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Gollum first appears in The Hobbit, as a pitiful creature from whom Bilbo 'steals' the ring. From what I remember, there is no mention of his hobbithood. He's just a unique creature Bilbo finds.

Later in The Lord of the Rings (at least the movies; my memory of what I read of the books is shaky) he reappears when captured by Sauron's minions and questioned. It's here I remember him being revealed to be a hobbit.

It's been mentioned that Gollum survives the ring so long (I can't re-find the question now) partially due to his hobbithood. My question is, during the first writing of The Hobbit was he a hobbit, or was this 'retconned' in one of the edits Tolkien made so that The Hobbit was more of a prequel to his famous epic?

My main impetus is to gauge how far in advance did Tolkien plan Gollum's longevity, resistance to the ring, and whether he had planned the allegory between his and Frodo's fate at the hands of the ring (thus making Frodo sympathetic during The Lord of the Rings).

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    From my memory Gollum has never been a hobbit, though it's been some years since I last read the Lord of the Rings so I'm probably incorrect. My recollection is that he's a member of a race that is similar to hobbits. I don't have the books to hand right now, if anybody could provide a quote proving (or disproving) that Gollum was a hobbit that would be much appreciated. Oct 1 '12 at 13:20
  • @AnthonyGrist My memory also fails to prove or disprove his hobbitness, but I don't think it was said in so many words that he was not.
    – Mr Lister
    Oct 1 '12 at 13:49
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    He is a hobbit, but is of a different type from normal hobbit. He was an early ancestor of the Stoors (river folk.)lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Gollum
    – JMD
    Oct 1 '12 at 20:08
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    I had the same concerns and lotr.wikia.com is not necessarily always "canon" in its information and answer. I asked the question and got this answer: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/45628/10926. It seems the definitive info comes from Tale of Years. Nov 30 '13 at 0:28
  • 1
    @JMD the question is a meta one, about what Tolkien intended at the time he was writing The Hobbit, not the in-universe explanation that appears in the later LotR. Given your comment is highly up-voted, it seems people think it is useful, when it is not relevant to the question. Nov 27 '21 at 1:48
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+250

Gollum was probably not initially a hobbit, and is never explicitly described as such in any edition of The Hobbit. Tolkien decided that Gollum was a hobbit at some point early on during the writing of The Lord of the Rings.

In The Hobbit (the final edition, revised to better fit the unplanned sequel The Lord of the Rings), Gollum is introduced thus:

Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don't know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was Gollum — as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face.

The revisions of the Gollum chapter change his motivations, but not his physical appearance nor his backstory. We are told that

Riddles were all [Gollum] could think of. Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before the goblins came, and he was cut off from his friends far under under the mountains.

Gollum brought up memories of ages and ages and ages before, when he lived with his grandmother in a hole in a bank by a river (…)
Gollum remembered thieving from nests long ago, and sitting under the river bank teaching his grandmother, teaching his grandmother to suck—"Eggses!" he hissed.

None of this is conclusive one way or another. There's a theory that these details foreshadow Gollum's being a hobbit: his living in a hole, his familiarity with the same kind of riddles as Bilbo. Yet these characteristics could easily apply to all manner of fantastic creatures. In particular, the original Gollum was not corrupted by the Ring — since the original ring was just a bauble that made the wearer invisible.

Moving to out-of-story evidence, Christopher Tolkien's History of The Lord of the Rings discusses the early drafts of the Gandalf's account of the origins of the Ring and of Gollum (what would become parts of chapter 1 and chapter 2 of book 1). (Part 1: The Return of the Shadow, III: Of Gollum and the Ring.) In the earliest extant draft, Tolkien wrote: (Gandalf (or maybe Gildor, an Elf whose expository role would eventually become Gandalf's) speaks to Bingo, Bilbo's son, whose role would eventually become Frodo's.)

Do you remember Bilbo's storyof Gollum? We don't know where Gollum comes in — certainly not elf, nor goblin; he is probably not dwarf; we rather believe he really belongs to an ancient sort of hobbit.

A crossed-out sentence reads “Gollum I think some sort of distant kinsman of the goblin sort”.

