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In The Hobbit (the book and the movies), we meet our old friend Gollum again. But there is something strange about him. He doesn't remember what his own people (i.e., hobbits) are called, or even what they looked like, and doesn't seem to remember being a hobbit himself (when Bilbo appears and identifies himself as a hobbit, Gollum only wants to know if hobbitses are "crunchable" and "juicy").

On its own, this would not be very surprising; after all, in The Return of the King (the movie, not the book), he says that he even forgot his own name during his long stay under the mountains. But in The Hobbit, we see that he remembers a fairly large number of riddles, which is very surprising: he has no one to tell his riddles to, and no one to teach him new ones. He also remembers a good deal of lore in LotR. And obviously, one's own name and species are more important things to remember than riddles and lore.

Is there any reason for Gollum's incredibly selective memory?

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    Well no, I meant the out-of-universe answer was that Gollum wasn't a hobbit when The Hobbit was first written, and maybe something about why Tolkien never bothered to change that bit – Jason Baker Jun 14 '15 at 5:30
  • Do we know that he wasn't a hobbit? I don't recall reading anything to that effect. Gollum was just some weird dude who lived in a cave, ate Orcs, and told riddles. I don't think there were any significant details about who or what he was, but certainly nothing to suggest that he wasn't a hobbit at one time. I'm not saying he was a hobbit, in Tolkien's mind, just that there isn't any evidence that he was anything in particular (in the actual text, I mean - I don't know what Tolkien said elsewhere) – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 5:36
  • @JasonBaker - but the fact that he wasn't meant to be a hobbit still doesn't explain why he doesn't remember anything but riddles. Even in the book itself, "gollum" is a sound that he makes. I don't remember if he ever calls himself Gollum. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 5:38
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    The book never says he was a Hobbit, it just says he was similar to them. He could still not have a clue what "Hobbit" means. Perhaps he could have some memory that he used to be a bit similar to the creature in front of him, but he spent centuries hanging around fish, goblins, and nobody else. Not sure he can be blamed for memory issues. – Misha R Jun 14 '15 at 5:47
  • @MishaRosnach - if you mean to say that the LotR books don't say Gollum was a hobbit, I have to disagree. It is never in doubt (after Gandalf interrogates him and reports his findings to the Council of Elrond) that Gollum was a hobbit, specifically a Stoorish hobbit, and was the grandson of the leader of his community. His name, Smeagol, refers to his tendency to root around in holes and focus all his attention on the ground. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 6:08
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Tolkien showed that the ring would totally consume the person carrying it much like an addiction can consume someone. When the mind is in an addictive state it can begin to play tricks on that person and one can lose sense of reality. You often see Gollum wrestling with his own inner thoughts as they try to overtake him.

There are many people in our world that suffer from the same memory issues that Gollum did. For example, there are many people in insane assylums who do not know who they are but surprisingly know other things we might not think they would know.

  • Sorry, I'm fine with the downvote, but stick with my answer. – kojow7 Jun 14 '15 at 7:11
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    I think this answer is perfectly fine - Gollum is insane; insane people remember things that didn't happen and forget things that did. – Dale M Jun 14 '15 at 7:26
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It is not necessarily the case that Sméagol-Gollum has forgotten the word "hobbit"; he may never have known it.

Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings states, regarding the word hobbit:

Hobbit was the name usually applied by the Shire-folk to all their kind. Men called them Halflings and the Elves Periannath. The origin of the word hobbit was by most forgotten. It seems, however, to have been at first a name given to the Harfoots by the Fallohides and Stoors, and to be a worn-down form of a word preserved more fully in Rohan: holbytla 'hole-builder'.

(bold-type emphasis added)

Thus, it is at least theoretically possible that Sméagol had known the word—but only if it had been invented before or during his lifetime (he was on the order of 600 years old in the War of the Ring), and if he had had occasion to know of it. The word hobbit would only have cause to appear when Harfoots were present, or at least being mentioned. In a situation like that of Sméagol's, with apparently no Harfoots anywhere near (since they didn't care for that kind of land to settle in), it need not have been the case that the word ever came up. And if the word had been invented in a different place (by perhaps a different group of proto-Stoors), it would have been only a regionalism, and there would be no expectation that Sméagol would have learned it.

Presumably, since hobbit was a word originally used only of Harfoots, the Stoors and Fallohides would have had some other word to describe themselves, or some more general word that they used to describe all three varieties of halfling. Such a word Gollum might have known, and Bilbo might not.

Alternatively, it could have been that the word was invented later than Sméagol's time, or that (since the word was developed from something like the equivalent of holbytla) he learned the word before it began to be used in the worn-down "hobbit" form.


All this is simply to say that the fact that Gollum didn't recognize the word hobbit doesn't necessarily mean that he had forgotten it; and as you note the forgetting of his name isn't even mentioned in the book; thus the issue of a "selective memory" of some sort doesn't, in my understanding, arise.

