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Five years ago, I completed my master’s in English at university, which culminated in the submission of a fifteen thousand word thesis examining the significance of Gollum in the story of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic tales The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The main thrust of the thesis was that, without him, the reader is not truly aware of the power of the One Ring to work evil upon the soul.
I did not, however, consider the effect that self-isolation had on Gollum, having fled his community in fear of his life. Now, however, after spending almost six weeks in lockdown, I am keen to pen this article vindicating him from at least some of his wrongdoing.
As the story goes, Gollum and Déagol came across an interesting object while out fishing on his birthday, some time after the Bronze Age. Gollum asked Déagol to give it to him as it was his birthday, which I think was fair enough for two reasons. Number one, it was his birthday. While Déagol says that he already gave him a birthday present, let’s face it, it was probably terrible, given the time in which they lived, and employing the finder’s keepers rule against someone on their birthday is just poor form. Number two, it seems to have been a time and place in which nothing ever happened, so craving that sense of excitement when a new object is discovered is perfectly understandable.
Of course, killing Déagol was going a bit overboard. Killing is wrong. But the red mist came down, and in the aftermath what was he really supposed to do? The town would probably have lynched him, and the Ring was just lying there so it’s fair game. Darwinian. So he took it and wandered homeless across the land until he found a cave in which to live. If the town hadn’t lynched him, they would probably have excommunicated him so this seems fair enough to me.
Some quick research (by which I mean Google) reveals that Gollum lived in the cave undisturbed by anyone for 471 years. Now, I have been living in my house and observing the 2km rule since the 12th of March, which is currently forty nine days at the time of writing this. I have social contact at a safe two metre distance with my family, we have food, heat, clothing, WiFi, books and television, including Netflix and Disney+.
And I am going mad. Even with all of my creature comforts, getting a walk in in the afternoons, using the time to write pieces and submit them to competitions, and eating really well because my brother is an amazing chef, I am still wishing I could go into town , meet someone for a drink, do what I used to do before all this.
So, in fairness, is it any wonder Gollum went loopy? He had no company, no WiFi, or entertainment, very little clothing, and with the exception of fish, food seemed to exist only as a memory. So when he wasn’t talking to the Ring or asleep, I’d say he was bored out of his tree.
And then Bilbo arrived in the cave. The first life form Gollum had spoken to in 471 years, and he offered to play a game of riddles with him. He didn’t offer Gollum food, or shelter or anything that a normal being with real empathy would. If that happened to me, after that amount of time alone…well, I think Gollum showed remarkable restraint, starved for entertainment as he was. I would probably have strangled Bilbo immediately, myself. But no, Gollum played the game and the Ring was stolen from him. I would be livid. Here I am, minding my own business, going slowly mad, and some upstart from outside my 2km radius has decided to come in and take my WiFi router just so that I wouldn’t have it? I’d probably be after him up the driveway waving a meat cleaver.
Finally, through a stroke of luck, Gollum found Frodo in the wilderness carrying the Ring, and Frodo forced him to show him the way to Mount Doom. If someone did that to me I would be very annoyed. To maintain the above comparison, if you had stolen my WiFi router and later on I discovered that your nephew and a friend of his were heading off to the dump to put it in a vat of acid, I would probably do my utmost to get it back off you. I mightn’t kill you, but then Gollum didn’t live in a democracy that included insurance policies and a working police force (unless you count Orcs). He had to fend for himself.
So if you’re ever feeling like self-isolating is getting to you, spare a thought for Gollum, the true master of self-isolation. He had it much harder than you do.