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Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark -- Enter Gollum

Morthoron
Gondor


Apr 21 2009, 4:28pm

Post #1 of 15 (2243 views)
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Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark -- Enter Gollum Can't Post

‘Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum. I don't know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was Gollum—as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes.’

Ah yes, dear old Smeagol (except we don’t know he’s Smeagol at this point). Gollum was originally named ‘Glip’ from a poem Tolkien wrote circa 1928 (from a series of poems entitled Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay). Here is an excerpt:

‘…He lives far underneath,
Under the floor, down a long hole
Where the sea gurgles and sighs.
Glip is his name...

And Glip listens, and quietly slips
And lies in shadow by.
It is there that Glip steals his bones.
He is a slimy little thing
Sneaking and crawling under fishy stones,
And slinking home to sing
A gurgling sound in his damp hole…’

As far as the name ‘Gollum’, there are many hypotheses as to where and why Tolkien settled on the name (aside from the sound he makes at the back of throat, which may be incidental to a deeper meaning). In the ‘Annotated Hobbit’ Douglas Anderson cites Constance B. Hieatt as theorizing that in “Old Norse gull/goll, of which one inflected form would be gollum, means ‘gold, treasure, something precious and can also mean a ‘ring’.” There are other theories linking the name Gollum to Jewish folklore’s Golem, the root word for substance in Hebrew being ‘GLM’, but it seems to me more coincidental, although Tolkien did have a philological interest in Hebrew.

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum (as there are perhaps more than I mentioned)?

In any case, Gollum is first mentioned in the Hobbit as ‘dark as darkness’, which makes sense because in a pitch black cavern, everything is dark (which gives me a chance to throw out a favorite Pink Floyd quote: ‘There is no dark side of the moon, really -- matter of fact it’s all dark.’), except for ‘two big round pales eyes, a ‘thin face’, ‘large feet’ and ‘long fingers’.

Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?

Anderson also mentions that ‘Gollum uses the phrase “my precious” to refer only to himself. It wasn’t until the important revision in the 2nd edition of The Hobbit that the phrase is also used in context with the One Ring.

Tolkien did not originally consider Gollum to be a Hobbit, in fact, Tolkien remarked "I don't know where he came from or what he was," according to John Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit Part One: Mr. Baggins. It was only during the writing of Lord of the Rings that Tolkien created the history of Smeagol as a retrograde Stoor.

Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit? Would he consider himself one?

From an anachronistic point of view (along with tobacco and Curious’ point regarding matches), there is a mention of Gollum’s ‘pale eyes like telescopes’, the earliest known telescope being the one reportedly used in 1608 (Galileo used a similar model in 1611).

Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?

‘"Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it's a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it'd make us, gollum!" And when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat.’

And there we have the first utterings of one of the most unusual villains in literary history. Gollum is both wretched and vicious, he is juvenile, curious and playful as well as sly, malevolent and secretive. We do not understand his motivations, nor why he lives down in the darkness, but we do know he is a murderer (of Goblins when he can get them – he must like dark meat). Gollum is a complex character driven by his obsession.

From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?

Read the ongoing serialization of MONTY PYTHON'S 'The HOBBIT', found here:
http://www.fanfiction.net/...y_Pythons_The_Hobbit

(This post was edited by Morthoron on Apr 21 2009, 4:28pm)


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Apr 21 2009, 9:46pm

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My thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum (as there are perhaps more than I mentioned)?

I wonder if Tolkien really did base it on a noise made in the back of the throat? Andy Serkis said that he learned how to make the noise by listening to his cat cough up a hairball. Tolkien has been known to say unkind things about cats.

I played with the Golem connection before, and Tolkien might have liked the name's resemblance to a morally ambiguous monster, but it doesn't quite match up for me. A golem, by definition, is an artificially created person with no soul (rather like a corporation, to my mind) and Gollum not only has a soul, but you might say he has two.

Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?

I figured that Gollum made it himself, from some bit of driftwood that got washed down into the subterranean waterways. I never pictured it as a truly sophisticated boat, if he propells it by dangling his feet over the edge to paddle, rather a rotten old bit of log that he may or may not have smoothed out or flattened a bit with a rock to seat him more comfortably, something to do in the long hours alone on the island. Later, in the topside world, he seemed right at home latching onto a log as a means of transportation.

Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit? Would he consider himself one?

