As incredible as it may appear to Bilbo, Gollum’s change of attitude when games are mentioned throw their assailant/victim dynamic completely off. All of a sudden, Gollum’s hunger for Bilbo is non-existent, his thoughts are completely diverted and preoccupied with the mention of games. This wasn’t even Bilbo’s intention but rather a happy coincidence, given what his alternative was.
Gollum: “What has roots as nobody sees? Is taller than trees? Up, up, up it goes and yet never grows?”
Bilbo: “The mountain.”
Gollum: “Yes, yes. Oh, let’s have another one, eh? Yes! Do it again. Do it again. Ask us. No! No more riddles. Finish him off. Finish him now! Gollum, Gollum!”
Bilbo: “No! No. I want to play. I do. I want to play. I can see you are very good at this.
So why don’t we have a game of riddles? Yes? Just you and me.”
Gollum: “Yes. Yes, just us.”
Sméagol’s most favorite game, one that he had missed playing for years due to a lack of players, are riddles, interestingly enough. He had missed any form of human contact with the world outside of his own and now finally he has the opportunity to stretch his mind by posing riddles to Bilbo and being given riddles to solve himself.
The excitement in his face as he poses his first riddle to Bilbo is priceless. It can be plainly observed that this wretched creature for all its viciousness and evil is actually mentally astute.
One would have thought him to be a Half-wit as the Trolls were, but no. Bilbo does not know that Sméagol was originally one of his own folk but we as an audience, thanks to the Lord of the Ring trilogy, can understand Sméagol’s need for companionship and brain teasers.
Just the two of them
However, as soon as Bilbo solves the riddle, Gollum intervenes on Sméagol’s fun, reminding him of what his original purpose was with Bilbo. Although not sure what kind of a problem Gollum has, Bilbo offers his own willingness to continue playing with Sméagol.
At least that way he might keep the Gollum part at bay while he formulated a plan out of here. If games are what this creature wants to play then Bilbo will oblige, anything to keep him from harm. Bilbo even compliments Sméagol on his ability to form riddles, something Sméagol hadn’t heard in forever, probably.
As soon as a compliment reaches his ear, Sméagol arises with his dilated pupils in his big blue eyes. Bilbo makes it a point to remain with this side of the creature for as long as possible, proposing a game between just the two of them, leaving Gollum out of the picture. This works perfectly, as Sméagol is delighted Bilbo wants to play with just him. He feels heard and acknowledged, finally.
Gollum had been taking over his personality for centuries now, it feels good to have that small residual untainted Sméagol persona actively pursued and asked to play.
Bilbo: “Yes. Yes. And if I win you show me the way out. Yes?”
Gollum: “Yes. Yes. And if it loses? What then? Well, if it loses precious, then we eats it. If Baggins loses, we eats it whole.”
Bilbo: “Fair enough.”
The ramifications of the win and lose outcome of the game had to be set forth for both of them to benefit. While Bilbo lays out his win outcome plainly and clearly, as soon as his leaving is mentioned Gollum intervenes again negotiating his own win scenario, one fatal to Bilbo. It is almost adorable the way Sméagol looks into Bilbo’s eyes with such innocence and playfulness one would think being eaten would be a fun consequence to endure.
Sméagol is, of course, thrilled with this arrangement thinking that Bilbo would lose anyway since he had a lot more time developing his riddling skills than Bilbo could ever have.
Bilbo, although perplexed at first, does not renegotiate Sméagol’s winning outcome given his volatile nature.
Mastery of expressions
Gollum: “Baggins first.”
Bilbo: “Thirty white horses on a red hill, first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.”
Gollum: “Teeth? Teeth! Yes, my precious. But we.. we only have nine.Our turn. Voiceless it cries, wingless flutters, toothless bites, mouthless mutters.”
While Sméagol ponderes the answer to the riddle, his facial expressions are a wonder to behold. There are nuances to his facial movements as well as clear and precise mimics that perfectly illustrate at what point in the thought process he finds himself.
Although I have already written about Andy Serkis and his masterful performance, it just never seems enough. He took Gollum and made it his own. And though the Gollum voice he invented was not copyright protected but belongs to the public domain where everyone is welcome to render their own interpretation or imitation of the voice, Gollum’s expressive behavior will always belong to Mr. Serkis.
It is an art in itself the way he has brought this unusual and complicated character to life. A feat, not every actor would be able to do.
Although in his Sméagol persona while celebrating his victory, he quickly switches to Gollum as he bares his teeth to threaten Bilbo. It would appear that Bilbo had relaxed a little while conversing with Sméagol, feeling that Gollum enters to keep him on his toes, achieving it successfully. Bilbo cannot relax knowing that soon he might find himself between those bared teeth.
Bilbo: “Just a minute.”
Gollum: “Ooh, we knows, we knows! Shut up!”
Bilbo: “Wind. It’s wind. Of course it is.”
Gollum: “Very clever. Hobbitses. Very clever.”
Sméagol in his attempt to show off his knowledge to get in good with Gollum, exclaims to know the solution to his own riddle. A bit confusing but it might help to think that Bilbo wasn’t the only person or persona Gollum interacted while alone.
It could be hypothesized that Gollum played the same riddle game with himself, posing questions to his other persona, keeping himself sharp for when a true challenge comes. Not an unusual concept to imagine given that he spent most of his time arguing with himself anyway.
Gollum is angered when Bilbo answers correctly. It could have not worked out that way had Bilbo not had help from the ripples on the water surface and the sound of a wind passing him by. Gollum would have liked it better if the game ended right then and there so he could finally have a feast on fresh meat.
Bilbo points his sword at Gollum as he slowly moves toward him. Whatever sweetness Sméagol might have in his personality, that much cruelty and evil is seen protruding from Gollum’s eyes. Bilbo distracts with another riddle.
