This question may be impossible to answer, but I am asking what Tolkien said about this issue, not what people think about it personally.

In the movies, Smeagol seems to be very different from Gollum. This difference is less concrete in the books (at least up to where I am now - The Passage of the Marshes in The Two Towers). Smeagol, generally speaking, is more human (for lack of a better word), obedient, considerate, and friendly, and at least appears to be less concerned with the Ring than Gollum is; Gollum is sneaky, malicious, dangerous, unpleasant, untrustworthy, and conniving, and cares only about his "precious".

The thought that sparked this question came from the scene in the films where Frodo hands Smeagol over to Faramir (albeit reluctantly and because he has no other choice). Gollum seizes on this to persuade Smeagol that he was right all along, and Frodo really was his enemy. Smeagol resists for a while, but eventually relents, and Gollum comes to the fore once more. This made me wonder what would have happened if Frodo hadn't appeared to betray Smeagol. Now I wonder whether the distinction between Smeagol and Gollum is as firm in the books as it is in the movies.

I am not concerned with which persona is stronger, nor with which persona wins in the end. Even if Smeagol is as trustworthy as he seems to be, surely the Ring will have its way sooner or later.

But for the time being, before the crucial "do or die" moment when they reach Mordor and Gollum/Smeagol is forced to choose between Frodo and the precious, was Smeagol truly different from Gollum? Were his intentions - however conditional and temporary they may have been - good? Of course, Gollum was always going to win in the end, but did Smeagol ever really intend to oppose him?

Did Smeagol ever care about Frodo as anything other than the guy who happened to have the Ring? Did Smeagol resent Gollum as he clearly does in the movies? Did Smeagol - even in part - want the Ring to be destroyed? When Smeagol saves Frodo's life, or protects him, is he doing so solely to protect the Ring, or is there a genuine concern for Frodo himself involved? In the Dead Marshes, when Sam hears Gollum and Smeagol arguing while Frodo sleeps, Smeagol initially refuses - quite adamantly - to even consider the possibility of hurting Frodo, and - surprisingly - even Gollum concurs:

Not hurt the nice hobbit, of course, no, no.

However, Gollum is more than willing to hurt Sam:

Make the other hobbit, the nasty suspicious hobbit, make him crawl, yes, gollum!

Smeagol has no problem with this; rather than objecting to the idea of hurting Sam, he merely checks to make sure Frodo won't be harmed. Gollum agrees that Frodo won't be hurt, then tries to undermine Smeagol's affection for Frodo. He points out that Frodo is a Baggins, and a Baggins stole the precious; even if Frodo wasn't the thief, he never tried to return the stolen property. Gollum insists that all Bagginses are the enemy. Again, Smeagol resists:

No, not this Baggins!

Gollum only gains ground when he changes the subject a bit, and gets Smeagol thinking about how wonderful it would be to have the precious back. He avoids the issue of how they could get the precious without hurting - probably killing - Frodo, and Smeagol takes the bait without noticing this omission. Gollum gently leads Smeagol along, painting pictures in his head of how great in will be to be reunited with the precious. Finally, he drops the bomb - they should bring Frodo and Sam to Shelob's lair and let her deal with the hobbits. Smeagol snaps out of his trance and recoils in horror - he still refuses to contemplate bringing the "nice hobbit" into harm's way. Frustrated, Gollum drops the subject, saying that perhaps it is too soon to kill off the hobbits; there the conversation ends.

So my question is this: Is the difference between Smeagol and Gollum as stark as it seems to be? Is there real conflict here? What did Tolkien say about this subject?

1 Answer 1


As with many things, Jackson took some dramatic liberties with the Sméagol/Gollum relationship. However, although I'm not able to find any evidence to suggest that there was true animosity between the personalities, Jackson was definitely closer to the mark than it seems.

Did Sméagol legitimately care about Frodo?

Yes, very much. Frodo was the first living thing in a very long time that was nice to him, and he responded to that. He says this explicitly in The Two Towers:

'But Sméagol said he would be very very good. Nice hobbit! [Frodo] took cruel rope off Sméagol's leg. He speaks nicely to me.'