I won't argue with Gandalf. He's a protohobbit at least, perhaps a sort of missing link in the evolution of hobbits, in a branch-off that didn't die out immediately. LotR says that a fight with Sam who was "not much smaller" than him wasn't to his liking, so I'd wager that if he ever straightened, he'd be a bit on the tall side for a regular hobbit, maybe the height of a dwarf. That sounds transitional to me. And he has flappy, slimy feet, not furry feet. Not precisely the same as a hobbit, but close, darn close.

For Gandalf does remark on the traits that he does have that sound very hobbit-like, most notably tremendous powers of resistance. He resisted torture a lot longer than a man would, and in the end Sauron had to take a hand personally. More significantly, even though he began his ownership evilly Smeagol managed to preserve one corner of his mind away from the Ring, and so escaped becoming a wraith, although that corner went mad. "He certainly did not fade!" as Gandalf said.

And, of course, he likes riddles. There seems to be a cultural link, there, "...the only game he ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago..." as the Hobbit says. So that's also a link: he comes from hole-dwellers. Holbytla.

Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?

Startling, sometimes, in an amusing way, but they don't bother me. I have contemplated whole philosophies based on the observation that the seemingly more technologically advanced hobbits are regarded as backwards by the rest of Middle Earth's Free People.

From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?

Oh, I definitely sympathize with him! But American Indians regard evil as a disease. That doesn't absolve someone from responsibility, of course, as all too often our choices lead to our diseases. But he is a wretched, pitiable creature. Just because he had to die in the end like a rabid dog doesn't mean I didn't mourn.

To further complicate the issue, I hold the theory that he came to the Ring as a child. A weird sort of baby-talk infuses his speech, even more so in LotR than in the Hobbit. He is not just evil, but infuriatingly immature. He weeps over how mean everyone is to him, without comprehension that he brings it on himself. He has learned cunning things for survival, but he has not obtained new growth of a meaningful sort. And the whole sense of entitlement about a birthday-present seems like such an infantile pretext for murder that one can hardly imagine an adult coming up with it.

Yes, he behaved wickedly in murdering his friend, but did he have a fully developed conscience yet? Was it harder for him to decide right from wrong at that point? Gandalf's not usually the sort to sympathize with murderers, yet he spares a lot of pity for Gollum. Did Gandalf, perhaps, come to the same conclusion, that he was dealing with a child, a horribly malformed, spiritually abused child?

Granted, he had some eighty years to grow up after he lost the Ring. But traumatized people sometimes freeze at the point when the trauma happened. People who work to rehabilitate prostitutes, for example, will tell you that no matter how street-smart and cunning they become, these women stay emotionally at the age when they first came into the trade. And horrifyingly, that usually means childhood. When asked what they want for gifts, they will request stuffed animals and coloring books. Gollum is no different, in my opinion.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!

(This post was edited by Dreamdeer on Apr 21 2009, 9:48pm)


batik
Tol Eressea


Apr 22 2009, 1:15am

Post #3 of 15 (1993 views)
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on Gollum... [In reply to] Can't Post

Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?
Maybe Gollum found some discarded furniture and a few tools while on his hunting expeditions???
Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?
Not so much. I wonder if Tolkien did this on purpose--to see what kind of reaction he would get from his kids as he read to them (oh Dad! That's silly!). I think
"football" was in last week's chapter.
From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?
Yes I do sympathize with Gollum. Not so much within The Hobbit as in LotR where quite a bit more backstory is given. There we may see that he commits some villianous deeds but is not totally without a touch of (potentially) redeeming qualities.



Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 22 2009, 9:57pm

Post #4 of 15 (1992 views)
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"my substance, yet being unperfect" [In reply to] Can't Post

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum (as there are perhaps more than I mentioned)?

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
-Psalm 139:15

That is, a golem.


Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?

Skin and bones.


Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit?

He was a mockery of a hobbit.


Would he consider himself one?

He’s forgotten.


From an anachronistic point of view (along with tobacco and Curious’ point regarding matches), there is a mention of Gollum’s ‘pale eyes like telescopes’, the earliest known telescope being the one reportedly used in 1608 (Galileo used a similar model in 1611).

Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?


“Pale eyes like telescopes” is far more elegant than “pale eyes like ancient pre-dynastic Egyptian magnifying lenses made out of polished rock crystal”.


