I am curious about the relationship between Smeagol's personality and his role in the story as either Smeagol or Gollum.

Here is the description of young Smeagol, as told by Gandalf to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring:

"The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Smeagol. He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunneled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on the trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward."

Of course, some of it is fairly self-explanatory. Smeagol liked tunneling and burrowing, and generally preferred the downward direction to upward - and Gollum hid for centuries in a cave. But Gandalf tells us more than that - namely, that Smeagol was an inquisitive creature who was interested in roots and beginnings.

Does this play into the story? Is there evidence of this in anything Gollum - or Smeagol - does? Or does this somewhat cryptic description boil down to him burrowing into a cave?

  • Isolating deeper and deeper into caves certainly could play into his interest in "roots and beginnings", which in turn enabled his severe avoidance of the outside world/others as well as fuel his obsession with "my precious".
    – iMerchant
    May 1, 2016 at 3:09
  • @iMerchant Not sure I see interest "in roots and beginnings" as strongly related to prolonged isolation in a cave. I suppose you could say that there are some tree roots under ground, but that seems really unsatisfying.
    – Misha R
    May 1, 2016 at 3:16
  • @MishaRosnach - I was thinking about how the deeper he digs, the older his surroundings become, closer to the "beginnings" of Middle Earth so to speak. As for the "roots", I view that as literal (Smeagol digging under tree roots, making forts/clubhouses/secret hiding places). I also view "roots" in a figurative sense as in he is rooting himself deep underground to keep the Ring and himself hidden. Of all the ring bearers, he is the only one to dig and burrow to keep the ring safe and secret.
    – iMerchant
    May 1, 2016 at 3:21
  • @iMerchant I dunno. It seems to relate to his personality as a digger and burrower - which Gandalf mentions as well - but not at all to his "interests." After all, he just dug in to escape, lodged himself in a cave with fish, and seems to have shown very little actual interest in any "beginnings" to be found there.
    – Misha R
    May 1, 2016 at 3:30
  • @MishaRosnach - I guess it depends on how you define "interest". Does it mean he enjoys spelunking? Or into rock tumbling, geodes, & pet rocks? I don't think Tolkien expounded on what he did in his free time after slapping some fish and ruminating on riddles.
    – iMerchant
    May 1, 2016 at 3:35

2 Answers 2


All I can think of is that Gollum is an astute student of history; during the trek through the Dead Marshes, he takes the role of loremaster, relating some tales of the Great Siege and the Battle of the Last Alliance:

The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago, yes, so they told him when Sméagol was young, when I was young before the Precious came. It was a great battle. Tall Men with long swords, and terrible Elves, and Orcses shrieking. They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates.

The Two Towers Book IV Chapter 2: "The Passage of the Marshes"

'The old fortress, very old, very horrible now. We used to hear tales from the South, when Sméagol was young, long ago. O yes. we used to tell lots of tales in the evening, sitting by the banks of the Great River, in the willow-lands, when the River was younger too, gollum, gollum.' He began to weep and mutter. The hobbits waited patiently.

'Tales out of the South,' Gollum went on again, `about the tall Men with the shining eyes, and their houses like hills of stone, and the silver crown of their King and his White Tree: wonderful tales. They built very tall towers, and one they raised was silver-white, and in it there was a stone like the Moon, and round it were great white walls. O yes, there were many tales about the Tower of the Moon.'

The Two Towers Book IV Chapter 3: "The Black Gate is Closed"

However, I hesitate to say this was a reflection on Gollum himself; by his own admission, these tales were told to him back when he was only Sméagol, merely remembered by him centuries later.

As far as I can tell, Sméagol's previous interest in "roots and beginnings" did not at all reflect in the Gollum personality, except that he liked to hang out in caves.

However, I can say with confidence that Gollum was still curious, at least about one thing:

"What iss he, my preciouss?" whispered Gollum (who always spoke to himself through never having anyone else to speak to). This is what he had come to find out, for he was not really very hungry at the moment, only curious


He was anxious to appear friendly, at any rate for the moment, and until he found out more about the sword and the hobbit, whether he was quite alone really, whether he was good to eat, and whether Gollum was really hungry.


After a while Gollum began to hiss with pleasure to himself: "Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?" He began to peer at Bilbo out of the darkness.

The Hobbit Chapter 5: "Riddles in the Dark"

  • Well he did surreptitiously observe the Fellowship from the mines of Moria to the Falls of Rauros. That smacks of curiosity.
    – iMerchant
    May 1, 2016 at 3:52
  • Yeah, it does fall somewhat under the curiosity category - and he does know a couple of things about history. I guess I was kind of hoping for a bit more; after all, anyone in his place would have been curious about Bilbo; he has some knowledge of history, but those interactions are few, and seem somehow minor within the story. We don't have much info on his personality - so I was thinking that there might be greater significance to what Gandalf said than just those couple of interactions. Especially since Galdalf's choice of words is oddly cryptic. Does address the question though, so +1.
    – Misha R
    May 1, 2016 at 4:08
  • ...It may be, however, that the reason he could guide them through all that stuff is because he had all that knowledge. And, perhaps, the reason he could trap them in Shelob's lair is because he was curious and insane enough to have explored it at some point.
    – Misha R
    May 1, 2016 at 4:13
  • @MishaRosnach It's possible. I've never been clear on why Gollum spent so much time flitting in and out of Mordor, but curiosity is as good a motivation as any May 1, 2016 at 4:14
  • @JasonBaker Curiosity plus, perhaps, the will of the ring itself. I doubt the ring would be pushing him towards Rivendell. And, if you're gonna be dropping by Mordor, might as well check out that crazy spider that lives in that cave. Especially if you have a good deal of self-hatred to go with all that curiosity.
    – Misha R
    May 1, 2016 at 4:19

There's another small peculiarity, the words roots and beginning are put together again here in Gandalf's description of Gollum to Frodo in Chapter 2 of The Fellowship.

It would be cool and shady under those mountains. The Sun could not watch me there. The roots of those mountains must be roots indeed; there must be great secrets buried there which have not been discovered since the beginning.

So maybe it's just put this explicitly as a self-contained setup for this thought, and to build up curiosity as his character trait.

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