Staircase on a mountain

The Winding Stair

Up, up, up the stairs we go. And then it’s into the tunnel.


Happiness out of malice

If it weren’t for the creepy and deceitful facial expression of Gollum as he mentions the tunnel, one would think it a playground song. Gollum is excited for them to climb the stairs, so much so, that his face shows signs of happiness that lack in his daily life. In two simple sentences, he switches from Sméagol to Gollum, from happy-go-lucky, excited to be doing his task accurately, to Gollum’s squinting eyes and malicious tone of voice, eager to possess the Ring again. 

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Keen ear

Sam catches his demeanor immediately, hearing the threat of danger in Gollum’s plan. 

Hey, what’s in this tunnel? 


Without a word, Gollum tries to quicken his pace so as to avoid any contact with Sam. Gollum is aware that Sam doubts his plans, as he did from the beginning. Therefore, to stay out of his way is a prudent thing to do. The plan might be ruined if the “fat Hobbit” learns the truth before they reach trouble in the tunnel.


You listen to me, and you listen good and proper. Anything happens to him, you have me to answer to. One sniff something’s not right, one hair stands up on the back of my head, it’s over. No more slinker. No more stinker. You’re gone. Got it? I’m watching you.


Sam presents himself superior to Gollum, threatening him in order to keep his mind from coming up with any vile plans that might hurt both Hobbits. He is acting out of fear. He suspects Gollum’s treachery, but cannot prove anything yet.

The only thing he can do is threaten with bodily harm. Because of Gollum’s brush with whips and cracks from the enemy, it may seem a good idea to threaten with physical harm. It might scare Gollum into submission and force him to stay as helpful and loyal as possible. 

Sam didn’t count on Gollum’s wicked plan already being in motion. Frodo and Sam are on Gollum’s turf now, and whatever their fears and demands on him might be, he will find a better way of dealing with this particular environment than the two of them. Moreover, the stairs alone are dangerous enough for both Hobbits and to threaten someone while not having a grip on the territory is a bit uncalculated. 

Sam reacts impulsively to the sense of fear that crawls his skin as Gollum mentions the tunnel. He cannot help his own emotions taking over his actions. The danger of the place in which he finds himself combined with an ever-present fear of this wretched creature’s actions results in Sam’s reaction. It might be an overreaction.

However, given the state of mind, both Frodo and Sam are in, there is not much Sam can do to protect his friend but threaten the wretch. Apart from saving his friend’s skin, he is trying to protect his own skin as well. There is no telling what Gollum is capable of, especially now, in this menacing terrain.

Gollum’s reaction

Gollum’s facial expression changes from one sentence to another as Sam threatens him. Plainly, there is fear in his eyes of what Sam might be capable of doing to him. However, this feeling does not last long. The more Sam becomes agitated and serious about his threats, the more Gollum’s expression changes into the goody-two-shoes of Sméagol to diffuse the tension. To change back into his pure Sméagol persona has become an impossibility, so he fakes his expression well.

As he is not able to even pretend as good as he had before, when there was Frodo to save him from Sam, his expression seems to be a mocking one. He dare not say anything to Sam to cause his threats to become reality at this point, but his face reveals his true feelings about the situation. 

His mouth and teeth mimic a smile, but his eyes don’t play along. It is not the willingness to please Sam or to submit just to escape punishment, it is a simulation of an expression that helps the current situation. There is no pure motive behind it. Gollum does not even mean what his face expresses. It is only there to diffuse Sam’s anger. Gollum’s expression resembles that of a porcelain doll, a set of right motions of the face without any meaning. 

No answer is an answer in itself

He doesn’t answer to Sam’s threats, which in itself is an interesting move on his part. If he had said anything to defend himself, Sam would not have believed it anyway, but it could have provided reasonable doubt, and Sam might have felt a bit more secure in his ability to threaten. He might also be more inclined to sleep sounder, but Gollum kept his tongue between his teeth. 

On the other hand, not providing an answer to a question or a defense to a threat is to be in agreement with what had been said. Silence often means a confirmation to a question. Therefore, there couldn’t have been much more for him to say. Better to remain silent and give Sam the impression that he holds dominance over him than to reveal his true thoughts. 

These come to light as soon as Sam moves on. Gollum’s deviousness presents itself. It is clearly visible that there is another plan brewing in Gollum’s mind. His smile stretches, his eyes squint and from under his eyelids, his look follows Sam’s footsteps. With every footstep, the puzzle pieces of a new plan start to form. 

There is a spite in his eyes, triggered by Sam’s meanness. With his expression, Gollum finds Sam’s threat to be ridiculous. There is no way he would ever succeed in hurting Gollum as long as Frodo was on his side. However, to be threatened is not pleasant. Therefore, to remove any obstacles from his way and to not have anyone interrupt his plans or his blooming relationships with Frodo, the plan to undermine Sam is a brilliant idea. 

Clearing something up

Frodo: “What was that about?”

Sam: “Nothing. Just clearing something up.”

Sam said exactly what Gollum was thinking, “clearing something up”. He is confident to have instilled a feeling of fear in Gollum and is more relaxed now, knowing he got through to him. Gollum, on the other hand, got another incentive to inflict pain and suffering on the unwanted Hobbit, for he will be “clearing something up” himself. 

Frodo is interested in knowing what Sam talked to Gollum, but his explanation soothes his mind. Sam does not want to put himself in a position where Frodo would have to choose between the two companions, for he knows it would not end well for him.

Moreover, Frodo does not need to know every little detail of Sam’s relationship with Gollum. Some things are better left unsaid. What Sam isn’t aware of are the lengths Gollum will go to, to discredit him in front of Frodo. But that is a story for another day. 

Let us see what Gandalf and Pippin have been up to in Minas Tirith. Follow me to my next post.

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

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