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I was reading this question and I noticed Daniel Roseman's comment:

Point of clarification: Smeagol wasn't "hobbit-like", he was actually a hobbit. "I guess he was of hobbit-kind" means that he was of the same "kind"—i.e. race—as the hobbits that Frodo knew.

and further down Jon Purdy's comment:

Specifically, he was a Stoor, a variety of Hobbit that had an affinity with men—as opposed to a Harfoot or Fallohide, who shared characteristics with dwarves and elves, respectively.

So Sméagol was actually a Hobbit, just like Frodo and Sam. But where it takes quite some time before Frodo starts showing some signs of greed and corruption caused by the ring, it only takes a look at the ring for Sméagol to go completely mental and kill his brother. Sam has also seen the ring lots of times, and even kept it for a while, but he didn't try to choke Frodo during their trip.

Why did the ring have such a different effect on Sméagol?

Edit: Now that I'm thinking about it, Bilbo went a bit off the rails near the end, but he never actually hurt someone to protect his ring either.

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    possible duplicate of How did Sam remain unaffected by the ring's power?
    – phantom42
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:00
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    Specifically, Jack B Nimble's answer goes into this.
    – phantom42
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:01
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    Smeagol definitely didn't instantly go crazy and kill his brother. It made him a bit more jealous, and they got into a bit more of a fight than they normally would have, and Smeagol went a bit too far. Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:03
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    I suggest leaving this open, as it acknowledges that Frodo, Sam & Bilbo were affected, but is instead asking about the length of time taken to be affected; i.e what was so special or different about Smeagol that the Ring was able to get him instantly (the same would apply to Isildur - if it's a dupe it's more a dupe of this one than the suggested).
    – user8719
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:21
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    It may not happen in a journey of a decade, but sometimes you just want to choke your best friend.
    – Trollwut
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:09

6 Answers 6

66

This isn't supported in canon, but your question makes an underlying assumption that all hobbits are 100% the same, which I feel is not a correct assumption.

In reality, hobbits are humans (from JRRT's "storytelling" point of view, not in-universe-biological one). And one thing we know about humans is that 1-3% of them are sociopaths/psychopaths, who would gladly kill a person for a pretty ring even without the ring being Sauron's One Ring.

So, it's just as plausible to explain Sméagol's behavior by his innate negative qualities, as it is by the Ring somehow acting very differently on him than on Bagginses. This is reinforced by several different points from canon:

  • We know that the other Rings amplified their wearers' attributes, e.g. Dwarves' greed... so it's possible the One Ring amplified Sméagol's sociopathy.

    This was alluded to pretty explicitly by Tolkien himself. In a letter to Michael Straight (Letter 181), Tolkien writes:

    The domination of the Ring was too much for the mean soul of Sméagol. But he would have never had to endure it if he had not been a mean sort of thief before it crossed his path

  • We see the same existence of good/evil individual in Men in Tolkien, in general.

    Grima Wormtongue is one example. The Witch-king of Angmar another (even pre-Ring). Haradrim are considered evil though that's probably just pro-Elvish propaganda.

    • Or, hell, even in hobbits. Ted Sandyman and Lotho Sackville-Baggins are seen as bad hobbits.
  • We also see how the ring amplifies the natural negative qualities and behavior in everyone:

    • Humans: the lure of the Ring and its power affected Boromir vs. Faramir differently. Or Denethor (at a distance, natch) vs. Aragorn.

    • Even Wizards (Gandalf vs. Saruman, who wasn't even near the Ring)

  • The Ring didn't cause other heroes to murder either - it was seen, aside from Bagginses, by everyone at Council of Elrond; by Galadriel; and Samwise Gamgee didn't seem affected at all, even less so than Frodo.

