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Gollum and Trauma

Apart from Frodo, the most traumatised character in The Lord of the Rings is no one else but Gollum. He possessed the One Ring for over 500 years, enough time for the power of the One Ring to corrupt him and traumatise his body and mind. Although, Gollum has never been at war but fought a war against the corruption of the One Ring for so long he shows all the signs of a traumatised soldier. His body is twisted, completely transformed into a creature unlike any other, like the body of a wounded soldier returning from the Great War. The most recognisable wound is his psychic status itself. Within Gollum’s body there are two personalities: Smeagol and Gollum. Smeagol, the curious and caring original character is in constant battle with Gollum the character that evolved during the possession of the Ring:

“ Gollum is also psychotic, driven mad by his obsession with the Ring. It is just here, however, that Tolkien’s modernity takes over, for Gollum’s madness is distinctly of the twentieth century rather than of the Middle Ages… Gollum is a case study, a textbook example of what the popular psychoanalytic terminology of the mid- twentieth century called a split or multiple personality, a schizophrenic. “ (Verlyn Flieger, Tolkien’s Wild Men from Medieval to Modern)

It is a mental illness that can occur after living through deeply traumatising or stressful events; in Gollum’s case, it was the intense and long exposure to the One Ring, constantly corrupting him with his power, making him blind to everything but the need and urge to possess this ultimate power. Therefore, above all, Gollum is not a villain within the story but a victim of Sauron and his warfare. This becomes most present when Gollum sees the two weakened hobbits asleep:

 “ The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired… Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee- but almost the touch was a caress. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

Here, Smeagol wins the interior battle against Gollum, not choosing to take advantage of the sleeping hobbits, but seeing something of himself in them:

 “ For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. “ (The Lord of the Rings)

In this moment Gandalf’s quote comes into force again “ there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured “ and, in fact, Gollum fits this category exactly. In this moment he becomes a shadow of the past, realising what life he has lost and could never gain back again. Like a soldier going to war, experiencing such horrors, there is no going back, being so traumatised that one is simply “ beyond his time, beyond friends and kin“ .


The One Ring and its power to corrupt and make its bearer believe that through warfare one can gain ultimate power, or in Gollum’s case, possessing the One Ring which gives him the belief of ultimate power, is the downfall of the One Ring itself. After all, as Shippey has pointed out “ absolute power corrupts absolutely “. The One Ring is the embodiment of this absolute power and if Sauron would have known about Shippey’s concept of power, he might have foreseen it coming. In the end, the downfall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring is brought by two corrupted victims of the One Ring. Like Saruman or the witch king, Frodo and Gollum become blind to everything around them. Consequently, Gollum falls with the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom and because the One Ring always corrupts absolutely, in the end it corrupted itself by breaking its own tools: Frodo and Gollum.

After the destruction of the One Ring, Frodo, a traumatised hobbit, is left behind, which brings this article back to the original quote “ some wounds cannot be wholly cured “. Nevertheless, in Frodo’s case there is some hope left. Trauma can be worked through somehow. It is also a typical coping mechanism of surviving soldiers, mentioned by Shay: healing through narrative:

 “ When a survivor creates fully realized narrative that brings together the shattered knowledge of what happened, the emotions that were aroused by the meanings of the events, and the bodily sensations that the physical events created, the survivor pieces back together the fragmentation of consciousness that trauma has caused. “

Before Frodo sails to Valinor, he is doing exactly that; he wrote down the entire story of the One Ring, and calls it The Lord of the Rings. Clearly, Frodo tried to cope with his experiences and trauma through writing it all down. He then told Sam that he does feel better, nevertheless, some wounds go so deep that they cannot be healed entirely, therefore, he must go beyond the sea. Something similar happened to Tolkien himself, as he wrote to his son, mentioned earlier, “in my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes. “ Of course, Tolkien had not the advantage like Frodo to live in a fantastic world and sail to the undying lands of Valinor, Tolkien had something better. He had the power of narrative and the power of imagination. He could create a world of magic, light and dark according to his own rules and therefore find a little bit of peace and escape from his trauma into his mind into the world of The Lord of the Rings.  

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