Inspired by this answer regarding the long-term effects of The One Ring: Sméagol possessed the ring for close to 500 years, and although he clearly didn't wear it constantly, it had some terrible effects on him. He was disfigured and incredibly old; elven rope burned him, and he found lembas to be disgusting; and his personality definitely changed. He was very obviously subservient to The Ring.

But despite the linked quote ("if the Ring overcomes you, you yourself become permanently invisible"), Gollum never became a wraith. I can hardly imagine a Ring having more power over someone than it did over him. What more would it take for someone to be "overcome" by it? Or is this another example of Hobbits' strength of heart? -- As Frodo was able to resist the Ring's influence until he came to the edge of the Cracks of Doom, so likewise Sméagol was able to be almost completely corrupted by The Ring yet remain corporeal?

  • Why didn't Gandalf, Galadrial, Cirdan, Elrond, and the various Dwarf Lords become wraiths either? If the nine rings for men corrupted them, why didn't the three and the seven do the same? Commented May 10, 2013 at 18:03
  • 4
    He did become a waif though... He became a "Ring-Waif"!
    – Möoz
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    @jacen.garriss the three rings of the Elves were forged in secret by Celebrimbor without Sauron's knowledge. Although he did still have some connection with them when he forged the One Ring, the Elves had the power of foresight and took them off. Dwarves are a creation by Aule, Sauron's former master and teacher, the Dwarves were created with deliberately strong minds and bodies, as such the extent of their corruption was to be more greedy for gold and jewels. Men and Elves are notoriously susceptible to corruption, hence Orcs and Wraiths.
    – John Bell
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 13:51
  • @JohnBell I don't think being tortured equates to being susceptible to corruption. It is true that Fëanor and those taking a certain oath could be considered corruptible but elves on a whole no. If they were then they'd have made their Three to have power/might (in various ways). Instead they were made to preserve (which is why they took Sauron's 'help' in the first place). Besides that Tolkien wasn't entirely sure that Orcs were from Elves: in some cases they embodied both elves and men. You're also neglecting that Eru made the Elves thus Aulë is somehow superior in wisdom wrt corruption?
    – Pryftan
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 22:42

5 Answers 5


Gollum avoided turning into a wraith by a combination of two factors:

  • He didn't use the Ring much, as DVK noted.

Gollum used to wear it first, till it tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it galled him; and now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock. ... And still sometimes he put it on, when he could not bear to be parted from it any longer, or when he was very, very hungry, and tired of fish. - The Hobbit

Gandalf confirmed that it was the act of wearing the Ring that causes mortals to become wraiths:

if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. - The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Gollum was also resistant to the Ring because he was of hobbit-kind, "akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors" according to Gandalf. Some Hobbits, also noted by Gandalf, can be "as tough as old tree-roots" and "would resist the Rings far longer than most of the Wise would believe."

The ring moves the wearer towards the spirit world when worn, whereas its other corrupting influences happen even when carried.

As you yourself noted, he didn't wear the ring all the time.

  • And of course, we have a question about why he didn't wear it all the time - doing so "tired him", presumably because it was dragging him into the spirit world.
    – Tacroy
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 21:48

The Ringwraiths [Nazgûl] are the nine humans (mortal men) who were given specific rings of power made by the Elven-smiths. It was the mortal men's lust for power and the domination of Sauron's Ring that corrupted them into wraiths. Gollum was not human. He's described as a fisher-folk and not unlike a hobbit. Because Gollum's race had simple desires and did not lust for power as men do his corruption was limited. Additionally holding Sauron's Ring he was not directly dominated by the dark wizard as the Nine were.

"Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."

"They were once Men. Great kings of Men. Then Sauron the Deceiver gave to them Nine Rings of Power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question. [...] One by one, falling into darkness. They are the Nazgûl. Ringwraiths, neither living nor dead." -Aragorn regarding the nine.

--- The Lord of The Rings (movie script)

  • But technically Aragorn didn't say that in the book... And of course the poem is more involved than that. I would say however that Gollum did desire power: but he was somewhat more resilient than Man. He also wearied of wearing it and not wearing it long enough is what made him not a wraith: in fact he was corrupted almost immediately because he murdered Déagol to obtain it (but it was the act of constant wearing that turned one into a wraith). This could have happened to Bilbo but Bilbo pitied Gollum.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 22:48

Note that the Dwarven ring-bearers did not become wraiths either. Sauron's schemes were not perfect. They worked very well on humans, not so well on dwarves and hobbits. Though, my take on it is that hobbits are much more closely related to humans and though Sméagol had more resistance than a man would have had, he was well on his way to becoming a wraith. He was wasting away. Think of a continuum of 1000 years, with the plump hobbit Sméagol on the far left, emaciated Gollum in the middle at 500 years, and a wraith on the far right.

Keep in mind also the Nazgûl were under the influence of the rings for many thousands of years, and we don't know how long it took for them finally dematerialize.


I think the pertinent quote is in the Silmarillion

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Úlairi, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death. — The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 346

So it's clear that the wraithing process takes a very long time and is dependant on the individual circumstances. Sméagol would have been helped by his "hobbitness" and not wearing the ring constantly but hindered by his murder of Deagol.

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