A later draft is a lot closer to Gandalf's tale in the final version, though less furnished with details:

‘There aws long ago living by the bank of the stream a wise, cleverhanded and quietfooted family. I guess they were of hobbit-kind, or akin to the fathers of the fathers of the hobbits. The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Dígol.’
(…)
‘Gollum!’ said Bingo. ‘Do you mean that Gollum that Bilbo met? Is that his history? How very horrible and sad. I hate to think that he was connected with hobbits, however distantly.’
‘But that surely was plain from Bilbo's own account,’ said Gandalf. ‘It is the only thing that explains the events — or partly explains them. There was a lot in the background of both their minds and memories that was very similar — they understood one another really (if you think of it) better than hobbits ever understood dwarves, elves, or goblins.’

The final version isn't as assertive as to the premonitory quality of Gollum's similarities with Bilbo:

‘Gollum!’ cried Frodo. ‘Gollum? Do you mean that this is the very Gollum-creature that Bilbo met? How loathsome!’
‘I think it is a sad story,’ said the wizard, ‘and it might have happened to others, even to some hobbits that I have known.’
‘I can't believe that Gollum was connected with hobbits, however distantly,’ said Frodo with some heat. ‘What an abominable notion!’
‘It is true all the same,’ replied Gandalf. ‘About their origins, at any rate, I know more than hobbits do themselves. And even Bilbo's story suggests the kinship. There was a great deal in the background of their minds and memories that was very similar. They understood one another remarkably well, very much better than a hobbit would understand, say, a Dwarf, or an Orc, or even an Elf. Think of the riddles they both knew, for one thing.’
‘Yes,’ said Frodo. ‘Though other folks besides hobbits ask riddles, and of much the same sort. And hobbits don't cheat. Gollum meant to cheat all the time. (…)’

A few of Tolkien's collected letters touch on Gollum. Worth citing are:

  • Letter 25, to the editor of the ‘Observer’ (January 1938):

    And what about the Riddles? There is work to be done here on the sources and analogues. I should not be at all surprised to learn that both the hobbit and Gollum will find their claim to have invented any of them disallowed.

  • Letter 70, to Christopher Tolkien (May 1944)

    Gollum continues to develop into a most intriguing character.

  • Letter 109, to Stanley Unwin (July 1947)

    Nor is it Bilbo's actions, I think, that need explanation. The weakness is Gollum, and his action in offering the ring as a present. However, Gollum later becomes a prime character, and I do not rely on Gandalf to make his psychology intelligible. I hope it will come off, and Gandalf finally be revealed as perceptive rather than 'hard put to it'. Still I must bear this in mind, when I revise chapter II for press : I intend, in any case, to shorten it.

Also worth mentioning is letter 214, to A. C. Nunn. Mr Nunn was a reader who noticed that in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien states that Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays; yet Gollum received the Ring on his birthday and counted it as a birthday present. In his answer, Tolkien expounds on the birthday customs of the various branches of hobbits. The relevant fact here is that Sméagol was a Stoor. Stoors are one of the three races of Halflings (as Men call them), the other two being the Harfoots (to which the Shire-folk belong) and the Fallohides. The term “hobbit” originally was the Fallohides' and Stoors' name for Harfoots, and later came to encompass all Halflings (The Lord of the Rings, appendix F).

My reading of the evidence is that Gollum was originally meant to be just another mysterious fantasy creature. Early on in the writing of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien decided that Gollum was in fact a hobbit, or close thereto. In any case, Gollum absolutely is a hobbit in The Lord of the Rings; in the final version of The Hobbit, this is left unsaid, to be revealed in the sequel.

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  • the revisions of the Gollum chapter change his motivations, but not his physical appearance. Actually the revisions do change his physical appearance. As I show in my answer, the references to Gollum being "small" and having a "thin face" were all only added in the third edition.
    – ibid
    Nov 28 '21 at 0:46
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Just to clarify what some people have said in the comments: in the published version, certainly, Gollum was a Hobbit. The problem is that the evidence we have for this is from Gandalf, and he put it in a rather hard-to-understand way when explaining it to Frodo:

"I guess they were of hobbit-kind; akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors."

Most modern readers, seeing this, understand it to mean "I suppose they were something like Hobbits, a bit like the ancestors of your Stoors." But that's not what Tolkien meant at all. What he meant was much closer to "I deduce they were of the hobbit species: related to the ancestors of the Stoors."