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    Also, I remember references to Silmarillion saying that the future-Ringwraiths resisted the power of their rings according to their own goodness/willpower and varied at that. Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 22:28
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    "In reality, hobbits are humans" - How is this correct?
    – bobbyalex
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 5:25
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    @BobbyAlexander I can't seem to find it at the moment, but I read a quote that Hobbits are supposed to provide humans with a familiar reference point to get familiar with the story.
    – SBoss
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 8:46
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    @MaurycyZarzycki one issue is the notes for translators by Tolkien himself - stating all the hobbit-related names (places, things, surnames, etc) shouldn't be left alone/transliterated (as for elvish and other names) but replaced with native sounding names of local culture to invoke a feeling of home that the characters are leaving behind.
    – Peteris
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 15:27
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    @JMD - ask on Cognitive Psychi SE :) I'm not an expert. Could he? Guess so. Is there a VERY strong correllation between people who murder for material goods (especially small cheap ones) and psychopathy? Yes. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 21:30
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Gandalf himself hints at it when speaking of Bilbo:

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

Gandalf: “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.

So it seems that your motives when dealing with the Ring can moderate the effect the Ring has on you. Obviously Frodo's and Sam's motives were fair which explains the difference in the effects.

Edit: There is a section on the effect of the Ring and its relation to individual's character and motives in a study by David Harvey - "ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL - Study of the History, Symbolism and Meaning of the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth".

6

According to LotR, Sméagol was rather nasty before acquiring his "birthday present". Its acquisition made doing nasty stuff easier. After that, he had the Ring for much longer than a Hobbit lifetime, the better part of an age. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam were rather nice people before acquiring the ring and mostly stayed that way.

  • Of the three, Bilbo had it the longest and mostly used it to avoid bothersome people. Except for a desire to keep it, Bilbo seemed rather unaffected.

  • Frodo had it without using it for several years. On his trip to Mount Doom, he only wore it a time or two. Again, the effect on his personality was that he desired to keep it.

  • Sam, the one who had it the least of the three, was the only person to ever give it up without a fuss*.

Isildur did not live long enough for us to know whether he would have been corrupted by the Ring. He did not invent were-geld.

(*) I'm counting Gandalf's treating it like a hot potato as a fuss.

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  • "Except for a desire to keep it, Bilbo seemed rather unaffected", he also got depressed and bored with his social circle, It's mentioned somewhere that Bilbo had been staring at the ring for hours. he seemed rather disconnected from every day life at this point.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 10:48
  • @Kevin: When you're 110, see how you feel...
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 13:51
  • @Kevin Or when the new smartphone comes out... Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 20:12
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We should also keep in mind that all we know about that story was extracted from Sméagol himself, when Gandalf questioned him after captured by Aragorn. This information was bound to have lots of gaps in it. In particular, I much doubt he would have clearly told about the murder of Déagol — perhaps Sméagol (Slinker) first denied having anything to do with it, and then Gollum (Stinker) suddenly came out, evil-exaggeratingly, with the story that Gandalf later told Frodo. Perhaps he actually inferred the whole thing, with some assumptions of his own about the Ring's power. We don't know, in-universe, what actually happened; maybe Déagol's death was more accident than anything else and Sméagol took rather more blame on it than due.

2

When Sméagol found the One Ring, it was not long after it had been lost by Sauron himself, with only Isildur holding it for a very brief time, deciding not to destroy it. It was still strong with dark powers, and there immediately was a quarrel between him and one of his relatives for the ring. It was easy for the Ring to corrupt him rapidly.

For Bilbo, the Ring had been lying dormant for decades, and when he found it no one was around but himself. He kept it in his pocket most of the time and didn't come to realize its power right away.

For Frodo, the Ring had been in possession of his Uncle, a very unassuming and peaceful creature, and one who was very resistant to the Ring's power from the start. And it had been lying mostly dormant, since Bilbo hadn't much need for it in daily hobbit life.

And for Sam...well, he only used it once and very briefly, albeit deep in the heart of Mordor. His love for Frodo was impressively strong, he'd only had it for a few hours at most, and the natural resistance to ring-corruption hobbits have likely helped.

