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It is easy to understand why he did not escape, as it would just bring him further away from the Precious, and the Hobbits would never trust him again after that.

It is also pretty easy to understand why he did not kill the Hobbits in their sleep, as it would be risky (the first might scream, waking up the other), and he did not fiercely hate Frodo specifically -- only Bilbo.

But why did he not carefully remove the Ring from Frodo and sneak off with it?

Yes, he had "promised on the Precious", but we all know how honorable he is, trying to kill Bilbo in his cave long ago even after promising to help him escape. And now he has been without his Precious for quite some time, gnawing on his mind constantly, unable to think of anything else to the point of stealthily following the Fellowship, and then just the Hobbits, for incredibly long distances.

Perhaps the explanation is simply that he "didn't dare to risk it" and "was waiting for a better opportunity", but what could be a better chance for him than both Hobbits fast asleep, exhausted, with him being awake near endless supplies of large and pointy rocks?

I also don't understand why he would lead them Mordor in the first place, having been tortured there and received no explanation whatsoever about the Hobbits' errand in such a place, with the Precious no less. It seems like the personality of Gollum, having been completely brainwashed by the Ring for so long, and desiring it more than anything, would have zero problems breaking his "oath", and could have easily justified doing so to himself in any number of ways.

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    This is a comment, since it's based only on my own head-canon, but I think part of the reason is that the Ring didn't want him to. The Ring wants to be wielded, preferably by Sauron, but really by anyone; it tempted Boromir, it tempted Sam, and in the end it even managed to get Frodo to try to claim it. Gollum is just going to take it and hide in a hole in the ground for another hundred years, which is not what the Ring wants.
    – DavidW
    Jun 10 at 17:46
  • Is this question based on the books? If so, have you finished reading all three books? Certainly the question about why he’s leading them to Mordor has at least one answer in the books. Jun 10 at 18:11
  • Yes. Books. Not the crappy movies. And I have read all the books several times. And what's with the downvotes?
    – C Lorenzo
    Jun 10 at 18:14

1 Answer 1

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The following things are true to a greater or lesser extent at various points in the timeline while Gollum is traveling with Frodo and Sam.

  • Gollum takes his oath on the ring seriously, and believes in the ring’s power to punish him for breaking it.
  • Gollum is conflicted and part of the non-corrupted Sméagol has come back to the surface and that part doesn’t want to kill or even have the ring.
  • Gollum knows that Sam doesn’t trust him and he doesn’t trust Sam. He can’t be 100% sure that Sam isn’t faking being asleep.
  • Gollum knows it’s a big risk to try to take the ring himself. If he accidentally wakes either of them, he probably will be killed.
  • Gollum has a plan. He remembers Shelob and knows that she is there and how to navigate her tunnels. His plan is to lead Frodo and Sam to Shelob and hope to find the ring among the clothes, etc., that Shelob casts away.

Not part of the answer but I expect the downvotes could be related to all of these things being made pretty clear in the books.

Less clear in the books but definitely alluded to are the facts that the ring has a will, and that there is some other will at work also. The ring is sticking with Frodo, or at least not betraying him. If Gollum got the ring back, he might hide again somewhere dark and deep for further centuries. The ring has been down that road and won’t likely make its way back to its master by betraying Frodo in favor of Gollum.

The other will is more mysterious, but seems to be working toward the ring’s destruction. Is it just luck that it was Bilbo who found the ring, and not an orc of the Misty Mountains, when the ring betrayed Gollum? Was it only Bilbo’s and Gandalf’s strength of will that made it possible for Bilbo to give it to Frodo? As much as the ring is trying to find its master, there seems to be something working against the ring and Sauron.

Neither of these wills would be helped by Gollum getting the ring, so if either or both of those forces exist, they would also be working to prevent that.


This passage (from The Two Towers, chapter 2, “The Passage of the Marshes”) alone seems enough to answer the question (this argument is between the two sides of Gollum/Sméagol):

‘Sméagol promised,’ said the first thought.

‘Yes, yes, my precious,’ came the answer, ‘we promised: to save our Precious, not to let Him have it – never. But it’s going to Him, yes, nearer every step. What’s the hobbit going to do with it, we wonders, yes we wonders.’

‘I don’t know. I can’t help it. Master’s got it. Sméagol promised to help the master.’

‘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.’

‘But Sméagol said he would be very very good. Nice hobbit! He took cruel rope off Sméagol’s leg. He speaks nicely to me.’

‘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.’

‘But the Precious holds the promise,’ the voice of Sméagol objected.

‘Then take it,’ said the other, ‘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!’

‘But not the nice hobbit?’

‘Oh no, not if it doesn’t please us. Still he’s a Baggins, my precious, yes, a Baggins. A Baggins stole it. He found it and he said nothing, nothing. We hates Bagginses.’

‘No, not this Baggins.’

‘Yes, every Baggins. All peoples that keep the Precious. We must have it!’

‘But He’ll see, He’ll know. He’ll take it from us!’

“He sees. He knows. He heard us make silly promises – against His orders, yes. Must take it. The Wraiths are searching. Must take it.’

‘Not for Him!’

‘No, sweet one. See, my precious: if we has it, then we can escape, even from Him, eh? Perhaps we grows very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Sméagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day, fresh from the sea. Most Precious Gollum! Must have it. We wants it, we wants it, we wants it!’

‘But there’s two of them. They’ll wake too quick and kill us,’ whined Sméagol in a last effort. ‘Not now. Not yet.’

‘We wants it! But’ – and here there was a long pause, as if a new thought had wakened. ‘Not yet, eh? Perhaps not. She might help. She might, yes.’

‘No, no! Not that way!’ wailed Sméagol.

‘Yes! We wants it! We wants it!’

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    Also, Frodo is the first person in a couple of centuries who has treated him decently. He is conflicted there (as your quoted monologue/dialogue shows) and can't make up his mind about if Frodo is a friend or an enemy. He can't make himself strangle Frodo in his sleep at least, why he comes up with the Shelob plan so that she'll do the dirty work for him.
    – Amarth
    Jun 10 at 19:33
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    The Shelob plan also have the property of actually helping the hobbits in the way they requested, basically - even if he omitts one detail about the passage when presenting this option. So that really minimizes the internal conflict of Gollum/Sméagol.
    – Frax
    Jun 11 at 16:31

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