‘"Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it's a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it'd make us, gollum!" And when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat.’

And there we have the first utterings of one of the most unusual villains in literary history. Gollum is both wretched and vicious, he is juvenile, curious and playful as well as sly, malevolent and secretive. We do not understand his motivations, nor why he lives down in the darkness, but we do know he is a murderer (of Goblins when he can get them – he must like dark meat). Gollum is a complex character driven by his obsession.


Sort of a childish or child-like villain, like Bilbo is a childish or child-like hero.

This means something.


From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?

He is Bilbo’s doppleganger. It’s interesting that Jackson picks up on this in the films and makes Gollum Frodo’s doppleganger.

From that standpoint Gollum deserves sympathy and pity, because Bilbo deserves sympathy and pity.

And indeed, by sparing Gollum, Bilbo spares himself.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”



sador
Half-elven

Apr 23 2009, 9:47am

Post #5 of 15 (1990 views)
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A few answers, some to the point [In reply to] Can't Post

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum (as there are perhaps more than I mentioned)?
Darkstone was correct about the first usage of the word "golem" in the Bible.

Essentially, the word "golem" means raw, unfinished material (not 'substance') - a long, smooth board is still considered "a wooden golem", and becomes a table only after being polished and decorated (if a decoration is planned). The famous "Golem of Prague" was supposed to be unfinished, because it had a life, but no soul.
However, this is not the usage in modern Hebrew, in which a 'golem' means a dummy.

But this raises a general question - was Tolkien interested in mystical, esoteric lore? Some of it entered the Catholic Church, and quite a few English writers learned a bit of Kabbala long before Madonna did (for instance, Malcolm Lowry). If so, we might come up with quite a few surprising answers to some famous questions - for instance, the origins of orcs.

Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?
They didn't explore it any longer..


In Reply To
Tolkien did not originally consider Gollum to be a Hobbit, in fact, Tolkien remarked "I don't know where he came from or what he was," according to John Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit Part One: Mr. Baggins.


It's in the book - you've actually quoted it at the top of your post!

Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit?
I think so. Note that in The Hobbit Bilbo is said to understand Gollum well - we are actually offered more insught into his mind than to any other character's, except Bilbo.
I think Tolkien recognised this, and worked out a history of Hobbits which would explain Gollum accordingly.

Would he consider himself one?
That's a nice question! I guess he wouldn't; appendix F of LotR mention that the word 'hobbit' was a denigrating word given by the Fallohides to the Harfoots. As a Stoor, Smeagol might not know the name - and if he did, he would consider it a contemptuous term.

Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?
No. They are a major part of its charm. And as others have said before, the narrator's anachronisms hardly bother me!


From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?
I can't really dislike someone who introduces himself with "bless us and splash us"!



"Praps ye sits here and chats with it a bitsy, my preciousss" - Gollum


FarFromHome
Valinor


Apr 23 2009, 5:12pm

Post #6 of 15 (2008 views)
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My answers [In reply to] Can't Post

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum (as there are perhaps more than I mentioned)?

The 'golem' theory might have something in it, since some of Tokien's other words have echoes of Biblical meanings - for example, 'Gorgoroth' and 'Golgotha', although I think Tolkien denied any connection between those two.

One possibility I just thought of - how about the popular children's toy of the early 20th century, the golliwog? They were often called a 'golly' for short, and it's not much of a stretch from there to 'Gollum'. If Tom Bombadil was one of Tolkien's children's toys, maybe Gollum was too!

As far as I know, Gollum is never called Smeagol in The Hobbit, so I wonder when Tolkien came up with that. And is it important that Smeagol and Deagol have the 'gol' syllable as part of their names? Did Tolkien perhaps come up with 'Smeagol' as a back-formation, based on 'Gollum' as a childish nickname taken from the second syllable of Gollum's real name, a nickname that evolved into his common name because of the way it mimicked his gulping, swallowing vocal tic? Tolkien certainly liked words that had different meanings in different languages or contexts. But there are so many possibilities that unless he made a comment about this himself, everything seems to be pretty much a shot in the dark.

(That's an interesting little poem you quote! I've vaguely heard of legends of similar creatures to this in English folklore. I wonder if Tolkien based Glip/Gollum on some legend he'd heard?)

Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?

As others have said, boats can be made from animal skins (or orc skins, I guess). In fact, the little coracle that Smeagol and Deagol have in the movie would have been made from skins.

Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit? Would he consider himself one?

I don't think we even find out that he's Smeagol in The Hobbit. But as far as I recall. when we do hear about Smeagol's backstory, from Gandalf in The Shadow of the Past, we are also told that his people were a kind of hobbit-like folk. All we know in The Hobbit is that Gollum and Bilbo share a lot of traditional knowledge, as their understanding of riddles shows. So they have some common cultural ancestry, seemingly. Philologists and cultural historians of Tolkien's day based a lot of their theories about the relationships between peoples on things like this. From a lecture I heard recently, it seems that DNA evidence is showing that a lot of those theories don't really hold water...

Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?

No, not if they aren't anachronisms to Bilbo. Because we are seeing most of the story through his eyes.

From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?

Well, I might take issue with your statement that Samwise "always considered the character villainous". It's not quite as obvious with Sam as with Frodo, but Sam makes a number of comments that show sympathy and understanding for Gollum. But his first duty is to Frodo, and he is under no illusion about the danger Gollum poses to Frodo. Frodo understands the danger too, of course - but he has the right (maybe even the duty) to risk his own neck. And that's what Bilbo does in The Hobbit - he chooses to risk his own safety rather than striking out at Gollum. I think Bilbo's and Frodo's pity is so meaningful because they know that they are sacrificing their own safety so as not to harm someone else. The idea that Frodo didn't find Gollum "villainous" in the sense that he started to trust him, is only in the movie, I think.

Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
The ship’s beside the stony wall.
Foam is white and waves are grey;
beyond the sunset leads my way.
Bilbo's Last Song



Dreamdeer
Valinor


Apr 23 2009, 7:23pm

Post #7 of 15 (1970 views)
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Thank you... [In reply to] Can't Post

...for clarifying for me what a golem really is!

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Apr 24 2009, 2:12am

Post #8 of 15 (1980 views)
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The Bogeyman'll get you [In reply to] Can't Post

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum?
One thing John Rateliff speculates is that, like "Glip", Gollum might be "something escaping out of family folklore into one of Tolkien's books". I find that idea intriguing!

Or, alternately, that it was a "pure literary creation" which made its way into the children's stories; like the concept of a Hobbit, it was just suddenly there.

Rateliff relates an amusing story about this character: "In either case, the character did become a private bogeyman for the Tolkien children: Michael Tolkien recalled in a 1975 radio interview how John Tolkien, the oldest brother, terrified his younger siblings by 'playing Gollum', creeping into their room at night, with twin torches (flashlights) for the monster's shining eyes." And I bet he was hissing "Bless us and splash us, my precioussss..."

...where did the boat come from?
I also have thought of the boat as being more like a large piece of driftwood, fairly flat, in order for Gollum to use his feet as paddles.

...do you sympathize with Gollum's plight?
Original Gollum, yes, the poor lonely thing! But Revised Gollum - it will be over halfway into LotR, when we finally meet him in person, that any sympathy can be elicited.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915


Curious
Half-elven


Apr 25 2009, 2:14am

Post #9 of 15 (2033 views)
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Why would Gollum let Bilbo live [In reply to] Can't Post

just because Gollum isn't hungry? Even if Bilbo is not a goblin, couldn't Bilbo tell the goblins about Gollum? Perhaps Gollum's curiosity and loneliness overcame his common sense.

What’s your favorite theory regarding the naming of Gollum (as there are perhaps more than I mentioned)?

I like the reason Tolkien gives us in the book: Gollum was named after a sound effect Tolkien created for his children by swallowing loudly: gollum. Similar to gulp.

Gollum also had a boat. Considering the text mentions that the Goblins did not explore the subterranean lake, where did the boat come from?

I think it was a goblin boat, used for fishing. Remember, sometimes the Great Goblin wanted fish, and sometimes neither goblin nor fish nor boat returned.

Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit? Would he consider himself one?

It's not at all apparent that he is a hobbit, considering that Gollum may have dark skin, can see in the dark when fishing, calls Bilbo a tasty morsel (implying that Gollum is quite large, if not as large as a troll), and wonders what Bilbo is, as if he has never seen such a creature. But Gollum's origin and appearance is ambiguous enough for Tolkien's revisionist history.

Do you find the numerous anachronisms riddling the story to be jarring from the point of a sustained suspension of disbelief?