In each of these cases though, it was still very hard to give up the ring. For Bilbo, it took every ounce of Gandalf's cleverness and convincing to get him to part with it. And for Sam, it took his own steel reserves to hand it back to Frodo.

Sméagol was just unlucky - he found the ring when it was most powerful, was tempted early on to commit a very violent act, and did so, thus sealing his corruption. It's also implied early on by Gandalf, when talking about Gollum, that the type of 'Hobbit' he is/was isn't quite as peaceful a creature as Bilbo/Frodo/Sam. Which may have meant less resistance to the ring's corruption.

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    Where did the idea come from that the ring would lose power over time?
    – sbi
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 14:39
  • @sbi I'm not sure. It's implied that it remained dormant for a long time in Smeagol's posession, but that could be all it is - an implication, not a definite.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 15:01
  • Just FYI that wasn't Smeagol's actual brother it was one of his relatives. Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 15:16
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    Even if the "decays over time" theory had any canon support, it's based on flawed information. Deagol found the ring 2463 years after Isildur had taken it from Sauron, and Bilbo found it 478 years after that. How could the ring be at its "most powerful" at one but "dormant" at the other?
    – Plutor
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 16:52
  • 1
    @Zibbobz you mean Isildur? yes, he was warned about the dangers of the One, but chose to ignore those. Whether that means he was being corrupted by it or not I can't say, but at the time he'd never yet even touched the ring, the warnings came before he cut it from the hand of Sauron (and probably continued afterwards).
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 15:00
-1

It's not a case of the Ring affecting them differently. It affected them all in the same way. What was different is that Dèagol tried to take the Ring from Smèagol. By force, even! Whenever Frodo, or Bilbo, or even Sam gave up possession of the ring, they all did so voluntarily.

I can think of two scenarios when force was attempted (+1 where it succeeded):

  • When Boromir, at the foot of Amon Hen, tries to take the ring from Frodo by force. And
  • Before reaching the Sammath Naur, when Gollum appears and tries to take the ring from Frodo by force. Incidentally, this attempt was what shook Frodo out of his lethargic stupor, reviving his will enough to throw off Gollum and climb into the Sammath Naur.
  • Later, when Gollum renews his attack (inside the chamber) he wins possession of the Ring from Frodo, causing Frodo to kill him (was it by accident? Was it deliberate?).

There's a LOT of things that have already been mentioned, like Gandalf telling Frodo "Be sure he (Bilbo) took so little hurt from the evil of the and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so; with pity." There are many other good points to consider, such as the mischievous nature of Smèagol before ever finding the ring, etc... I shan't reproduce these here, since they're already on this page elsewhere. I just thought it important to point out that it was Dèagol trying to take the ring by force that caused Smèagol to kill him.

Also worth noting is that when climbing the Endless Stair, Frodo was convinced by Gollum that Sam wanted to take the Ring for himself. Just the thought of this caused Frodo to send Sam away. Perhaps if Sam had ACTUALLY tried to take the Ring by force, Frodo might have tried to kill him, just as Smèagol had killed Dèagol?

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    I believe you are confused. Déagol found the Ring and merely wouldn't give it up. Sméagol attacked and killed him; there's no evidence the Ring made Déagol violent.
    – DavidW
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 3:29
  • Frodo doesn't send Sam away in the book. Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 20:49
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    In the movie, maybe Gollum slipped accidentally, but in the book, he was clearly commanded to be cast into the fire for attacking Frodo again after attacking him on the way. "‘Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’" Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 13:31
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    @MichaelFoster --- In the book, Gollum fell into the Crack of Doom. He didn't jump in, and Frodo had no power to make him do so. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 16:00
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    @IanThompson The Ring made him fall in, after Frodo invoked it, according to the quote. I explain this further here. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 16:36

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