47

When talking to himself or talking to other people, Gollum likes to address himself as "we," e.g.: "we likes you".

There is only one Gollum, so why does Gollum talk as if there are many Gollums? And his grammar is wrong as well. There should be no verbs ending in an "s" after "we."

Is there any given reason for Gollum's nonstandard grammar and pronoun usage?

It seems that there are two different explanations. Either the "we" refers to the ring and Gollum, or the "we" refers to Sméagol and Gollum?

  • 25
    Have you seen the movie? It's pretty clear. – Darth Egregious Jun 22 '12 at 14:58
  • 1
    why don't you watch the movie? – Soup Jun 22 '12 at 20:28
  • 1
    @user973810, it is not as clear as it first seemed. Check the answer below, there is no consensus, yet – Graviton Jun 23 '12 at 0:47
  • 3
    30 upvotes on one answer sure looks like consensus. – Gabe Willard Jun 23 '12 at 3:03
  • 2
    @Graviton - See my answer below. The truth is, he has always spoken this way. It is just the way he is. There isn't a deeper explanation than that. – Wad Cheber May 20 '15 at 2:18
60

From the book The Two Towers, here's the Gollum/Sméagol dialogue. It's at the end of Book IV, Chapter 2, The Passage of the Marshes. I've modified it slightly to show just the speech, along with the name of the personality speaking, and I've emphasized the personal pronouns:

Sméagol: I don't know. I can't help it. Master's got it. Sméagol promised to help the master.
Gollum: Yes, yes, to help the master: the master of the Precious. But if we was master, then we could help ourselfs, yes, and still keep promises.
Sméagol: But Sméagol said he would be very very good. Nice hobbit! He took cruel rope off Sméagol's leg. He speaks nicely to me.
Gollum: Very very good, eh, my precious? Let's be good, good as fish, sweet one, but to ourselfs. Not hurt the nice hobbit, of course, no, no.
Sméagol: But the Precious holds the promise.
Gollum: Then take it, and let's hold it ourselfs! Then we shall be master, gollum. Make the other hobbit, the nasty suspicious hobbit, make him crawl, yes, gollum!

As you can see, "we" is used by the Gollum persona, and the Gollum persona is the one that constantly uses the "my precious" expression. The Sméagol persona uses I instead of we, and pretty decent grammar by comparison, and never uses the "my precious" affectation.

From the above dialogue, at first glance, it seems an open-and-shut case that the "we" refers to Gollum and Sméagol. But I don't think this is true.

The Gollum persona came about due to the influence of the ring, and constantly addresses the ring as "my precious", using "we" in conjunction with that. The above dialogue is a clear exception to the sort of thing we see in The Hobbit. Here's the longest extended monologue by Gollum from that book:

"It's no good going back there to search, no. We doesn't remember all the places we've visited. and it's no use. The Baggins has got it in its pocketses; the nassty noser has found it, we says."

"We guesses, precious, only guesses. We can't know till we find the nassty creature and squeezes it. But it doesn't know what the present can do, does it? It'll just keep it in its pocketses. It doesn't know, and it can't go far. It's lost itself, the nassty nosey thing. It doesn't know the way out. It said so."

"It said so, yes; but it's tricksy. It doesn't say what it means. It won't say what it's got in its pocketses. It knows. It knows a way in, it must know a way out, yes. It's off to the back-door. to the back-door, that's it."

"The goblins will catch it then. It can't get out that way, precious."

"Ssss, sss, gollum! Goblinses! Yes, but if it's got the present, our precious present, then goblinses will get it, gollum! They'll find it, they'll find out what it does. We shan't ever be safe again, never, gollum! One of the goblinses will put it on, and then no one will see him. He'll be there but not seen. Not even our clever eyeses will notice him; and he'll come creepsy and tricksy and catch us, gollum, gollum!"

"Then let's stop talking, precious, and make haste. If the Baggins has gone that way, we must go quick and see. Go! Not far now. Make haste!"

Notice that though we can posit two speakers, the grammar doesn't change. The term "precious" is used repeatedly by only one speaker, but the pronoun "we" is used by both. Other than the term "precious", there's no clear distinction between the two speakers as there is in the Gollum/Sméagol dialogue.

The Sméagol personality doesn't appear to have manifested itself for a long time, dozens or perhaps hundreds of years, until Frodo addressed Gollum by the name of Sméagol and briefly revived Gollum/Sméagol's memory of his old self.

