King (RK 5.iv.822; vi.841); the Watchers at the Tower of Cirith Ungol (RK 6.i.902, 903, 914); Saruman (RK 6.viii.1018).
Cf. Legolas' words upon entering Fangorn -- 'I can catch only the faintest echoes of dark places where the hearts of the trees are black.  There is no malice near us; but there is watchfulness, and anger' (TT 4.v.491) -- with Treebeard's remarks that some trees have bad hearts, and that in some parts of the forest the 'Darkness has never been lifted' (4.iv.468).  This likely refers, at least in part, to the Huorns, 'hundreds and hundreds' of whom dwell 'deep in the darkest dales' (TT 4.ix.565).

9 Cf. Gollum's 'weeping a little for the hardness of the world' after he is cast out (FR 1.ii.54).  The world wasn't hard.  He was justly punished by his peers for his misdeeds. And he shakes his fist at the sun, as if it were out to get him.  This is self-pity, and the reverse of that coin is resentment.  Cf. also Gandalf's reference in the same passage to his 'wet eyes.'  Eyes are always wet.  So it is idle to point this out unless 'wet' means 'wet with tears.'  Not idly do the adjectives of Gandalf fall. It's a nice touch.

10 We might pursue the parallel further. It continues, but with a difference. Frodo, who tries to give the Ring away, resolves to accept the journey before him, but he does not see it as an adventure; he sees it as exile and sacrifice. It is Sam, hauled through the window, who sees it as an adventure, and who gets Frodo to laugh. But his laugh is at the ridiculousness of Sam's fear of Gandalf, not the laugh of heart's ease that bursts from Bilbo afer he relinquishes the Ring. See FR 1.i.35-36; ii.60-64.

11 As Gollum himself says when Frodo first calls him Sméagol: 'Don't ask Sméagol. Poor, poor Sméagol, he went away a long time ago.  They took his Precious, and he's lost now' (TT 4.i.616).  It is interesting that Frodo, who never call him Sméagol beforehand, begins to do so almost as soon as he actually sees him.  He starts calling him Sméagol the instant he begins to pity him (TT 4.i.615-616).

12 Gandalf's '[y]et the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do go' (FR 1.ii.61). Not only does this statement suggest a slow process rather than an instantaneous conversion, as does his subsequent declaration that Frodo's intention to keep the Ring to protect it would substantially delay any ill effects the Ring might have (1.ii.62). Consider also Galadriel's response to Sam when he says that, if she had the Ring, she would 'make some folk pay for their dirty work:' 'I would....That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas!' (2.vii.366). Then there's Bombadil, over whom the Ring has no power at all, and who, says Gandalf, 'would soon forget it, or most likely thow it away,' (2.ii.265).

13 In letter 246 (p. 320) Tolkien comments on Pity in a footnote, to explain his remark in the text of the letter that 'all Frodo's pity is (in a sense*) wasted' when Gollum failed to repent: '*In the sense that "pity" to be a true virtue must be directed to the good of its object. It is empty if it is exercised only to keep oneself "clean", free from hate or the actual doing of injustice, though this is also a good motive.' Gandalf's pity is clearly of the first kind; Frodo's, when at last he comes to feel it, is a more complicated question, despite the implication of Tolkien's words here that Frodo at that point felt the former, better kind of pity.

04 February 2015

The Gladden Fields -- Great Beds of Iris and Flowering Reeds

[Sméagol] had a friend called Déagol, of similar sort, sharper-eyed, but not so quick and strong.  On a time they took a boat and went down to the Gladden Fields, where there were great beds of iris and flowering reeds.
(FR 1.ii.53)

I was reading this passage the other day, and a question arose in my mind that I had never considered before -- what color were these irises?  As I learned after a few minutes of research, there are up to 300 species of iris in a multitude of colors -- hence, according to what I've read, the name 'iris,' which comes from the Greek word for 'rainbow.'

Since Tolkien doesn't explicitly say here what color these irises are, we are of course entirely free to imagine any color we wish.  Tolkien, however, was both a very visual writer in general and one with a quite clear and specific love of flowers -- from the individual flowers, elanor and niphredil and symbelmynë, to the long and elaborate description of the herbs and flowers of Ithilien1 -- and so it is difficult to believe that Tolkien had no image of these flowers in his mind when he wrote.  After a bit of investigation, I think we can figure out not only the color, but what species he had in mind.