I'm not aware of anything in the Hobbit itself that goes either way on this actual question, though. But it's worth noting that the main thing that changed in the rewriting of the Riddles in the Dark chapter is just how Bilbo came by the ring: the original has Gollum promising to give it to him as a present if he wins the game. The game itself was largely unchanged: and, as Gandalf points out, the fact that they both knew it, and most of the actual riddles, goes a long way towards indicating their shared background.

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  • So his hobbithood was never retconned?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Oct 1 '12 at 14:34
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    @Pureferret Depends what you mean by retconned. Tolkien wasn't explicit about it in The Hobbit, whereas he was in LotR, but there's no evidence of him originally thinking one thing and then changing his mind. Oct 1 '12 at 18:00
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    @DanielRoseman I do think he changed his mind as part of the retcon of the riddles scene, but it isn't completely clear-cut (see my answer for out-of-story evidence).
    – user56
    Oct 1 '12 at 23:06
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    Let's not mistake what it means to "retcon". If it wasn't previously established, it can't be retconned. Oct 2 '12 at 2:37
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    @spiceyokooko But that's not what Kind means at all in this context. The book is filled with examples of it meaning "species" or "race" - for example, in the Appendix, "Elrond chose to be of Elven-kind", "Elros chose to be of Man-kind"; these don't mean they chose to be *like" Elves or Men. More: "the kind of the Dwarves increases slowly", "Lúthien became mortal and was lost to Elven-kind", and so on, and so on. Dec 19 '12 at 7:37
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This is a great question, I hope I can do it some justice in trying to answer it.

My question is, during the first writing of the Hobbit was he a hobbit...

No he wasn't.

Tolkien wrote The Hobbit on 21st September 1937, 17 years before the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring which was first published on 29th July 1954.

Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings trilogy on encouragement from his publisher who wanted to continue the story that The Hobbit had started. The Hobbit was never considered a prequel to Lord of the Rings but the latter was considered a continuation of The Hobbit story, most specifically - the One Ring.

There was no mention in The Hobbit as to Gollum's previous form or race he was merely considered a strange creature that inhabited the small island at the centre of a lake at the roots of the Misty Mountains.

The only mention of Gollum ever being of Hobbit descent was in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was published 17 years after The Hobbit.

...or was this 'retconned' in one of the edits Tolkien made so that the Hobbit was more of a prequel to his famous epic?

Tolkien edited some parts of The Hobbit at later stages, but these edits were mostly to do with making the Lord of the Rings trilogy a more natural and logical continuation of the story.

The main revision was to the Chapter Riddles in the Dark, where Bilbo meets Gollum and play the game of riddle. In the original version, Gollum was less threatening and was quite happy to play the game of riddles with Bilbo with the One Ring as being the prize for correctly guessing the riddle. He was quite happy to offer the ring as the prize (whether he really did intend on giving it up is another matter) but was distressed to find that even when he lost the riddle game, he didn't have the One Ring. Because Bilbo had already found it.

Tolkien didn't feel that this fitted particularly well with the planned Lord of the Rings trilogy for the simple reason that a powerful and corrupting ring would not be offered up as a prize in a game of riddles quite so willingly. So he changed it to make Gollum more of a slave to the ring rather than the simple possessor of it.

Tolkien also made other smaller, minor changes to the Hobbit such as distances and travel times being consistent, he changed some of the foods being eaten, and changed the name for High Elves from Gnomes (from gnomis, the greek word for knowledge) due to the word Gnome having a different fantasy connotation.

My main impetus is to guage how far in advance did Tolkien plan Gollum's longevity, resistance to the ring...

I don't think Tolkien planned this in advance when writing The Hobbit. Gollum's longevity was a primary influence of having been a one time possessor of the One Ring. He wasn't any less influenced by its power as those of men given how desperate he was to have it back in his possession. I think we need to bear in mind that whilst Gollum may have begun life as a Stoor or Hobbit variant, he was quite a different creature when Bilbo first encountered him and subsequently Frodo et al. The power and evil of the One Ring had corrupted him and helped to turn him into the wretch he became.