Thus "we" refers to Gollum and the One Ring, and not to Gollum and Sméagol. The dialogue from The Two Towers is an exception to the rule.

  • 6
    This scene in the book seems to be less than common knowledge. A recent New York Times story peculiarly suggests that Fran Walsh thought up the scene herself: "Ms. Walsh...had a 'eureka moment...while working on 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' and suggested at the last minute that Gollum...should have a conversation with himself. The idea was to crystallize how different parts of his mind battle each other and the pain it causes him." – Kyralessa Dec 16 '12 at 6:32
  • 2
    Luckily the article can be also read to mean her eureka was that such a scene would be dramatically very fitting to the film - the quite non-obvious decision to include it from the book. But yes, the article's author could've been more clear. – Ilari Kajaste Mar 16 '13 at 8:25
  • 1
    Well, one could entertain that thought about any scene. But the scene takes place out loud in the book too. Sam overhears it. There's nothing amazing about her thinking it should be an audible dialogue; that's what it is in the book. – Kyralessa Mar 17 '13 at 13:48
  • 4
    I just checked: the first thing Smeagol says after Deagol finds the Ring is: "Give US that, Deagol, my love." There is no evidence to suggest that Smeagol didn't always speak this way. It isn't an uncommon manner of speech in the British Isles. I lived in Ireland for a while, and it wasn't unusual to hear someone in a pub say "Give us a pint, love". The person saying this might well be alone - in this context, "us" means "me". A British granny might tell her grandkids to "Give us a kiss". It isn't unusual in any way. – Wad Cheber May 19 '15 at 21:52
  • 1
    @WadCheber, perhaps the "we" was because Smeagol was already under the influence of the Ring; after all, he murdered his friend in order to take it. Or the "we" may have been how Gollum described the scene long afterwards, under questioning by Aragorn. – Kyralessa May 20 '15 at 13:38
52

He has a split personality - Gollum and Sméagol.

The ring warped the original nice hobbit Sméagol into the evil Gollum. The two different personalities are in conflict for control.

  • 3
    This is also why he argues with himself. – Gorchestopher H Jun 22 '12 at 13:43
  • 10
    +1 also, keep in mind that he doesn't talk to other people very much, thus his grammar has deteriorated notably. – KutuluMike Jun 22 '12 at 14:23
  • 7
    Also see Pureferret's answer: "we" also refers to the Ring. Gollum has problems telling himself and his "precious" apart. – Andres F. Jun 22 '12 at 14:36
  • 2
    @DVK If I recall correctly, yes it is supported in book canon. – jrg Jun 22 '12 at 19:38
  • 1
    @AndresF. - I'm not so sure. "Precious", uppercase "P" is consistently the Ring, "precious", lowercase "p" is consistently when Gollum is talking to himself. If there's a lowercase "p" in "precious" when Gollum says "we", the Ring isn't involved. – user8719 Jan 25 '14 at 1:54
17

It is because he has spent so long with the ring, and has listened to its dark whispers to the point that he has embodied it with personality and individuality. We refers the the ring and gollum.

I've just looked over some of the script, it appears Nim is right. Smeagol refers to himself and Gollum as 'we' for the most part, except near the end of this excerpt, where he slips and says me.

         SMEAGOL
       We must get the Precious. We must get it
       back.

                  GOLLUM
       Patience, patience, my love. First we must
       lead them to her.

                  SMEAGOL
       We lead them to the windy stairs.

                  GOLLUM
            (prompting)
       Yes, the stairs ... and then?

                    SMEAGOL
       Up, up, up, up the stairs we go . . . until
       we come to . . .
             (naughty excitement)
       ... the Tunnel!

                  GOLLUM
            (quiet)
       And when they go in, there's no coming out.
       She's always hungry, she always needs to
       feed. She must eat, all She gets is filthy
       Orcses.

                  SMEAGOL
       And they doesn't taste very nice, does
       they, Precious?               .

                  GOLLUM
            (sinister)
       No . . . not very nice at all, my love. She
       hungers for sweeter meats . . .

CLOSE ON: SAM . . . his EYES flicker OPEN . . .

                     GOLLUM (cont'd)
       "Hobbit meat." And when She throws away the
       bones and the empty clothes, then we will
       find it . . .