No, the only reason I notice at all is because Tolkien avoided them outside of the Shire in LotR. In The Hobbit there is o such distinction. But the biggest continuing anachronism may be the speech patters, which unlike in LotR remain fairly modern-sounding.

From your own point of view, and looking from the perspective of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, do you sympathize with Gollum’s plight (as Frodo later would), or have you always considered the character villainous (like Samwise, for instance)?

Yes. Perhaps sympathize is too strong for me and for Frodo, but pity is certainly apt. Isn't it possible to pity a villain while at the same time expecting the worst from him? Frodo's trust in Gollum was partly about pity -- he gave Gollum a chance to repent -- but also about faith -- Frodo put himself in Gollum's hands much as Jesus put himself in Judas's hands, with pity for the betrayer and confidence that the betrayal, if it happened, was all part of the plan. And ultimately Sam passed the same test, refusing to kill Gollum on Mount Doom.


(This post was edited by Curious on Apr 25 2009, 2:15am)


Morthoron
Gondor


Apr 26 2009, 3:44pm

Post #10 of 15 (2047 views)
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Genetically speaking.... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit? Would he consider himself one?

It's not at all apparent that he is a hobbit, considering that Gollum may have dark skin, can see in the dark when fishing, calls Bilbo a tasty morsel (implying that Gollum is quite large, if not as large as a troll), and wonders what Bilbo is, as if he has never seen such a creature. But Gollum's origin and appearance is ambiguous enough for Tolkien's revisionist history.



If it is not altogether clear in The Hobbit just what Gollum is, there are hints: that before he ended up beneath the mountain his friends were 'funny creatures' and hole-dwellers; that he shared with Bilbo an interest in riddles; that he had prominent feet (shoeless); and that the ring represented a 'birthday present', which contrasted with the Shires giving rather than receiving of presents on their birthdays, but that could represent the corruption of the Ring). The ambiguity is less apparent when perusing Lord of the Rings. We find that, indeed, Smeagol was a Stoor lliving alongside the Anduin, and that his kin had left the Angle and returned over the Misty Mountains sometime earlier (Tolkien refers to this distaff branch as 'retrograde Stoors') . Your implication that Gollum is as big as a troll based on the phrase 'tasty morsel' is not substantiated throughout the remainder of the text, and could refer to Bilbo being a morsel compared to some of the larger goblins Gollum has eaten (he refers to a smaller goblin he has recently killed as an imp). As far as Gollum's skin color being dark, the Stoors were in fact darkest of the three clans, and they were also heavier and broader with larger feet and hands. In addition, Gollum wondering what type of creature Bilbo is refers more to the centuries of isolation Gollum has experienced, given that he refers to members of his own clan as 'funny creatures', as if they too are alien to him.

But Gollum was not a Hobbit.

The word 'Hobbit' as it is presented in the Lord of the Rings only really applies to those Halflings -- the Harfoots, Stoors and Fallohides -- that settled in the Shire and Bree. Any mention of the race prior to the founding of the Shire is given by Tolkien as halfling, perrianath, or referencing one of the three individual clans; therefore, Gollum would not consider himself a 'hobbit' as the name would be foreign to him, and in any case does not apply to his clan.

Read the ongoing serialization of MONTY PYTHON'S 'The HOBBIT', found here:
http://www.fanfiction.net/...y_Pythons_The_Hobbit


Curious
Half-elven


Apr 27 2009, 3:26am

Post #11 of 15 (1934 views)
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Of course the ambiguity is resolved in LotR. [In reply to] Can't Post

But it is not resolved in The Hobbit.


squire
Half-elven


Apr 27 2009, 10:40pm

Post #12 of 15 (2473 views)
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A speculation on Gollum's origins, my precious! [In reply to] Can't Post

Here’s some tricksy questions: was Smeagol/Gollum a Hobbit? Would he consider himself one?

From The Hobbit’s point of view, Gollum is clearly not a hobbit. (Even Tolkien in the beginning of Fellowship did not say so: Gollum was of “hobbit-kind” which could be like saying chimps are of man-kind.) He is a creature, one of the many that inhabit the dark reaches of the mountains. Tolkien builds up to this with his commentary on the tunnels that Bilbo finds himself in:

Even in the tunnels and caves the goblins have made for themselves there are other things living unbeknown to them that have sneaked in from outside to lie up in the dark. Some of these caves, too, go back in their beginnings to ages before the goblins, who only widened them and joined them up with passages, and the original owners are still there in odd comers, slinking and nosing about.