...and whether he had planned the allegory between his and Frodos fate at the hands of the ring (thus making Frodo sympathetic during LotR).

I don't think this was planned at all, and any sympathy Frodo may have had for Gollum game from an understanding of how the One Ring had utterly corrupted him and turned him into the pathetic creature he'd become, rather than any shared historical kinship. Bear in mind, Frodo had direct understanding of how powerful the ring was and how it could so easily corrupt weak minds.

Reference

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I can't comment so hopefully this will changed in to one. In one of the Films Frodo says he was one of the river folk. As Daniel has pointed out these people were the Stoorish Hobbits. Who ultimately disappeared sometime during the Third Age. The stoorish hobbits more resembled men among the hobbits, they had larger hands and feet. Here is a wikipedia page describing these type of hobbit:

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Stoors

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    Wikipedia is a wiki, but not every wiki is Wikipedia. Nov 29 '21 at 2:23
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There seems to be a lot of confusion about Gollum's race. People read Gandalf's line "I guess they were of hobbit-kind" as meaning "they were something like hobbits" implying they weren't quite. That's not the case at all.

In LOTR, members of certain species are often referred to as belonging to "kinds". As such, elves like Arwen are called "elf kind", while dwarves are called "dwarf-kind." Likewise when someone refers to "hobbit kind" they mean they are of the Hobbit race, not that they are "like Hobbits." Another confusion comes from Gandalf's wording where he says "I guess" meaning he isn't sure. As JRR Tolkien himself stated in a letter answering a reader with the very same question, Gandalf was simply using "I guess" in the same way one would say "I deduce" but being humble about what knows, he simply says "I guess." But according to Tolkien, Gandalf is pretty clearly saying that he knows that Gollum's people were hobbits, specifically of the Stoor breed.

Also, in the appendices to LOTR at the end of Return of the King, Smeagol and Deagol are specifically identified as "Stoors". In the Prologue to Fellowship of the Ring, Stoors are identified as one of the three breeds of hobbits. Not ancestors to Hobbits or "Hobbit like beings". They are simply a breed of hobbit, nothing more, nothing less.

Based on the above, yes, Gollum is a hobbit. Or was a hobbit, if you are of the school of thought that says his possession of the ring corrupted him in body and mind beyond any earthly creature. But even in the later years, much of his character is attributed to his hobbit nature, such as his resilience and survival in possessing the ring rather than becoming a ghostly wraith, as well as his endurance of torture which, in one of the Unfinished Tales, Sauron puts down as being due to his "Halfling nature."

But yes, Gollum is a hobbit.

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Gollum was not originally a Hobbit.

As John Rateliff writes in The History of the Hobbit,

The most surprising difference, usually overlooked by the commentators, is that Gollum is clearly not a hobbit in the original – ‘I don’t know where he came from or who or what he was’ says the narrator, and there’s no reason not to think he speaks for the author here and take him at his word. It’s not clear from the manuscript text whether Gollum is one of the ‘original owners’ who predate the goblins, ‘still there in odd corners’ or one of the ‘other things’ that ‘sneaked in from outside’. But in either case, all the details of his description argue against his being of hobbitkin. Unlike Bilbo, the hobbit, Gollum is ‘dark as darkness’, with long fingers (p. 155), large webbed feet (p. 158) that flap when he walks (unlike the silent hobbit; cf. p. 161), and ‘long eyes’ (p. 161), huge and pale, that not only protrude ‘like telescopes’ but actually project light. Small wonder that early illustrators like Horus Engels depict a huge, monstrous creature rather than the small, emaciated figure Tolkien eventually envisioned. Not until he came to write the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, and forced himself to confront all the unanswered questions in The Hobbit that might be exploited for further adventures, did Tolkien have the inspiration to make Gollum a hobbit. He subsequently very skillfully inserted the new idea into the earlier book through the addition of small details in the initial description of the creature. Thus the readings in the third edition [1966], with the interpolations highlighted in italics:

‘Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature . . . as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face.

The History of the Hobbit - "The Gollum"

To summarize the textual evidence

  • The narrator implies that Gollum is a different race than Bilbo, saying "I don’t know where he came from or who or what he was", and differentiating the two by calling Bilbo "the Hobbit".
  • Gollum is physically described in ways that make him very different from Bilbo.
  • The descriptions of Gollum as being small were only added in later revisions.