                  SMEAGOL
       And take it for Me!
                                                     (CONTINUED)

                                Final Revision - October, 2003 13
CONTINUED: (3)


                   GOLLUM
            (correcting)
      For us . . .

                 SMEAGOL
      Yes, we, we meant for us . . .
           (choking cough)
      Go Hum! Go Hum!

                 GOLLUM
           (sly)
      The Precious will be ours once the
      Hobbitses are dead!

Gollum on the other hand refers to the pair as 'us' throughout.

Again:

SMEAGOL (cont'd)
         Smeagol promised. You must believe us. It
         was the Precious - the Precious made us to
         do it.

Clearly if the Precious belonged to 'us', the sentence structure is wrong, even for Gollum/Smeagol.

However, one final thought. Even before touching the ring he calls out to Deagol:

SMEAGOL
       Give us that, Deagol, my love!

So perhaps it was just his manner of speech to begin with!

  • 4
    Source? I've always assumed it was between Gollum and Smeagol. – user606723 Jun 22 '12 at 15:06
  • 3
    the ring symbolizes the evil side of his personality, one in the same to me. – NimChimpsky Jun 22 '12 at 15:19
  • 2
    @user606723 I don't have a searchable version of either The Hobbit or LOTR with me, but I'm pretty sure Gollum talks to the Ring as if his "precious" was an interlocutor, and with him at all times. Will try to look for a source :) – Andres F. Jun 22 '12 at 18:41
  • 2
    I seem to recall a line something along the lines of "we hates hobbitses, doesn't we, precious?" – Christi Jun 22 '12 at 20:51
  • @Christi that's what I'm recalling too. – AncientSwordRage Jun 22 '12 at 22:11
5

It's a combination of
- the fact that Gollum is a split personality, and in some respects sees himself as more than one person.
- the fact that he views the Ring as an entity that is also part of himself, so can be referring to Gollum/the Ring.
- the "Royal We"; as the Keeper of the Ring, Gollum sees himself as special, almost regal, so in some ways speaks as Royalty would.

  • 1
    Problems: before he even touches the Ring, Smeagol says "Give US that, Deagol, my love." He has not developed split personalities yet, nor has he become intertwined with the Ring yet. He always spoke this way. – Wad Cheber May 20 '15 at 2:35
3

Some Key Points Missing

The current answers here have missed some key points that I believe help resolve a number of the questions regarding the plural pronoun uses.

"We" likely never references the Ring

Let me reproduce the same quote from the currently accepted answer that was used to make a case that "we" referred to the Ring from The Hobbit. I've bolded all the places where the Ring is being referenced and kept italics for the plural first person pronouns, then also highlighted the three times precious is used by itself.

"It's no good going back there to search, no. We doesn't remember all the places we've visited. and it's no use. The Baggins has got it in its pocketses; the nassty noser has found it, we says."

"We guesses, precious, only guesses. We can't know till we find the nassty creature and squeezes it. But it doesn't know what the present can do, does it? It'll just keep it in its pocketses. It doesn't know, and it can't go far. It's lost itself, the nassty nosey thing. It doesn't know the way out. It said so."

"It said so, yes; but it's tricksy. It doesn't say what it means. It won't say what it's got in its pocketses. It knows. It knows a way in, it must know a way out, yes. It's off to the back-door. To the back-door, that's it."

"The goblins will catch it then. It can't get out that way, precious."

"Ssss, sss, gollum! Goblinses! Yes, but if it's got the present, our precious present, then goblinses will get it, gollum! They'll find it, they'll find out what it does. We shan't ever be safe again, never, gollum! One of the goblinses will put it on, and then no one will see him. He'll be there but not seen. Not even our clever eyeses will notice him; and he'll come creepsy and tricksy and catch us, gollum, gollum!"

"Then let's stop talking, precious, and make haste. If the Baggins has gone that way, we must go quick and see. Go! Not far now. Make haste!"

A number of points show that "we" in this passage is never referencing the Ring.

