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It's obvious that the One Ring causes corruption in the wearer who is not Sauron.

What seems strange to me is that in the case of Sméagol, it caused more of a psychological break that gave him the whole Gollum persona; whereas in the case of Isildur, it simply corrupted him along the lines of morality.

What exactly did the One Ring do to Sméagol?

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  • It's worth noting that just as the power a person obtained by possessing the Ring was determined by that person's innate strength, the corruption the Ring wrought on a person also depended on that person's own characteristics. Smeagol was simply too small a person to achieve great corruption. (That was the saving grace of all the Hobbits. When your great lust is for dinner with a good pipe with a glass of Old Winyards, it's hard for the Ring to temp you towards world domination.)
    – Mark Olson
    May 6, 2022 at 16:28

4 Answers 4

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I don't have a reference to prove it, but I think your assumption is a reverse of what happened.

It wasn't the Ring's negative influence that gave rise to Gollum/Sméagol multiple personality.

It was the inherent Ring-resistance of hobbits (noted by Gandalf) that allowed the Sméagol persona to keep from being fully replaced by the morally corrupted Gollum one.

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  • So, in a sense, since Smeagol wasn't able to be corrupted himself, he had what we'd call a psychological break in order to deal with the corruption? This is similar, then, to what would have happened to Frodo ultimately if he had to bear the One Ring much longer? Nov 2, 2011 at 6:48
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    @TK Kocheran: Probably. He showed signs of psychosis and Megalomania: Frodo even anounced himself to be "Lord of the ring" when they finally arrive at Mount Doom. Nov 2, 2011 at 9:57
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    yes, from the description in the book (extracted from Gollum under torture by Gandalf) it is clear that the tendencies that made him Gollum rather than Smeagol were already present before he attained the ring, but were mostly latent.
    – jwenting
    Nov 2, 2011 at 14:10
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    "Gollum displays pervasive maladaptive behaviour that has been present since childhood with a persistent disease course. His odd interests and spiteful behaviour have led to difficulty in forming friendships and have caused distress to others. He fulfils seven of the nine criteria for schizoid personality disorder (ICD F60.1), and, if we must label Gollum's problems, we believe that this is the most likely diagnosis." - bmj.com/content/329/7480/…
    – Raven13
    Nov 2, 2011 at 20:27
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I think the effect is to corrupt slowly, but the actual effects will depend on the person/being who owns it. As time goes on, it seems that the hobbits realise the effect quite early on, and tend to resist the changes - Bilbo and Frodo both show this. Of course, with continued use/ownership, the corruption becomes more and more invasive.

In the case of Gollum/Sméagol, I think that the corruption affected both of them, but the psychological strain of resisting broke his mind, and gave the split personality. One personality succumbs more than the other, but they are both corrupted.

If Frodo or Bilbo had kept the ring for a lot longer, they would also have had their mind broken, although the precise effects would have depended on their own weaknesses. From the evidence, I suspect Bilbo would have become grumpy, possessive, paranoid. He would have been able to put on a pleasant public persona, but underneath that, he would have been very miserable. And this would have isolated him from everyone.

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Another possibility is that the amount of corruption caused by owning/wearing the Ring varied considerably; it seems like it depended on how close the Ring was to Sauron himself and how long it was since Isildur sliced it off his hand.

Sméagol murders Déagol immediately upon seeing the Ring. This does indicate he was somewhat broken already, no other hobbits or even humans reacted that violently that quickly.

But perhaps we can't blame Sméagol for the murder of his friend; the Ring was still full of malice and power so soon after Sauron's defeat that it rather quickly took care of Isildur, only to be found by Déagol. It was able to overwhelm the weaker mind of Sméagol, create Gollum, and hide itself away.

There is some talk in the books about the Ring being quiet while Gollum owned it. It took Sauron centuries to recover from losing it in the first place, so the Ring slept. When Sauron really started to try and find it, it woke up and slipped off Gollum's finger. But it did not subvert Bilbo after he found it - perhaps it was out of juice and Bilbo was not weak-minded enough.

Bilbo was very lucky that Sauron moved away from the Ring very soon after Bilbo found it. For a brief time Sauron was very close to it indeed (in Mirkwood) but perhaps his packing for Barad-dûr distracted him. When Frodo carried it nearer to Sauron it clearly grew more powerful. Frodo resisted as only hobbits could but as was noted above, succumbed at the very end.

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    I think there was supposed to be a long span of time between Isildur and Gollum. Nov 3, 2011 at 16:18
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Sméagol had the ring for a very long time and was living alone in a cave for centuries. I think that is why he was so crazy.

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