Why did Tolkien rewrite the character of Gollum?

Anyone who grew up loving Tolkien’s works will know that The Hobbit is originally a children’s story. It is beautifully written and has so many light and comedic chapters. The interesting thing is that one of them was originally “Riddles in the Dark”, in which Bilbo Baggins plays a game with the creature known as Gollum, in the tunnels under the mountain.

In the original published version of his text, Gollum was a carefree character, who wanted to play the game just for fun. So why did Tolkien turn it into the grim, deadly version of modern times?


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Tolkien had a difficult journey writing the the Lord of the Rings, after the hobbit was so well received. It underwent several rewrites for the sequel and many characters changed, including Aragorn and Gandalf, until it finally settled into the dark and gritty tone of the trilogy. However, these books were very different from his first work. “Riddles in the Dark” is a central chapter of the Hobbit, as this is how Bilbo comes into possession of the One Ring of Power.

Bilbo bags

All Hobbits are good at puzzles, love language and songs, and since Bilbo and Gollum are different types of Hobbits, it makes sense that this is a good way for them to find common ground. But in the version Tolkien first created, Gollum is thrilled to play the game, and when he loses he’s sad that he can’t reward Bilbo with the price of the ring because he lost it. Unbeknownst to him, Bilbo has already found the ring by this point, but Gollum is disappointed that he cannot give it to him, as hobbits love to give gifts too.

But when the the Lord of the Rings was written, Tolkien felt that the ring had a more sinister voice and had to be something that was coveted. After his own experiences in World War I, Tolkien wanted to show how futile and cruel war can be, and therefore he had to create a goal for a war to be waged. Thus, the rule of the evil lord over Middle-earth and his connection with the ring was established. He then had to go back and change the character of Gollum, transforming him into a much more menacing and delicate creature, due to his long exposure to the dark power he possessed.

There are many magical items within Middle-earth, including the Palantiri, the Seven Sight Stones that the Numenoreans brought back from the blessed lands, and the Elven chain on which the ring is worn so that it cannot betray its wearer and escape its master. . But above all of that is the One Ring, so powerful and gruesome there is malevolence that the characters of everyone who encountered it needed to reflect this.

However, the kinder, funnier personality that Gollum was originally written with can be seen in his counterpart – Smeagol. This is how Tolkien managed to keep some of the elements he had already created and add depth to Gollum’s layout. In Smeagol, audiences can see the loyal nature the hobbit once had and his more innocent features, like when he sings a song on the river while he catches a fish in the forbidden Faramir Ranger Pool.

Ugly_Gollum_The Lord of the Rings

It’s a creative addition from Andy Serkis, who played it in the film adaptations, but it’s the perfect way to reflect the softer nature Gollum had in the original writing of the book. The problem was that the first version, with Gollum as the friendlier character, had already been released, so to get around that Tolkien made Bilbo lie about how he received the ring. He told everyone that Gollum gave it to him as a birthday present, but Gandalf was still wary. Then to Elrond’s advice, he says, “Now I am going to tell the real story, and if some here have heard me say otherwise, I ask them to forget it and forgive me.” He then tells them the modified version that appears in modern copies of The Hobbit, that Gollum tried to kill him rather than drive him safely out of the mountains when the story was first written.

Many the Lord of the Rings fans adore the grainy nature of the books, which have become one of the most pioneering in fantasy history, and appreciate the deceptive nature of the creature. This adds to the ring’s allure and also makes the audience sympathetic to the hope that those who have been infected with Sauron’s will can be freed from it. Unfortunately, this is rare and difficult, as the ring often prevents its wearer from forgetting their presence to the point of not being able to eat, sleep, or fall in love without yearning for the golden item. This is why Frodo finally goes to the Eternal Lands where he can finally rest in peace.

MORE: Why don’t the trolls fighting in the Battle of Minas Tirith turn to stone in the sun?


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