  1. Clearly, Gollum refers to the Ring multiple times in the third person as "it" (x7) and "the present" (x2) and "precious present" (x1). Some of these are in the immediate context of using a "we" or "our."
  2. In the final paragraph noting the Ring, Gollum even is postulating that a goblin will get a hold of the Ring, and then says "We shan't ever be safe again" and "Not even our clever eyeses will notice him," which are both clearly indicating the plurals are referring to the split Sméagol/Gollum persona.
  3. Both sides of the split persona use the "we," as seen in the first two paragraphs of the exchange and the last two, each being a different speaker, but each using "we."
  4. The precious term here, when used as a nominative, is the special term of one side of the personality (Gollum) towards the other (Sméagol), though that is not as clear here as in later writings where it is clear Gollum uses that term. However, the last paragraph "Then let's stop talking, precious" clearly shows the "precious" is referring to the other personality by the inclusive "let's" and the fact that the Ring is not in his possession and has not been part of the conversation. The one use of "precious" as an adjective refers to the "present" of the Ring.

I won't go so far to say that "we" is never a reference to the Ring in Gollum's speech, as I have not examined all the cases. But clearly here it is not, and I think likely in most all cases, if not all, it is not.

The initial Sméagol use of "us" may be the first manifestation of the split

In multiple comments and his answer, Wad Cheber makes it clear he believes Sméagol always spoke with the plural. The key evidence he posits is:

It has nothing to do with split personalities or the Ring's effects on him. It seems that this is just the way he always spoke. Smeagol didn't have a split personality until after he took the Ring as his own. Yet when Deagol first finds the Ring, what are the first words out of Smeagol's mouth?

"Give us that, Deagol, my love," said Smeagol, over his friend's shoulder. '"Why?" said Deagol. '"Because it's my birthday, my love, and I wants it"...
- The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 2: "The Shadow of the Past"

But this is by no means an open and shut case. The following points indicate this may well be the initial manifestation of the split:

  1. Only once does he use the plural to reference himself, using "my" (x3) and "I" (x1) also in the passage.
  2. That initial "us" comes immediately upon the Ring's first influence upon Sméagol; the Ring is already drawing him (and Deagol) to covet it and keep it. This strongly indicates that the Ring's influence may indeed have something to do with the manifestation of "us" in the request. The Ring influences from a (short) distance, so Sméagol not yet having had possession of the Ring does not mean its influence is out of scope for this encounter.
  3. Sméagol was clearly of "weak" character, being quickly and easily influenced by the Ring to kill Deagol over it.

However, based on that passage alone, either Wad Chebar's view or the view here could be correct. But there is one more key Tolkien gives to his thoughts on this...

"I" is specifically noted as being used of Sméagol when in his "good" form

In The Two Towers we find this during the exchange when Sméagol is trying to convince Frodo to not go to the Black Gate (bold added; italics original):

Frodo felt a strange certainty that in this matter Gollum was for once not so far from the truth as might be suspected; that he had somehow found a way out of Mordor, and at least believed that it was by his own cunning. For one thing, he noted that Gollum used I, and that seemed usually to be a sign, on its rare appearances, that some remnants of old truth and sincerity were for the moment on top. But even if Gollum could be trusted on this point, Frodo did not forget the wiles of the Enemy. The 'escape' may have been allowed or arranged, and well known in the Dark Tower. And in any case Gollum was plainly keeping a good deal back. ("The Black Gate is Closed")

This last quote distinctly indicates that the plural reference was related to Sméagol's alternate persona having influence over him, since Frodo observed (and Tolkien thus hints through him) that the singular "I" manifested in those places when the Gollum persona had lost influence.

Conclusion

"We" is primarily, if not possibly exclusively, a Sméagol/Gollum reference; it is a habit brought about from the first influence of the Ring upon Sméagol, but manifested more and more as he became isolated from society and had only "himselfs" as company.

2

I can offer an out-of-universe answer AND an in-universe answer. The out-of-universe answer first: Anyone who lives in the British Isles can tell you that it is not uncommon to use terms like "us" and "we" to refer to oneself. Your wife might say "Give us a kiss" (meaning 'Give me a kiss'); a patron in a pub often says "Give us a pint of the black stuff" (meaning 'Give me a pint of Guinness').

Substituting "we" for "I" is less common, but not unheard of. The British monarch uses the "Royal We" in official speeches, as another answer mentioned. Commoners use it less frequently, but it still isn't completely unheard of. In a slightly different context, it is sometimes used in the states as well. I can recall the morning after I graduated from high school; I slept at my friend's house and woke up horribly hungover from drinking too much the night before. My friend's mother opened the curtains, saw me wince at the bright sunlight, and laughed, asking "How are we feeling today? A bit under the weather?" She wasn't hungover, so the "we" obviously meant "you".

