Why does Tolkien show childish side of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings?
Good and evil vie for dominance within Gollum (Honegger 2010). Evaluating this duality through a psychoanalytic lens and a Christian allegorical reading, one might say that Gollum’s childish idiosyncrasies emphasise his pathos, and Sauron’s evil.
Following Freud’s (1923) tripartite psyche theory, Gollum’s obsession with his “precious” (Tolkien, 1937, p.81) suggests the manifestation of childish, untrammelled id. Through this, Tolkien crystallises Sauron’s evil. Over and above unleashing natural catastrophes, as seen in The Two Towers (Tolkien 1954) Sauron’s power sends nature berserk, prompting Gollum into physiological atavism, and regression to childhood. Lacking an ego to mediate between his superego and the pleasure-principle-driven id, Gollum’s child-like side is disturbing because it demonstrates Sauron’s total nihilism.
Tolkien’s depiction of Gollum’s childish side might also reflect Gollum’s potential for redemption. Reading The Lord of the Rings as a Christian allegory, Kreeft (2005, p.67) suggests that false “God-king” Sauron’s demise demonstrates the providence of God, expressing Tolkien’s Roman Catholic convictions. Gollum’s damnation results from idolatry; counterposed with childhood innocence, this is especially poignant. In flashbacks to his Edenic childhood by the Anduin River and former identity – Smeagol – Gollum’s recurring third-person self references, variations on the “poor Smeagol” pattern (Kisor 2014, p. 157), resemble a childish attempt to solicit forgiveness.
Therefore, the capitulation of child-like Smeagol to sin underscores Vincent’s summary of the narrative’s moral: “Gollum is like the hobbits, he could be like them, save that he freely chooses not to be” (2008, p. 109). Smeagol highlights Gollum’s capacity for good, yet, in being deceitful, heightens the tragedy of his alter-ego.
Lustful id and connotations of innocence are both associated with childhood. By combining these paradoxical elements of childhood, in the character of Gollum, Tolkien creates a particularly unnerving effect on the reader of his magnum opus.
Freud, S. (1922). Beyond the pleasure principle. New York.
Honegger, T. (2010). ‘More Light Than Shadow? Jungian Approaches to Tolkien and the Archetypal Image of the Shadow.’
Kreeft, P. (2005). The philosophy of Tolkien: The worldview behind “The Lord of the Rings” Ignatius Press: CA
Shippey, T. A., et al. (2014). Tolkien in the new century: Essays in honor of Tom Shippey. McFarland
Tolkien, J. R. (1954). The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Vincent, A.M. (2008) Putting away childish things: incidents of recovery in Tolkien and Haddon. Mythlore 26(3-4): pp. 101-116.llum in ‘The Lord of the Rings’?