In the Lord of the Rings in the chapter "The Shadow of the Past", Gandalf explains to Frodo that Gollum was captured and interrogated by the enemy in Mordor. He then explains that later Aragorn captures Gollum after he was captured and held in Mordor. Later in the book it is suggested that Gollum was actually allowed to leave Mordor, but if that is the case, what is the motivation behind Sauron allowing him to leave? How does Sauron benefit from this?

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    Conversely, how does Sauron benefit from keeping him in Mordor? Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 23:15
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    A convenient snack for the fell beasts?
    – dlanod
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 6:27
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    Nobody wants to hold onto Gollum for too long. He'll eat all your fish and after a week or two he starts to stink up the place.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 15:19
  • @dlanod Gollum would probably fit the description of "fell meat" with which to nurse such beasts. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 21:07
  • Just because he’s a Dark Lord of Evil doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect due process. Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 18:41

3 Answers 3


There's not a great deal of information on this in the books. Orcs rescued Gollum from the Elves of Mirkwood, and the Orcs at Cirith Ungol admitted being told to let him go:

'[Gollum]'s been here before. Came out of Lugburz the first time, years ago, and we had word from High Up to let him pass.'

So Sauron presumably did have some plan for him.

We know that Aragorn believes Gollum remains fearful of Sauron:

'There is no doubt that he was tormented, and the fear of Sauron lies black on his heart.'

My personal suspicion was that Sauron knew Gollum's sole aim was to try to obtain the Ring, and Sauron was happy with that. After all, Gollum ventured into Mordor itself for precisely that reason. Sauron probably believed that Gollum was a better option than an Aragorn, Boromir, Elrond or Galadriel taking up the Ring and using it against him - that was always his assumption as to how the Ring would be used.

Gollum would obtain the Ring, hold it, and not use it to overthrow Sauron. Now that Sauron knew the Ring was still in Middle Earth, he could easily use his forces to hunt for Gollum in the types of places Gollum would hide. After all, those are also the places where Sauron's forces tended to reside.

  • In addition, the ring wanted to return to its master. Gollum would have been compelled by it to seek Sauron out. As an additional bonus, Gollum would have been a thorn in whoever possessed the ring as Gollum was good at sneaking and stealing things. And if said whoever killed Gollum for the ring, they would have fallen deeper into its clutches. Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 9:30
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    All good points, except "Gollum would have been compelled by it to seek Sauron out." Gollum held the Ring for centuries without being compelled to seek out Sauron.
    – dlanod
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 9:39
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    The ring was in hiding during the time it was in Gollum's possession. So was Sauron. Remember that no one knew that the Necromancer was in fact Sauron -- they all thought it was Khamul. Once Sauron was found out and driven from Dol Guldur, then he was no longer in hiding but by this time the ring had moved away from Gollum's reach -- probably trying to be found by an orc and not a Hobbit... Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 10:05

It's from Unfinished Tales, The Hunt for the Ring, the first paragraph:

Gollum was captured in Mordor in the year 3017 and taken to Barad-dûr, and there questioned and tormented. When he had learned what he could from him, Sauron released him and sent him forth again. He did not trust Gollum, for he divined something indomitable in him, which could not be overcome, even by the Shadow of Fear, except by destroying him. But Sauron perceived the depth of Gollum’s malice towards those that had ‘robbed’ him, and guessing that he would go in search of them to avenge himself, Sauron hoped that his spies would thus be led to the Ring.

  • A great find. Have a +1 (and a little something extra).
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 0:02
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    @Valorum - Why, thank you.
    – Lesser son
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 15:23

Sauron knew that Gollum would pursue the ring relentlessly, and that this would effectively function as a free service for Sauron. Once Gollum had the Ring it would only be a matter of time until Sauron got it off him as he did not have the strength to bend the ring to his will.

Here Sauron was just playing the long game.

Also, anyone attempting to use the ring to oppose Sauron would also have the loose cannon of Gollum to contend with which would, hopefully, make their job more difficult. Although this does kind of backfire, but only because of special items gifted by the elves otherwise Frodo would have been eaten by a spider.

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    "Kind of backfire?!" What would totally backfire look like?! Spoiler alert: Gollum destroys the Ring, and Sauron with it.
    – Lexible
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 18:46
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    @Lexible, I have been told I have the gift of understatement ;-)
    – Stefan
    Commented May 18, 2022 at 6:29

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