Now for the in-universe answer:

It has nothing to do with split personalities or the Ring's effects on him. It seems that this is just the way he always spoke. Smeagol didn't have a split personality until after he took the Ring as his own. Yet when Deagol first finds the Ring, what are the first words out of Smeagol's mouth?

"Give us that, Deagol, my love," said Smeagol, over his friend's shoulder. '"Why?" said Deagol. '"Because it's my birthday, my love, and I wants it"...
- The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 2: "The Shadow of the Past"

This strongly suggests that this is simply the way Smeagol always spoke. It has nothing to do with split personalities, or with himself and the Ring being intertwined: he just talks like that, and he always did. Since the Shire is Tolkien's idealized vision of England before WWI, and people in Britain still speak this way on occasion, this isn't all that surprising. However, Gollum's habit of unnecessarily pluralizing words (I.e., "hobbitses") is very unusual; still, this quote supports the idea that he just talks like that and always has.

Someone else said in their answer that Gollum only uses the word "precious" to refer to the Ring- this is incorrect. He also refers to other things as "precious". You can tell when he is talking about the Ring because the "P" in "Precious" is capitalized. If the "p" is not capitalized, he is referring to something else as "precious". For example:

Now we can eat fish in peace. No, not in peace, precious. For Precious is lost; yes, lost.
-The Two Towers, Book IV, Chapter 6, "The Forbidden Pool".

enter image description here

Here, Gollum is alone, and speaking to himself. Therefore, "precious" refers to himself, and as always, "Precious" refers to the Ring. Tolkien had a habit of capitalizing words related to Sauron and/or the Ring. See also this quote from The Hobbit:

"...he always called himself "my precious"."
-The Hobbit, Chapter 5: "Riddles in the Dark"

In Lord of the Rings, "the enemy" refers to any opponents, while "the Enemy" always refers to Sauron. This passage also displays Gollum's penchant for unnecessarily pluralizing words - he says "We hates them" rather than "I/We hate them". There isn't a deeper explanation here - he speaks this way because this is the way he speaks. It really is that simple.

  • 3
    Sorry, but your out-of-world explanation doesn't hold up. Those are all well-known uses of the plural instead of the singular in very specific constructions, for very specific reasons. That's not at all the same as consistently using the plural for yourself—if it were, we wouldn't notice Gollum pluralising himself, because it would be natural. His pluralised use as Sméagol is the normal usage, not a Gollum usage. (And note that in your hangover example, we does not mean ‘I’ as it does with Gollum.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 20 '15 at 18:57
  • 1
    But the thing is, there is really nothing to suggest that he always did talk like that, unless there is some other quote that you have not mentioned. “Give us that, Déagol, my love” uses the plural in a commonly attested way in English, so it doesn’t prove (or, in my view, even imply) that Sméagol used the plural in uncommon and unidiomatic ways like Gollum does. This type of plural us is normally limited to indirect objects and is marked as lower-class, ‘rural’, or at least quaint, which fits perfectly with how Tolkien portrays the river people. Gollums plurals are just weird. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 20 '15 at 21:16
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet - I was wrong - the next line shows that he always did the weird unnecessary plurals thing too: '"Give us that, Deagol, my love," said Smeagol, over his friend's shoulder. '"Why?" said Deagol. '"Because it's my birthday, my love, and I wants it". Not "I want it", "I WANTS it". He was always a weirdo. Case closed. – Wad Cheber May 21 '15 at 23:30
  • 2
    +1 I think there is some merit to this idea. Even if it contradicts what I upvoted elsewhere. Let me salvage what I can, and assume this is maybe a bit of poor editing on Tolkien's part of his evolving characterization of Smeagol/Gollum? It always made sense to me that Gollum had trouble telling himself apart from the Ring, but I must concede you have a point here. It isn't as clear-cut as I thought, and in fact there is evidence Smeagol was always a "weirdo" :) – Andres F. May 22 '15 at 0:38
  • 2
    @WadCheber Actually, I just realised something regarding the Sméagol/Déagol scene: we don't know exactly what Gollum said there. Gandalf is the one telling the story to Frodo, and Gandalf only knows anything at all about what was said because he heard it from current-day (well, not current to us, but current to Gandalf and Frodo) Gollum; so it's not necessarily an accurate representation of what was said, much less how it was said. (Indeed, I doubt Gollum ever even cited the exact words—as Gandalf says, he's a liar who would not readily admit this truth, certainly not in detail.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 7 '15 at 17:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.