The Two Towers Book IV Chapter 2: "The Passage of the Marshes"

Tolkien goes so far as to say that Frodo may have been able to redeem Sméagol; he says this a few times in his letters, for example in Letter 246 he says:

If [Sam] had understood better what was going on between Frodo and Gollum, things might have turned out differently in the end. For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes in II 323 ff. when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum's tone and aspect. 'Nothing, nothing', said Gollum softly. 'Nice master!'. His repentance is blighted and all Frodo's pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob's lair became inevitable.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 246: To Mrs. Eileen Elgar (Draft). September 1963

Did Sméagol at any point want to destroy the Ring?

Sort of. Frodo's influence was helping to nurture the Sméagol personality (although Sam ruined it, as noted above).

We obviously never get the opportunity to test how far Sméagol's loyalty to Frodo went (or how far it would have gone), but later in Letter 246 Tolkien engages in some speculation on the subject:

Sam could hardly have acted differently. (He did reach the point of pity at last (III 221-222) but for the good of Gollum too late.) If he had, what could then have happened? The course of the entry into Mordor and the struggle to reach Mount Doom would have been different, and so would the ending. The interest would have shifted to Gollum, I think, and the battle that would have gone on between his repentance and his new love on one side and the Ring. Though the love would have been strengthened daily it could not have wrested the mastery from the Ring. I think that in some queer twisted and pitiable way Gollum would have tried (not maybe with conscious design) to satisfy both. Certainly at some point not long before the end he would have stolen the Ring or taken it by violence (as he does in the actual Tale). But 'possession' satisfied, I think he would then have sacrificed himself for Frodo's sake and have voluntarily cast himself into the fiery abyss.

I think that an effect of his partial regeneration by love would have been a clearer vision when he claimed the Ring. He would have perceived the evil of Sauron, and suddenly realized that he could not use the Ring and had not the strength or stature to keep it in Sauron's despite: the only way to keep it and hurt Sauron was to destroy it and himself together – and in a flash he may have seen that this would also be the greatest service to Frodo.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 246: To Mrs. Eileen Elgar (Draft). September 1963

According to Tolkien, Sméagol didn't want to destroy the Ring per se; rather he wanted to keep it away from Sauron. Gollum would have accomplished this by just keeping it for himself, but the nurtured Sméagol personality, according to Tolkien, would have realized that this wouldn't work in the long run (and while standing deep inside Mordor, it wouldn't have worked in the short run either), and would have destroyed the Ring (and himself) with that goal in mind.

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    Wow. +1 again. This might be your best answer (to one of my questions) yet. You rock. I was under the impression that killing Deagol was Smeagol's first wicked deed, and that it was less his fault than it was a result of the Ring's corruptive effects upon him, which were particularly potent at that time because it had finally been found after centuries lying in the muck. I assumed he was always weak-willed, but not especially evil until he found his precious. Even then, I thought, he was evil because the Ring is evil, not because he himself is evil.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 1:50
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    @WadCheber I think the point isn't that he was "evil", but that he was weak; everyone would succumb to the Ring eventually, but Sméagol succumbed so quickly. In Gandalf's account of him in Fellowship, he goes from "inquisitive" to "murdering" in a matter of moments, and is exiled for being a twit in about seven years (according to the Appendices) Commented May 18, 2015 at 2:05
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    @Wad Cheber - I think your first interpretation is consistent with Tolkien's quoted statements--it seems to me that Tolkien was using "mean" not in the more common modern American sense of nasty or cruel, but in the other sense where "mean" is just intended to convey a lack of noble characteristics, someone petty and selfish but not actively evil; he might not have gone so far as to kill Deagol if not for the ring's amplifying his selfish, grasping qualities.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 3:09
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    @WadCheber You're right, I did misunderstand your question. Still, I think it's salvageable; Tolkien's letter touches on at least some of the points you ask about. Don't accept yet, but I think I can re-work this to fit more with what you were asking Commented May 22, 2015 at 0:03
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    @WadCheber Okay, I think that's closer to the mark Commented May 22, 2015 at 1:07

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