It is reasonable to assume that Tolkien was thinking of an iris he knew.  Two species of iris are native to the United Kingdom, iris foetidissima and iris pseudacorus.  While the former is more at home in woods and in drier soil, the latter flourishes in wetlands and by water, just like the Gladden Fields.  That of course tends to suggest that iris pseudacorus is the one Tolkien meant, but that is not the end of that.  For when you look up iris foetidissima, you are told that two common names for it are gladwin iris and also simply gladdon. So we have two pieces or evidence that point in opposite directions.

But this is Tolkien we're talking about here.  And what may look confusing to our myopic vision of English comes into focus when seen through eyes of the philologist who gazes undismayed into the deeps of time. If you turn to the OED and look up 'gladdon,' you will read the following, under the very first  heading '[a] popular name of the iris (Iris Pseudacorus and Iris foetidissima; the latter is sometimes distinguished as 'stinking gladdon').'  So 'gladdon' once applied to both species, and by once I mean, of course, anciently.  The OED cites it as a gloss of the Latin herbal name 'scilla' as early as 700, with which it is also paired in a medicinal text from circa 1,000:2
'wið wæter seocnysse ȝenim þas wyrte þe bulbi scilitici oðrum naman glædene nemneð' 
'in a case of water sickness take that plant which people call "squill roots" and also, by another name, "gladdon". '
The early 15th century Middle English Romance, The Wars of Alexander (lines 4093-94), is also cited: '... a dryi meere, Was full of gladen & of gale & of grete redis' -- '...a dry lake [which] was full of gladdon and of sweet gale and large reeds.'

So, quite clearly, Tolkien had ancient authority to take 'gladdon' as iris pseudacorus. And if we turn to Unfinished Tales we can see from a note that Tolkien was undoubtedly using 'gladden' to mean 'iris' (441),3 and he translates Loeg Ningloron, the Sindarin name of the Gladden Fields, as 'pools of the golden water flowers' (UT  450). We may then on balance safely conclude that Tolkien has in mind the iris pseudacorus, whose flowers are golden indeed,

and not iris foetidissima, even though in more modern usage it has monopolized the use of 'gladden.  It is true that its flowers are sometimes yellowish, but hardly 'golden' by comparison, and almost all the images of foetidissima I have been able to find make it appear that purple is far more common.

As an odd side note here, the pseudacorus blooms in mid to late Summer, which allows us to narrow down Gollum's birthday to that time of year.  For, as we all know, it was on Sméagol's birthday that he and the insufficiently generous Déagol went down to the Gladden Fields for the day.  Whether you view this as an occasion to celebrate is entirely up to you. 


1 An amazing description that zooms in from large to small, from the four points of the compass and the mountain tops down to the trees, the bushes, the rocks the flowers, the grass and the streams.  Not a bit of effort is wasted, the last sentence of the previous paragraph serves as introduction (and contains what may be the loveliest phrase in Tolkien -- 'a dishevelled dryad loveliness')

...Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness. 
South and west it looked towards the warm lower vales of Anduin, shielded from the east by the Ephel Dúath and yet not under the mountain-shadow, protected from the north by the Emyn Muil, open to the southern airs and the moist winds from the Sea far away.  Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into unattended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew up in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden lore of Sam.  The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops.  Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin.

A passage like this makes it nearly impossible to imagine that Tolkien never thought about the irises of the Gladden Fields.

2 I believe my translation is more or less correct, but my Old English is not as strong as I would like it to be. I don't believe in any case that I have committed some crucial error. But if anyone has any suggestions to improve the accuracy of the translation, please do let me know.

'Gladden Fields...the great stretches of reed and gladden (iris) where the Gladden River joined the Anduin.'  UT 280 n. 13 for a natural history of the Gladden Fields. Granted that the text "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields" later than the publication of The Lord of the Rings, which makes its weight as canon ponderable, to conclude that Tolkien intended the word 'gladden' to mean what he knew it meant is hardly the same thing as reading later versions of Galadriel backwards into The Lord of the Rings.  This isn't retcon, but recognition.   Citations of Unfinished Tales are to the 1980 American first edition.

And I can't believe I just wrote a post on flowers.