Memories of the matriarch
Bilbo: “A box without hinges, key or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
Gollum: “Box. Oh, um. Box. The lid and a key.”
Gollum: “It’s nasty. Box. Key.”
Bilbo: “Do you give up?”
Gollum: “Give us a chance, precious! Give us a chance! Eggses! Eggses! Wet, crunchy little eggses. Yes. Grandmother taught us to suck them, yes. We have one for you. All things it devours. Birds, beasts, trees, flowers, gnaws iron, bites steel, grinds hard stones to meal. Answer us.”
This one stumps Gollum. He becomes increasingly frustrated as he cannot think of a solution to Bilbo’s riddle. At the height of his frustration the answer becomes clear and with it a little background information about him that leaves Bilbo confused. Now we also know that Sméagol’s grandmother, the matriarch and the banisher, taught Sméagol how to suck the yoke out of an egg.
It is an interesting titbit he remembered right on the spot. His memory of his past life has clearly remained intact. However, given the fact that he couldn’t place Bilbo in the same race as himself indicates that only snippets of his memory have remained untainted.
Suddenly, he disappears out of view. His riddle comes from the darkness that envelops Bilbo. This being a cave Bilbo cannot place a specific place where the voice originates so he spins in a circle with this sword held pointed into the air trying to determine where Gollum is hiding.
Bilbo: “Give me a moment please. I gave you a good long while. Birds, beasts… Beasts? Trees, flowers. I don’t know this one.”
Gollum: “Is it tasty? Is it scrumptious? Is it crunchable?”
Bilbo: “Let me think. Let me think.”
Gollum: “It’s stuck. Bagginses is stuck. Time’s up.”
Bilbo: “Time. Time. The answer is time. Actually it wasn’t that hard.”
Bilbo is stuck. He cannot think of a solution to this one. He almost gives in admitting he does not know the answer. With this admission, Gollum prepares himself for his meal. He comes out of his hiding place facing the back of Bilbo’s head, his arms are all set to commence choking Bilbo as soon as they reach his throat. They would have done so had Bilbo not threatened Gollum with his sword. His excitement rises as he sees Bilbo struggling to answer him.
Unintentionally Gollum gives the answer to his own riddle. When Bilbo hears the word “time”, the riddle becomes much more understandable. Bilbo brushes the fact of his insecurity back with a comment on the easiness of the riddle. He tries to remain as unafraid and casual as possible although moments ago when Gollum’s hands were finding their way to his throat his panic level spiked.
Gollum: “Last question. Last chance.”
Gollum: “Ask us. Ask us!”
Bilbo: “Yes, yes alright. What have I got in my pocket?”
Gollum: “That’s not fair. It’s not fair! It’s against the rules! Now ask us another one.”
As Gollum gives Bilbo a last chance and a last shot at winning, he secretly hides a rock in his hand to use right after he wins the last riddle. The politeness he had struggled to emulate gives way to the frustration he feels over not having won yet. However fun this riddle game was at the beginning, it is obvious that its mental exercise quality has lost all value to Gollum. He only wants it to be over so he could enjoy his well earned meal.
What started out as a random question Bilbo was posing himself because of the object he felt in his vest, inadvertently became the final question of the game.
Bilbo: “No, no, no. You said ask me a question. Well, that is my question. What have I got in my pocket?”
Gollum: “Three guesses, precious. It must give us three!”
Bilbo: “Three guesses. Very well, guess away.”
Bilbo: “Wrong. Guess again.”
Gollum: “Fishbones, Goblin’s teeth, wet shells, bat’s wings.. Knife! Oh, shut up!”
Bilbo: “Wrong again. Last guess.”
Gollum: “String. Or nothing.”
Bilbo: “Two guesses at once. Wrong both times. So. Come then. I won the game. You promised to show me the way out.”
Not being in itself a riddle, Gollum finds it unfair of Bilbo for posing it, throwing the hidden rock in his hand. Nevertheless, Bilbo sticks to his question and awaits Gollum’s response. Gollum guesses and guesses in vain, failing to find the right item to fit Bilbo’s vest pocket. He tries guessing everything he can get his hands on, anything that he can find in his environment.
He fails, balls up in a fetal position crying and whining. As Bilbo mentions leaving his attitude changes drastically from a weeping child to a menacing threatening creature.
Gollum: “Did we say so, precious? Did we say so? What has it got in its pocketses?”
Bilbo: “That’s no concern of yours. You lost.”
Gollum: “Lost? Lost? Where is it? Where is it? No! Where is it? No! No! Lost! Bless us and splash us! My precious is lost!”
Bilbo: “What have you lost?”
Gollum: “Mustn’t ask us! Not its business! No! Gollum, Gollum! What has it got in its nasty little pocketses? He stole it. He stole it!”
While threateningly moving toward Bilbo, Gollum places his hand on the cloth that used to contain the Ring. All of a sudden he bursts into a fit of panic realizing the Ring is nowhere to be found. Bilbo cannot fathom why losing the Ring would cause him to react in this way. Naively, he poses the question of what Gollum had lost all the while knowing exactly what pains him. Another tactic to throw Gollum off his own track.
Gollum’s reflection on the water surface reminds us of the monologue or rather dialogue he conducted with himself in the Return of the King where he constructed a plan on how to kill both Frodo and Sam without getting his hands dirty. This time, his reflection only spurs his anger towards Bilbo. He is mad about not having given the correct answer to Bilbo’s last question.
What ensues is Bilbo’s attempt to flee the scene of his crime. Although not certain of the Ring’s value, Bilbo takes off when Gollum’s anger boils to a dangerously high level.
Follow me to my next post.
Photo credit to Der Hobbit Broschur XL 2020 from Athesia Kalenderverlag GmbH