Feb 5 2013, 11:06am
Here are a few quotes that may be useful in playing the "great game" of solving the riddles that Tolkien tends to leave in his story.
A bit of textual backup...
Here's the first hint that Gollum is following the Fellowship through Moria, in A Journey in the Dark:
"Yet Frodo began to hear, or to imagine that he heard, something else: like the faint fall of soft bare feet. It was never loud enough, or near enough, for him to feel certain that he heard it..." Frodo doesn't mention it, either now or a bit later:
"Frodo’s spirits rose a little; but he still felt oppressed, and still at times he heard, or thought he heard, away behind the Company and beyond the fall and patter of their feet, a following footstep that was not an echo." We know what it must mean of course, and so really does Frodo, but he's not prepared to bring the idea of Gollum out into the open yet - he's still hoping that he's just imagining things.
The next thing we learn is when Frodo is on guard while the others sleep in the great hall. This time Frodo actually sees something, or at least (he tells himself) perhaps only imagines he does:
"All his mind was given to listening and nothing else for two slow hours; but he heard no sound, not even the imagined echo of a footfall.
His watch was nearly over, when, far off where he guessed that the western archway stood, he fancied that he could see two pale points of light, almost like luminous eyes. He started. His head had nodded. ‘I must have nearly fallen asleep on guard,’ he thought. ‘I was on the edge of a dream.’" The lack of even an "imagined echo of a footfall" tells me that Gollum must have caught up with the Fellowship earlier, probably while the company were awake and talking, and Gimli was singing his song. He waits until Frodo dozes off, then slips into the hall. Frodo sees Gollum, but still can't quite bring himself to believe it, or raise any kind of alarm. Even after he's relieved and lies down to sleep, he thinks he sees the eyes again:
"When he lay down he quickly went to sleep, but it seemed to him that the dream went on: he heard whispers, and saw the two pale points of light approaching, slowly." So Gollum is still more like a bad dream than a reality to Frodo, and that's the way the story shows him. We get all our information through Frodo's eyes, so there can't really be a direct explanation of what Gollum actually did at this point since Frodo couldn't possibly know. But this little scene in the great hall gives us a nice little clue, I think. Gollum catches up with the Fellowship at this point, that's clear. But we could also surmise that he then makes his way out of Moria ahead of them. It's here that Gandalf tells the others they are heading for the Dimrill Gate, so the eavesdropping Gollum could have decided to go to the Dimrill Gate and pick up the party there. Gandalf also tells everyone at this point about the "great windows on the mountain-side, and shafts leading out to the light in the upper reaches of the Mines." He goes on, "I think we have reached them now, but it is night outside again, and we cannot tell until morning. If I am right, tomorrow we may actually see the morning peeping in."
And sure enough, after Frodo's dream (or is it a dream?) of Gollum's eyes,
"He woke and found ... that a dim light was falling on his face....High up above the eastern archway through a shaft near the roof came a long pale gleam..." So there you have it. Based on the text, my solution to the "riddle" is that Gollum caught up with the Fellowship at the great hall, then found a way out through a shaft onto the mountainside. He missed all the excitement and was ready to pick up their trail at the Dimrill Gate. Frodo hears no more footfalls or sees any other sign of Gollum until he's on the flet.
I had noticed this apparent "plot hole" in the past, but I've always thought of it not as a plot hole but a storytelling device. Gollum still seems to Frodo like a creature from a nightmare, seemingly on the edge between imagination and reality. Frodo is afraid to say anything to anyone and keeps trying to deny what he hears and sees. So the idea that Gollum can pop up again at the flet, even after what happened in Moria, is just another horrible detail of the nightmare. One of the scariest things about creatures in nightmares and horror stories is that they keep coming back, seemingly with no rhyme or reason, when you're sure you've escaped. Knowing how Gollum had done it would spoil the effect.
They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings