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Is this accurate? While the Ring is definitely something he desired and wore to become invisible occasionally, he did not particularly want to wear it.

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    @releseabe Is your question meant to be based on the movies (if so which), books, or the entirety of the Tolkien-related body of work? You might consider adding (and reading) the tolkiens-legendarium tag and any movie tags if that is your expected source.
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 13, 2023 at 14:23

4 Answers 4

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Clearly he wanted possession of the Ring -- lust for his Precious devoured him. So the question here is how much he wanted to wear it. Let's look at the evidence:

As it turns out there isn't much! During the entire LotR, Gollum has the Ring only for a few seconds:

Frodo gave a cry, and there he was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm's edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle. It shone now as if verily it was wrought of living fire.

'Precious, precious, precious!' Gollum cried. 'My Precious! O my Precious!' And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.

Note that while he held the ring, he does not seem to have worn it. But was this five seconds? Ten? It's hard to say, but it wasn't long.

Also in LotR Gandalf narrates the history of the Ring. The relevant section of Gollum's part was

'...But Sméagol returned alone; and he found that none of his family could see him, when he was wearing the ring. He was very pleased with his discovery and he concealed it; and he used it to find out secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses. He became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was hurtful. The ring had given him power according to his stature. It is not to be wondered at that he became very unpopular and was shunned (when visible) by all his relations. ...

... He caught fish in deep pools with invisible fingers and ate them raw.

So initially he wore the Ring some of the time.

He certainly did not wear it all the time:

Gollum used to wear it at first, till it tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it galled him; and now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock on his island, and was always going back to look at it. And still sometimes he put it on, when he could not bear to be parted from it any longer, or when he was very, very, hungry, and tired of fish. Then he would creep along dark passages looking for stray goblins. He might even venture into places where the torches were lit and made his eyes blink and smart; for he would be safe. Oh yes, quite safe. No one would see him, no one would notice him, till he had his fingers on their throat. Only a few hours ago he had worn it, and caught a small goblin-imp. How it squeaked! He still had a bone or two left to gnaw, but he wanted something softer.

I find it hard to make the comment "until it galled him" match what we learn in LotR, though.

Gandalf goes on to make some comments which may be relevant:

'A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to someone else's care - and that only at an early stage, when it first begins to grip. But as far as I know Bilbo alone in history has ever gone beyond playing, and really done it. He needed all my help, too. And even so he would never have just forsaken it, or cast it aside. It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him.'

'What, just in time to meet Bilbo?' said Frodo. 'Wouldn't an Orc have suited it better?'

'It is no laughing matter,' said Gandalf. 'Not for you. It was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far: Bilbo's arrival just at that time, and putting his hand on it, blindly, in the dark.

Is it possible that Gandalf is suggesting that Gollum's leaving of the Ring where Bilbo found it was not because he did not desire to wear it, but because Iluvatar intended the Ring to go to Bilbo? If so, the implication from The Hobbit that Gollum did not always wear the Ring may not been of his own doing.

It seems clear from the evidence that Gollum did not feel a compulsion to wear the Ring at all times, but the evidence is not there to suggest he didn't care.

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    One meaning of the word "gall" is to chafe via friction. I wonder if JRRT meant that, that this miserable ring, although smooth still felt rough. That sounds magical, for something to appear to be made of shiny and smooth gold and yet chafe like something roughly made, even through a clothe or leather pouch.
    – releseabe
    Jan 13, 2023 at 3:18
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    @releseabe re what you wrote, see scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/271130/… for my take on it
    – user213769
    Jan 13, 2023 at 13:46
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Somewhat

Tolkien does say that Gollum found the ring to be "tiring" to wear all the time, and "galling" to keep on him all the time.

But Gollum was still willing to use it whenever he was hungry.

“My birthday-present! It came to me on my birthday, my precious.” So he had always said to himself. But who knows how Gollum came by that present, ages ago in the old days when such rings were still at large in the world? Perhaps even the Master who ruled them could not have said. Gollum used to wear it at first, till it tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it galled him; and now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock on his island, and was always going back to look at it. And still sometimes he put it on, when he could not bear to be parted from it any longer, or when he was very, very, hungry, and tired of fish. Then he would creep along dark passages looking for stray goblins. He might even venture into places where the torches were lit and made his eyes blink and smart; for he would be safe. Oh yes, quite safe. No one would see him, no one would notice him, till he had his fingers on their throat. Only a few hours ago he had worn it, and caught a small goblinimp. How it squeaked! He still had a bone or two left to gnaw, but he wanted something softer.
The Hobbit - Chapter 5 - "Riddles in the Dark" - 1951 Second Edition

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf also says that Gollum hated the Ring and seldom used it.

