Never judge a book by its cover. It has never been truer than in this scene. What we see in Gollum is a wretched, manipulative and dangerous creature, whose sole purpose in life is the possession of the Ring. Whilst that is true, there is more to him than meets the eye.
The scene of the Dead Marshes continues in the night, Frodo unable to sleep because of his fascination with the Ring, and Gollum awake for the same reason. The more similarities you find with someone you loathe, the angrier you are. Frodo had jumped to conclusions about Gollum before, and this pattern continues here.
Gollum: “So bright. So beautiful. Our precious.”
Frodo: “What did you say?”
Gollum: “Master should be resting. Master needs to keep up his strength.”
Frodo: “Who are you?”
Gollum: “Mustn`t ask us. Not its business.”
Frodo: “Gandalf told me you were one of the river-folk.”
Gollum: “Cold be heart and hand and bone. Cold be travelers far from home.”
Frodo: “He said your life was a sad story.”
Gollum: “They do not see what lies ahead. When Sun has failed and Moon is dead.”
As Frodo is irritated by Gollum`s mirroring his movement, he charges to confront him with information about himself. Gollum desperately tries to avoid and ignores Frodo by a limerick.
Why would Gollum deflect? Could it be he feels ashamed for not knowing his own story anymore? Selflessness? When it comes to the Ring, surely not. But, when it comes to his own life, plausible.
Long lost self
Frodo: “You were not so very different from a Hobbit once. Were you? Sméagol.”
Gollum: “What did you call me?”
Frodo: “That was your name once, wasn`t it? A long time ago.”
Gollum: “My name. Sméagol.”
As Frodo mentions him being one of the river-folk named Sméagol, Gollum`s expression changes from anger to confusion, as if knowing there is some truth in Frodo`s statement. However, he himself had forgotten it, like a long lost memory fighting to resurface.
But when he himself says his own name, for the first time in a very long time, a smile decorates his face. Gladness sweeps across his features as if he were given something very precious indeed.
Frodo`s confronting Gollum like he has, and being angry and irritated by him at the same time, might have an interesting motivation behind it. Since Gollum had touched upon his own feelings and beliefs earlier on, pinpointing Frodo to a tee, Frodo might have been thinking to give something back, to sting him back as Gollum did him. Tit for tat. A small spot of revenge.
Frodo might have tried to hurt Gollum with this information as Gollum had done to him, but as soon as Gollum acknowledged his own name with a mixture of sadness, disbelief, and pain in his eyes, Frodo`s intention changes. His face starts showing the pity he feels for this creature and empathy his eyes express with the tale of Gollum being confirmed like that.
Gollum`s emotions touch Frodo in a most unexpected way, leaving him feeling sad and possibly guilty for trying to pry into his life with an intention of hurting him, but what he found were genuine feelings being expressed by this unsuspecting creature.
Frodo`s motivation might also have been to clear his own doubts about himself. Namely, Gollum`s earlier remarks left Frodo wondering how Gollum could understand anyone and be that sure that Frodo knows what the Ring does to him.
Exploring Gollum`s character like that gave him a much-needed insight into his soul. He wanted Gollum to face his own history and admit to not having been different from Sam and him. However, with this mute admission, he came to a different type of conclusion, a much worse one.
Gollum really does know what Frodo is feeling and how his relationship with the Ring may begin to change. He isn`t talking nonsense, he genuinely knows himself in that way. Because that may be the only part of himself he knows.
Frodo does not like to be linked with any part of that, tries to come to a different conclusion about this creature, ultimately confirming his own doubts and fears, that he might turn out to be just like him. It is a painful thing to accept and admit to oneself, but it is true nevertheless.
I believe that Frodo also wanted to tear the walls that Gollum had put up around him, and find a sincere and genuine part of him. Find the person he used to be. Gollum cannot only be this wretched malicious creature. There has to be more to him.
This may be Frodo`s first attempt at seeing Gollum as someone who might be able to come back from this obsession. If there is a way for Gollum to change and remain only Sméagol than there is still hope for Frodo to return to his former life. Return to himself before the Ring took over.
The screech of obsession
As a Wraith flies over their heads on a fell beast, the screeching and its mere presence cripple Frodo with flashbacks of the stabbing on Weathertop. He can see the Witchkings face as clearly as they can smell the presence of the Ring. The terror and fear that the incident had on him, had not diminished and may never vanish.
The same thing happens as it did under the tree root on their way to Bree. His eyes roll back into his head and his fingers search for the Ring around his neck.
The Black Rider is calling for the Ring, and Frodo is almost helpless in answering his call. Sam notices this happening and takes his hand in his, with Frodo`s eyes widening in fear towards Sam. Sam`s simple “I`m here” is actually enough to save him in this particular instance.
All could have ended right then and there if Sam hadn`t intervened. Gollum looked on with sad eyes towards Frodo but he never reached for the Ring to stop him putting it on. He, as much as Frodo, doesn`t want the Black Rider finding it, and taking it for himself.
I believe Gollum`s inner world looks quite different from what he actually expressed – desire mixed with need covered in fear of the pain the Black Rider might inflict and the terror of him taking the Ring.
Meanwhile, the three hunters roam the woods of Fangorn, hoping to find their friends. What they actually find, is someone they thought they would never see again.
Featured photo by Ana Segota.