Immediately after we read this, we encounter Gollum, so this is the first Gollum origin story. Note that the phrase “slinking and nosing” was picked up by Sam in The Two Towers with his “slinker” and “old noser”, yet the slinking and nosing creatures who are the “original owners” of the caves are not the same as the ones who “sneaked in from outside”, as we learn Gollum did.


(It is also characteristic of Tolkien’s imagination that the Balrog of LotR is also supposed to have “sneaked in from outside to lie up in the dark” unknown to the dwarves who made the caves of Moria. In this sense Gollum and the Balrog occupy quite similar structural places in the many-paralleled Hobbit and Fellowship stories.)


What is Gollum? I have always mistrusted those who analyze him entirely from the point of view of the retrofit he underwent in 1947, when The Lord of the Rings had been completed and funny “Old Gollum” had to be rewritten to become the tragic Smeagol/Gollum. Much – most – of his fascinating personality, including the iconic “my precious”, was fully created long before any idea of the One Ring ever existed. What was Tolkien thinking, where was he coming from?


I have lately been struck by our friend Gollum’s feminine side, his mincing lisping timidity and nursery-talk. In fact, I would like someday to spend more time researching the terms Gollum uses, primarily “my precious”, “tasty morsel”, “Praps ye sits here and chats with it a bitsy”, “Is it scrumptiously crunchable?”, “its nassty little pocketses”, “Bless us and splash us!” (used twice – oddly reminiscent of baptism; an English regionalism?), and “We durstn't go with it, my preciouss, no we durstn't, gollum!" (also used by Sam in FotR – another regionalism?). I am curious how these phrases and mannerisms of speech might connect with what I mentioned above. Could it be a kind of baroque nursery-talk, such as a horrid old nursemaid might coo over a baby? I did find one instance of “my precious” used in a 1931 story by an old lady talking to her little lap dog.


If we look at Gollum this way, we remember yet again that this story began as a nursery tale, told at bedtime to small English children of the 1930s. Even in The Hobbit, Gollum is a ghoul and a monster, but he is a strangely endearing one because of his language. Isn’t it likely that Gollum’s personality is that of a nursemaid-turned-monster, to the thrilled horror of the Tolkien children?


And yet the obsessiveness, the schizoid self-reference, the perverted morality of The Hobbit’s Gollum were all translated quite easily into the Ring-consumed anti-hero of The Lord of the Rings! One can see the actual transformation in Chapter Two of Fellowship Book I. It is Tolkien at his slippery best in never looking back, always moving forward with a literary idea however primitive its origins. For a childless old lady cannot let her precious baby go, but will continue to baby it, coddle it, spoil it, and dominate it, long after it is time to let the child grow up: an obsessive but primitive template for the insidious possession of the One Ring!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Apr 27 2009, 10:58pm

Post #13 of 15 (1961 views)
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If I hadn't recently learned... [In reply to] Can't Post

...that the household nanny was a Scandinavian teenager wishing for a day off to go to the movies, you'd really have gotten me to wondering!

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


squire
Half-elven


Apr 27 2009, 11:22pm

Post #14 of 15 (1966 views)
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Sure [In reply to] Can't Post

The young Scandinavian nanny seems to have taken the place of "Auntie Ie", who was Edith's aunt Jennie Grove. Grove was the Tolkien children's surrogate grandmother in the 1910s and 1920s; and was quite old by the 1930s, dying in 1938 at age 78. She was born a bricklayer's daughter in Birmingham (northern England), "poorly educated, and stood only four feet eight inches tall with a deformed back" according to John Garth in the JRR Tolkien Encyclopedia.

But I wouldn't for a second seriously suggest she was Tolkien's model for aspects of Gollum, unless I knew far more about her - among other things I don't believe the Tolkien children have ever made this connection. And scary nannies and elderly doting ladies were not hard to find in between-the-wars Oxford, I'd guess.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Aunt Dora Baggins
Immortal


Apr 27 2009, 11:53pm

Post #15 of 15 (2015 views)
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That last sentence [In reply to] Can't Post

is the scariest thing I've ever read on TORn. And entirely plausible. Great connection!

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