Reel Life Journeys

Gollum & Smeagol: The struggle in us all

Sam believes Gollum shouldn’t be trusted. “There’s naught left in him but lies and deceit.” “I want to help him Sam,” says Frodo, “because I have to believe he could come back.” – The Two Towers 1:28

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Leviticus 19:18

There are many obvious examples of good and evil in The Lord of the Rings films, especially in The Two Towers.

For one, consider the colors. The goodness of the Elves glows through their clean, white robes, accented with silver and gold threads. The Orcs, on the other hand, wear stinking, muddy black leather apparel with coarse iron battle gear.

For another, consider the treatment of nature. The Hobbits and Elves love the landscapes of Middle-earth, while Saruman and the Orcs cut down the trees in Fangorn Forest to fuel the metal works of Isengard.

But for less obvious examples, we should look at those characters in which goodness and evil co-exist. In them we find examples that more closely match our daily struggles.

For instance, Boromir is a brave soldier from Gondor, a born leader of men. But his thirst for power and the desire to please his father lead him down the path of covetousness and anger. He succumbs to the power of the Ring and tries to take it from Frodo.

Saruman is another example of good gone bad. Once the wisest of wizards, Saruman wears the symbolic white robes as the highest in his order. But in his lust for knowledge and power, he looks at the world through the palantir and has direct contact with the Dark Lord Sauron. Saruman is shown the strength of Sauron’s army and is convinced that joining the forces of evil is the only hope for survival.

Perhaps the most tormented character in the entire trilogy is Gollum, who has a split personality. The good personality is known by his birth name, Smeagol. The evil side goes by Gollum, named after the guttural sounds he develops after living hundreds of years in dark, wet caves, sustained by the power of the Ring.

The story of Smeagol and the One Ring of Power is similar to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Smeagol, whose ancestors are related to the Hobbits, grew up in a wealthy and happy family near the Anduin River. This is the same river into which the invisible Isildur swam to escape the Orcs, only to be killed when the Ring deliberately falls off his hand. For centuries the Ring lay in the riverbed, waiting to be picked up.

Then one day Smeagol and his friend Deagol are fishing. Deagol hooks a huge fish and is pulled into the river. Looking down, he sees something glistening in the river bottom. He picks up a handful of mud, which soon reveals a bright golden ring. Smeagol is immediately jealous of his friend and covets the Ring, suggesting that he have it as a birthday present. When Deagol refuses, Smeagol strangles his friend to death.

Wearing the Ring, Smeagol returns to his village and realizes that no one can see him, a condition he quickly uses to his advantage. The community grows to distrust and avoid him when he is visible. Banished by his family, Smeagol leaves with the Ring and finds solitude in the caves under the Misty Mountains. For 500 years, the Ring sustains Gollum with a life force upon which he grows totally dependent, much like a drug addict who depends on the high of narcotics.

After losing the Ring to Bilbo, Gollum desperately searches for it. He will do anything to get his “Precious” back and expects the Ringbearer to fight just as hard to keep it. But when he finally meets up with Frodo and Sam in the labyrinth of razor-sharp rocks of Emyn Muil, Gollum is surprised by Frodo’s empathy and trust. Sam, however, is highly suspicious about Gollum’s evil nature and wants to protect his friend. He treats Gollum harshly, calling him names and threatening physical violence.

In today’s world, we often meet people tormented with addictions or harboring hidden agendas. How do we act towards them? Do we treat them with kindness and patience like Frodo, or do we treat them with suspicion and hateful words like Sam?

In addition to the passage above to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we should also remember the words of Paul, who wrote that “love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love…does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

We know from Scriptures that Christ is in each of us. Every day we have the opportunity to see and relate to the good in everyone, no matter how troubled or addicted they are. This is our true Christian response to the evil we see in this world. How often do we treat people this way?

More importantly, how well do we see the glistening elements of evil in ourselves? Do we recognize the times when we are jealous or envious of someone’s possessions? Does our pride or anger make a difficult situation even worse? Would we rather lie around and pig out on junk food than use our talents to help someone else?

There’s good in each of us – grace from God that is given to us at our Baptism and shared again during the celebration of the Eucharist. Through thoughtful prayer and heartfelt confession of our sins and weaknesses, we can more fully appreciate the good in ourselves, and thus give a more Frodo-like, Christ-like response to this world.

It’s a difficult journey, one that’s met with many perilous times and events. But as Sam recounts below, this is a journey that counts.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” said Frodo, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, “and it’s worth fighting for.”

Are you fighting for the good that is in you?

CF

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First published in the November 15, 2003 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2003 Christopher Fenoglio.

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