Gandalf sighed. ‘Alas! there is little hope of that for him. Yet not no hope. No, not though he possessed the Ring so long, almost as far back as he can remember. For it was long since he had worn it much: in the black darkness it was seldom needed. Certainly he had never “faded”. He is thin and tough still. But the thing was eating up his mind, of course, and the torment had become almost unbearable.
‘All the “great secrets” under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering. He was altogether wretched. He hated the dark, and he hated light more: he hated everything, and the Ring most of all.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Frodo. ‘Surely the Ring was his Precious and the only thing he cared for? But if he hated it, why didn’t he get rid of it, or go away and leave it?’
‘You ought to begin to understand, Frodo, after all you have heard,’ said Gandalf. ‘He hated it and loved it, as he hated and loved himself. He could not get rid of it. He had no will left in the matter.
The Lord of the Rings - Book I, Chapter 2 - "The Shadow of the Past"

It should be noted though that this idea was not present in The Hobbit as originally published, as Tolkien only conceived of the Ring this way while writing The Lord of the Rings. The first quote given above was from the Second Edition of The Hobbit. In the First Edition no mention is made of Gollum disliking the ring and that first passage went as follows:

Bilbo turned round and waited, wondering what it could be that the creature was making such a fuss about. This proved very fortunate afterwards. For Gollum came back and made a tremendous spluttering and whispering and croaking; and in the end Bilbo gathered that Gollum had had a ring — a wonderful, beautiful ring, a ring that he had been given for a birthday present, ages and ages before in old days when such rings were less uncommon. Sometimes he had it in his pocket; usually he kept it in a little hole in the rock on his island; sometimes he wore it — when he was very, very hungry, and tired of fish, and crept along dark passages looking for stray goblins. Then he might venture even into places where the torches were lit and made his eyes blink and smart; but he would be safe. O yes! very nearly safe; for if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow, and that was a faint and shaky sort of shadow.
The Hobbit - Chapter 5 - "Riddles in the Dark" - 1937 First Edition

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    Presumably this edit was made after LotR was taking form and the Ring became something more than just the neat little magical trinket in a children's story it began as. I don't think the concept of the Rings and their connection to Sauron with his corrupting influence were even considered back when The Hobbit was originally written. Jan 13, 2023 at 14:56
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    @DarrelHoffman - In the first edition Gollum was planning to give Bilbo the ring if he won, and then when unable to find it, showed him the way out instead. When Tolkien rewrote the chapter for the second edition to bring it more in line with LotR, he adopted the in-universe explanation that the first edition was what Bilbo told everyone and the second edition was what actually happened. This is referenced in the LotR prologue, which was written assuming lots of readers at the time would still be more familiar with the first edition of the Hobbit.
    – ibid
    Jan 13, 2023 at 19:35
  • when u say "happy" to use it, that does not mean he enjoyed wearing it but rather the unpleasantness of wearing it was outweighed by the results. it is really quite creepy that JRRT describes Gollum preferring to eat goblin young over fish, perhaps further effects of the Ring.
    – releseabe
    Jan 14, 2023 at 19:26
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    I just realised that Gollum's relation with the ring closely resembles a drug addiction. Not sure why I never picked up on that before.
    – Kevin
    Jan 15, 2023 at 9:51
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    @Kevin In The Road to Middle-Earth Tom Shippey says that "Addictive" is the best term to describe the Ring's effect, not just on Gollum but on everyone. He defends this idea at some length. Jan 16, 2023 at 2:21
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According to The Hobbit, that seems to be correct. After having possessed the Ring for a long time, Gollum typically preferred not to wear it when he did not have to.

And he was a miserable wicked creature, and already he had a plan. Not far away was his island, of which Bilbo knew nothing, and there in his hiding-place he kept a few wretched oddments, and one very beautiful thing, very beautiful, very wonderful. He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.

"My birthday-present!" he whispered to himself, as he had often done in the endless dark days. "That's what we wants now, yes; we wants it!" He wanted it because it was a ring of power, and if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the full sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow, and that would be shaky and faint. "My birthday-present! It came to me on my birthday, my precious," So he had always said to himself. But who knows how Gollum came by that present, ages ago in the old days when such rings were still at large in the world? Perhaps even the Master who ruled them could not have said. Gollum used to wear it at first, till it tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it galled him; and now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock on his island, and was always going back to look at it. And still sometimes he put it on, when he could not bear to be parted from it any longer, or when he was very, very, hungry, and tired of fish. Then he would creep along dark passages looking for stray goblins. He might even venture into places where the torches were lit and made his eyes blink and smart; for he would be safe. Oh yes, quite safe. No one would see him, no one would notice him, till he had his fingers on their throat. Only a few hours ago he had worn it, and caught a small goblin-imp. How it squeaked! He still had a bone or two left to gnaw, but he wanted something softer.

"Quite safe, yes," he whispered to himself. "It won't see us, will it, my precious? No. It won't see us, and its nassty little sword will be useless, yes quite."

Why precisely the Ring (or the acts of first wearing, then carrying it) "tired" or "galled" him are not spelled out, but those feelings must arise out of Gollum's profound love-hate relationship with the Ring. He was obsessed with it, but it appears that much of the time he preferred not to wear it, or even to have it on his person. However, there were also times when his obsession was such that he could not bear not to wear it. Had Gollum recovered the Ring from Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, he probably would have intended to carry on in a similar fashion to what he had done before—keeping the Ring, but most of the time not wearing it.

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    correct me if I'm wrong, but for me it's not clearly the Ring that "tired" or "galled" him here. Taking the quote literally, I'd read it like this: Gollum used to wear it at first, till it [wearing the ring] tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it [keeping the pouch, i.e. the pouch itself] galled him - while with wearing the connection is quite obvious (wearing the Ring tired him because the Ring was causing it directly), with keeping it in pouch it's said in a less obvious way, intentionally by JRR I'd say. JRR narrated it as if the pouch galled him, but (...)
    – user213769
    Jan 13, 2023 at 13:42
  • (cont.) it was the Ring's influence and the twisted history of Ring and Gollum together that made Gollum feel that galling at all. I'm not saying that saying that "the Ring galled him" is wrong - I'd just say that the wording here is quite likely intended to be ambiguous for the reader, to not highlight the actual dire nature of the Gollum-Ring relationship at this point in the story, because it would make the Gollum's end less climactic. At least that's how I read it.
    – user213769
    Jan 13, 2023 at 13:42
  • I would expect Tolkien to use "that" to refer to the actions of wearing or keeping in a pouch, rather than "it", since he then continues to use "it" after the semicolon to refer to the ring, after using "it" twice to refer to the ring as something Gollum was wearing/carrying. (Try it: "Gollum used to wear it at first, till that tired him", etc) Jan 15, 2023 at 9:49
  • @DavidRoberts I'm not saying no, but "that" would remove the ambiguity IMO, and Gollum (which is the sub-narrator here) doesn't care for grammar. The "it" here is used like a chorus, but the verbs attached to it would make little sense literally - "How it squeaked!" - the goblin, or the Ring? "It won't see us, will it" - the "it" here is used as a quote from Gollum, a quote from his thoughts, and those are quite unarranged and somewhat unhinged, wouldn't you say? You have "it" here for both a goblin, Bilbo, the Ring... "we wants it" is not exactly standard BE also :D
    – user213769
    Jan 18, 2023 at 16:09
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Rather than talking about what Gollum wanted, it may be more accurate to say that the Ring had utterly enslaved Gollum, and he did what it wanted.

As Gandalf tells Frodo,

It was the Ring itself that decided things...[Gollum] had no will left in the matter.

–Shadow of the Past (Book I)

For a while during LOTR, it served the Ring's purpose that Gollum was drawn to pursue it and would most likely expose the hobbits or steal it and then get captured. Sauron knew this, and may even have used a spell to enhance Gollum's pathological attraction to the Ring when he interrogated and manipulated him.

The only time Gollum's addiction to the Ring went against the Ring's/Sauron's interests is at the very end, when he steals it from Frodo and falls. Perhaps this was an unintended result, and serves an example of Evil becoming its own undoing, as is a common theme.

As for Gollum's changing preference for wearing the Ring, this may also be due to the Ring's shifting purposes. When Gollum first found it, it seemed to benefit the Ring that he and itself remain hidden from the Elves, the Istari, or any other rivals who might seek to gain control of it with Sauron out of the picture. After Sauron grew in power again (which the Ring sensed), it makes sense that the Ring would impel Gollum away from wearing it – to increase the likelihood of being discovered.

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