So if Gollum wasn't a Hobbit then what was he?

In universe, as Rateliff noted, the original manuscript provided two possible explanations for Gollum.

And even in the tunnels and caves the goblins have made for themselves, there are other things living unbeknown, that have sneaked in from outside, and lie up in the dark. Also some of these caves go back ages before the coming of the goblins (who only widened them, and joined them up with passages), and the original owners were still there in odd corners.
The Hobbit - Chapter 5, original manuscript (Marquette 1/1/5), published in The History of the Hobbit

Out of universe though, Gollum likely predated The Hobbit, as there is evidence of Gollum, or at least Gollum-like characters, appearing in other Tolkien writings and family stories.

One final point that we should perhaps consider before moving on is whether or not Gollum in some form predated The Hobbit. Carpenter notes that one of the poems Tolkien wrote as part of the series ‘Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay’, titled ‘Glip’, described ‘a strange slimy creature who lives beneath the floor of a cave and has pale luminous eyes’ (Carpenter, page 106). Carpenter mistakenly dates this poem to the Leeds period (1920–1925/6), while Anderson, who prints the entire poem for the first time (DAA.119), assigns it to ‘around 1928’. Glip seems to be yet another example of something escaping out of family folklore into one of Tolkien’s books, like the Gaffer (cf. Mr. Bliss), the Dutch doll who became Tom Bombadil, the toy dog whose loss inspired Roverandom, or the teddy bears who helped inspire such figures as the three bears of Mr. Bliss, the North Polar Bear of the Father Christmas series, and of course Medwed/Beorn. The reverse is, of course, also equally possible: that Tolkien adapted a purely literary creation into the children’s bedtime stories. In either case, the character did become a private bogeyman for the Tolkien children: Michael Tolkien recalled in a 1975 radio interview how John Tolkien, the oldest brother, terrified his younger siblings by ‘playing Gollum’, creeping into their room at night, with twin torches (flashlights) for the monster’s shining eyes.

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The Annotated Hobbit (annotations by Douglas A. Anderson) identifies Gollum as being based on a creature called Glip, who Tolkien wrote about in his "Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay" around 1928.

Glip

Under the cliffs of Bimble Bay
     Is a little cave of stone
With wet walls of shining grey;
     And on the floor is a bone,
A white bone that is gnawed quite clean
     With sharp white teeth.
But inside nobody can be seen —
     He lives far underneath,
Under the floors, down a long hole
     Where the sea gurgles and sighs.
Glip is his name, as blind as a mole
     In his two round eyes
While daylight lasts; but when night falls
     With a pale gleam they shine
Like green jelly, and out he crawls
     All long and wet with slime
He slings through weeds at highwater mark
     To where the mermaid sings,
The wicked mermaid singing in the dark
     And threading golden rings
On wet hair; for many ships
     She draws to the rock to die.
And Glip listens, and quietly slips
     And lies in shadow by.
It is there that Glip steals his bones.
     He is a slimy little thing
Sneaking and crawling under fishy stones,
     And slinking home to sing
A gurgling song in his damp hole;
     But after the last light
There are darker and wickeder things that prowl
     On Bimble rocks at night.

Note the many resonances with The Hobbit's Gollum: the gnawed bones, the green glowing eyes, the golden rings, the gurgling voice, and so on. So Gollum was adapted from a non-hobbit creature the author had previously written about.

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  • This is some great extra info, but I'm not sure if it's enough to say that Douglas A. Anderson can 'prove' the creature in Glip and Gollum are the same (or that Glip wasn't meant to be some poor, twisted hobbit)
    – AncientSwordRage
    Feb 11 '19 at 13:24
  • @AncientSwordRage - Glip was written in 1928. Hobbits did not exist until 1929.
    – ibid
    Nov 26 '21 at 18:05
  • @ibid at least not in written form..?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Nov 26 '21 at 18:16
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    @AncientSwordRage - 1929 is really the earliest estimate, and until a few years ago the bulk of evidence had even pointed at 1930. Also should mention that Glip is dated by everyone except Anderson as 1920.
    – ibid
    Nov 26 '21 at 18:44

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