Frodo grows to pity Gollum over time. Is this pity caused by the Ring, for its own purposes, or would Frodo have pitied Gollum even if he wasn't the Ring-Bearer?

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    Into this Ring, he poured his compassion, his benevolence and his will to pity all life.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 21:15
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    @IanThompson "Frodo's pity was certainly not caused by the ring for its own purposes" I wouldn't be so sure. If Frodo doesn't pity Gollum and instead kills him, there is a greatly-reduced chance of conflict within the fellowship. Keeping Gollum around may mean more opportunities for the ring to slip away or make Frodo get caught. Sauron obviously doesn't pity Gollum, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't benefit from Frodo pitying him.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 5:02
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    @Ryan_L --- It seems very unlikely that the ring could have devised a plan that relied on a concept totally alien to Sauron. Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 16:56
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    @GreenAsJade --- That may be so, and it's certainly the way I interpreted the question when I first read it. However, a lot of the discussion below focuses on the clause 'caused by the ring' rather than 'for its own purposes'. Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 16:58
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    @Ryan_L --- Sauron is defeated because he cannot understand his enemies' plan. As Gandalf puts it '... the only measure he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts'. Admittedly I can't find a direct quote relating to pity or mercy, but the idea that the ring could use such traits to its advantage seems highly unlikely to me. Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 17:13

4 Answers 4


Was it caused by the Ring? Not really, but sort of.

Frodo is, by nature, a nice person. This is established as a basic fact of his personality, and that the Ring could get even Frodo of all people to lust for power (as shown right before it's destroyed in The Return of the King) is a testament to the Ring's sheer power.

It's worth keeping in mind, though, that Frodo didn't really meet Gollum until after Frodo had been the Ringbearer for a while. Frodo had presumably heard about Gollum from Bilbo's stories, and he obviously doesn't like him very much, as the quote that @DanielRoseman brings proves:

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

This conversation must have stuck in Frodo's head - after all, Gandalf was essentially telling him that Bilbo's pity for Gollum saved Bilbo from becoming just like Gollum.

And once Frodo actually meets Gollum, Frodo has been the Ringbearer for a while. He's had time to experience firsthand what the Ring does to you, and seen what it did to Bilbo (remember that scene in Rivendell?). Frodo can see just how Sméagol could have turned into Gollum, and how easy it would be for Frodo himself to follow the same path.

So yes - the Ring did indeed effect Frodo's pity for Gollum, because it allowed him to experience in part what Gollum was going through and how he wasn't all that different from Frodo himself.

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    I like this answer better because it touches on the empathy Frodo develops after holding the ring. I don't remember if it's in the book, but in the movie Frodo emphasizes that he has to know Gollum isn't beyond redemption.
    – Aww_Geez
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 14:38
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    Unfortunately the HNQ means the better answer has scored worse. This certainly the better answer and looks past a single quote and deeper into the story. Frodo's pity wasn't an effect of the ring directly, but his experience with the ring meant he could empathise with Smeagol and understood the struggle he went through.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 7:10
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    @Edlothiad -- Yes, empathy was in part efficiently caused by Frodo's experience as a Ring Bearer (presumably in conjunction with his conversation with Gandalf in Moria) but in the final analysis it was Frodo's character that moved him to pity; or not, as we see highlighted in user287095's answer. -- Nothing good can come from the One Ring, no matter the wielder.
    – user23715
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 21:03
  • @user23715, even at the end Frodo still pities Smeagol in the way Bilbo pitied Gollum 60+ years earlier. He doesn't slay him but spares him and sends him away. Even at the brink, just before the end Frodo shows him pity. This is in part due to his character, but also as stated due to their connection/empathy through the ring.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 11:05

I can't think why you would say it would be caused by the Ring. On the contrary, it's made clear throughout that Frodo's - and Bilbo's before him - pity is what saves them. Remember Frodo's and Gandalf's conversation in A Shadow From The Past:

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

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    Agreed. Sauron doesn't really do pity, so why should the ring? On the other hand, Frodo shows mercy to Saruman and Grima after the destruction of the ring, so it's clearly in his nature. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 8:37
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    Why the ring might cause Frodo to pity Gollum: I could imagine it thinking it has a better chance of getting back to Sauron if it was in Gollum's hands instead of Frodo's, and setting up an opportunity for Gollum to take it back by making Frodo feel empathy for him.
    – kwc
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 23:25
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    You seem to have completely missed the nail and hit your thumb. While your quote covers Bilbo's pity for Gollum it doesn't address Frodo in the slightest. The ring definitely affects Frodo's perception of Smeagol, and it changes as time with Smeagol and the ring. Not because the ring itself desires Frodo to pity Smeagol, but because Frodo can empathise with Smeagol's struggle without the ring and the effect it had on him.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 7:13
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    @Edlothiad I think from context that while Gandalf is describing Bilbo's actions, he is also suggesting what everyone else -- including Frodo -- should act like. In the end, this "fate" that rewards pity rewards everyone on Middle Earth, by making sure Gollum is alive to accidentally destroy the Ring when Frodo couldn't summon the will.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 19:06
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    "I can't think why you would say it would be caused by the Ring. " is a needless and asinine remark. I think it's a very insightful, intelligent thought to consider that the ring - who always wants to get back to its master - would influence Frodo to keep Gollum around. Please don't disregard peoples' questions like that. I have no clue how your answer has gotten this far with such an insulting opening sentence.
    – 8protons
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 16:45

I think there is textual evidence that the Ring not only was not the cause of Frodo’s pity but actually worked to undermine it. As Frodo gets closer to Mt Doom his burden becomes heavier and the Ring’s influence over him grows stronger, until it finally overcomes his will to destroy it. Just before this, Gollum betrays Frodo, breaking his oath to serve the master of the Precious. From Sam’s perspective on pp. 922:

Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire spoke a commanding voice.

‘Begone and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’

Frodo’s pity (and Bilbo’s) is the only thing which has spared Smeagol’s life up until this point. But on the slopes of Mt Doom, Frodo has become untouchable by pity, and nothing is preventing the Ring from spelling out Gollum’s doom.

  • I don't see any textual evidence that the Ring causes Frodo's pity. None is provided in this answer. What the provided text shows is that Frodo's (well justified) warning to Gollum spells doom for both Gollum and the Ring. Gollum does touch him again (biting off the finger with the Ring on it) and in doing so falls into the fire Ring in hand. The implication is that Frodo's persistent pity---and the nobility and justice in his use of commanding might in this critical moment where he claims the Ring---is in fact what saves him and undoes the Ring. Why would the Ring cause that?
    – dmedine
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 2:22

No. Rather, it was the plain Hobbit goodness that Gandalf saw in the Bagginses (indeed in all the Shire).

'there is a kind of power in the Shire, too'

Although, yes, Frodo does identify himself with Gollum due to their shared relationship with the Ring and this affords Frodo great sympathy with him.


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