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    He hadn't heard of the shire, which was founded 1500 years before he found the ring, so it is very possible they had no dealings with the people who started calling themselves hobbits. +1 – user46509 Jun 14 '15 at 14:22
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    @Carl Sixsmith: But the Shire was something over 1000 miles as the crow flies from where Smeagol's people lived, with a major mountain range inhabited by Orcs in between. Not likely to be much regular commerce between them. Also, it's perfectly possible that Smeagol might have known himself as a "holbytla" but, not being into comparative linguistics, did not recognize the relationship between that and "hobbit". – jamesqf Jun 14 '15 at 18:10
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    My points exactly. He doesn't know he's a hobbit because he doesn't know what the term means. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to say that because the OP is convinced being the same species they naturally understand every word of each other's dialect. – user46509 Jun 14 '15 at 18:11
  • @CarlSixsmith - That isn't what I am saying. I'm saying that he should recognize that Bilbo looks a lot like the people he used to know, and even the person he used to be. The word is not important. The "He looks like the guys I used to live with" part is important. If I spent centuries under a mountain, I think I would still recognize another human being if I saw one, regardless of whether or not I wondered if it was "Crunchable and juicy":) – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 21:06
  • @Carl Sixsmith: Yeah, the way I understand Gaelic, Lakota, and Old Norse - and that's with roughly 150 years separation, not 600+ :-) – jamesqf Jun 14 '15 at 21:54
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+100

Gollum's people are described as

a clever-handed and quiet-footed little people. I guess they were of hobbit-kind; akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors.
- Lord of the Rings: The Shadows of the Past

So he may not actually know the word Hobbit. I'll need to research when they started calling themselves that and if the river folk of that time were aware of the Shire Hobbits.

Hobbit, like many Shire words, derives from Rohirric:

Are not these the Halflings, that some among us call the Holbytlan?
-Lord of the Rings: The road to Isengard

He also hasn't forgotten his name, I don't believe it is explicitly stated he has?

  • [snip] - If you want to chat, use chat. – Valorum Jun 14 '15 at 12:39
  • He does say he forgot his name in the movie RotK. – Wad Cheber Jun 18 '15 at 18:43
  • @WadCheber movie version only. – user46509 Jun 18 '15 at 18:55
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    This is true. Enjoy the bounty – Wad Cheber Jun 18 '15 at 18:56
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Could it be that in the deep dark under the mountains with only his split personality as company, the way smeagol/ Gollum entertained itself was to play endless games of riddles? I'm sure he would have liked this rather than recounting stories of the time before he was hunted out of his village?

  • Have you ever tried to tell yourself riddles? It isn't much fun. In fact, it is almost impossible to do, because you always know the answer. It would be boring from the moment you began until you finally gave up entirely because you never hear any new ones and the old ones aren't interesting unless you have someone else to play with. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 10:29
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    But he is playing with someone else. He is playing with the other half of his split personality, they are often shown having conversations with each other. It is not unreasonable to believe that the two sides could ask each other riddles. – Cearon O'Flynn Jun 14 '15 at 10:31
  • They could, but each knew all the other's riddles. It would be like telling riddles to a mirror. They certainly talk to each other, which makes the forgetting of the name even more bizarre, but I doubt that they told each other riddles. You could be right though. +1. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 10:34
  • @WadCheber I'm 99% positive there was something about Gollum playing riddles with other beings than himself while in the cave, I can't find a quote tho. sound familiar? EDIT: naturally I find a quote in the very next Google link :P ----- "Riddles were all [Gollum] could think of. Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before the goblins came, and he was cut off from his friends far under under the mountains" – Mac Cooper Jun 14 '15 at 13:39
  • @MacCooper - I don't know how long the long long ago was. I would think that Goblin Town has been there for a while. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 19:43
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I guess not even the corrupting, eroding power of the One Ring is capable of erasing such firmly-entrenched and honourable tradition among the Hobbits as the telling of riddles.

As for not knowing what Hobbits are, perhaps Smeagol's tribe didn't call themselves that; it's a name given to them by Humans (derived from holbytla, hole-builders).

In the end, I think that trying to find some sense in what such a maddened and consumed by the Ring character as Gollum does or remembers, is pointless.

  • Problem: It is quite clear that we are meant to believe that the text of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have been translated into English from Westron and Shire-speak, whatever the formal name for the latter was. So when we read the word "hobbit", it means that the characters said whatever their equivalent of that word is in their language. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 7:59
  • I'm aware of that. What I meant was that the Hobbits of the Shire used the name given to them by the Rohhiric people (or their own modified version of it), whereas Smeagol's tribe, which was seemingly isolated from any contact with humans, could have called themselves something else. – Maksim Jun 14 '15 at 8:08
  • But they would have spoken the same language as Frodo, more or less (especially in light of the fact that he can communicate with Sam and Frodo and vice versa), so Frodo and Bilbo would presumably have been speaking Gollum's native language. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 8:18
  • Not it isnt. You seem to be asserting that someone would automatically know what a word means when someone from another area says it. What ia Chinese for human? The Russian, the native american, tell me without looking it up. – user46509 Jun 14 '15 at 9:11
  • Neither theodon Ingold know what a hobbit is. Despite speaking the common tounge. – user46509 Jun 14 '15 at 10:35

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