I have already indicated two things which greatly impact the way that I viewed Sméagol in my initial reading. First, I was very concrete in my thinking of good and bad at the time (hence my largely negative opinion of Boromir). Second, I was very mistrustful in general. These two attributes conspired to make me dislike Gollum from the moment I knew he would be in this story. He had, after all, betrayed sweet Bilbo in H and was as treacherous as any other character.
This utter dislike for Gollum continued pretty much undaunted until the trio reaches Ithilien. In this phase of the adventure, I started to think of Gollum more as a pet than an enemy. This may not make me seem like the most gracious child, but his overly-expressive gesticulations and extreme attitude shifts reminded me of a dog. Gollum became a character who could amuse me, but he still had to be watched very carefully because he might try to get away with something at any moment.
I did not really understand that Gollum was pitiable until the Stairs. At one point the narrator makes more explicit here what Gandalf hinted at earlier in FR. The narrator describes Gollum coming back to find the hobbits sleeping and
‘slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old staved pitiable thing’ (TT, IV, viii, 714).
I need to clarify here that I did not see Gollum as regretful here. For all I knew, Gollum was reaching to see if Frodo was asleep enough for him to steal the Ring. What I did understand, though, was that others could pity him even if his motivations or intentions were bad. This passage did not show regret in Gollum, but the magnanimity that thee hobbits were capable of. I did not arrive at an understanding of Gollum’s motivations until a few years later in my reading experience.
Gollum to me was complicated in the way that he could be viewed by others, but not complicated in his own character. While I understood some of his internal tension, Tolkien was too overt with Gollum for me to ignore it, it registered as uncertainty to me and not real conflict.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Sam gets meta, then onward to RK!
What Do You Think?
What was your first interpretation of Gollum?
Did you ever take true pity on him?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!