Friday, October 23

Gollum/Sméagol: Psychology of a Corrupted Stoor Hobbit

The creature Gollum is featured in several films across two trilogies based on Professor J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series of books, as well is in several of his Unfinished Tales (such as "The Hunt for Gollum"). The character Gollum is famous for his obsession with “The One Ring” created by the Dark Lord Sauron several thousand years prior to Gollum’s birth, and his second personality developed as a result. In order to truly understand Gollum as a character and determine what psychological disorders he can be diagnosed with, it is necessary to provide a bit of in-universe background and story from the Middle Earth saga. According to the prologue from the first Lord of the Rings film, after several rings of power were given to various races to govern Middle Earth, “another ring was made… the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master ring to control all others. And into this ring, he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all.” The prologue portrays the defeat of Sauron by the cutting of the ring from his finger, destroying his body but not his spirit. This ring passes into the hands of men – a king, who is corrupted by the One Ring, and is ambushed by servants of Sauron. While trying to escape, he goes into a river where he is shot by an arrow. The ring then settles on the bottom of the river for several centuries, until (as the film prologue relays) “when chance came, it ensnared a new bearer… The ring passed to the creature Gollum, who took it deep into the tunnels of the Misty Mountains. And there, it consumed him… The ring brought to Gollum unnatural long life. For five hundred years it poisoned his mind. And in the gloom of Gollum’s cave, it waited.”

The prologue to the first Lord of the Rings film – which enables the reader to better understand Gollum and his disorders – continues to convey that Sauron’s presence came back into the world and grew in power, and the ring sensed this and “abandoned Gollum. But something happened then the ring did not intend. It was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable. A hobbit – Bilbo Baggins of the Shire.” In-story, Bilbo finds this One Ring by chance during the events of The Hobbit, and once Gollum realizes that it has been taken, vows to always hate “Bagginses.” Sixty years later, the creature leaves his mountain cave and ventures into the world where he is captured by Sauron and tortured for information on the ring. After being released, he hunts down Frodo Baggins (Bilbo’s nephew) and Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s companion. In the The Two Towers, Gollum finally finds Frodo and Sam and is captured and made part of their company, and forced to show them the way to Sauron’s kingdom where they intend to destroy the ring. They go through many obstacles and trials but eventually by The Return of the King, all three characters end up at their destination, where Gollum accidentally falls off the ledge of a volcano with ring in hand – his desire to have it back finally fulfilled, he then dies as he and the ring fall into the lava. Interestingly, even while Gollum dies quickly, he keeps his eyes on the ring in his hand demonstrating his disconnect from reality and complete obsession with the ring – possibly suggesting OCD.

Fictional history-wise, Gollum (named due to the horrid sound made by his throat after many years of corruption) was born as the Stoor Hobbit named Sméagol. He was raised near rivers and thus learned to swim and fish at a young age – useful for his later years of solitude in the caves. It has long been thought that Sméagol (as written by Tolkien) has a psychological disorder. In 2004, BMJ did a psychological study on Gollum in which 30 randomly selected medical students were asked if they thought he had a mental disorder and if so, what he had. According to the researchers, “Sméagol… is a single, 587 year old, hobbit-like male of no fixed abode. He has presented… antisocial behaviour, increasing aggression, and preoccupation with the ‘one ring.’” Gollum as portrayed in the books and films (specifically The Two Towers) is shown to have two distinct personalities created by his isolation in the caves and his corruption by the ring. The researchers note that Gollum “was spiteful to others and had only one friend, Deagol, whom he later murdered after stealing the ring from him [as Deagol found the ring first]. For Sméagol this was an important life event; the ring enabled him to [become invisible] and listen secretly to conversations. His family and community, appalled by his actions and believing he was a thief and murderer, banished him to a solitary life in the misty mountains.”

Researchers continue, “He lived for many years with the ring as his only friend and began to detest the outside world—loathing the sun, moon, and wind… [eating] only live animals or raw fish. Eventually Sméagol created Gollum, the outsider, who had a more violent personality. Since [the ring was taken by Bilbo] Gollum has had obsessional thoughts and has dedicated his life to reacquiring it, sometimes with violence.” Indeed, although Gollum does not show signs of having a depressive disorder he does show anxiety and anger toward himself as well as his obsession with having reacquiring the One Ring. This suggests that Gollum suffers from a disconnect with reality, particularly seen through his death. As aforementioned, as he dies in the volcano he shows no concern for his physical well being, but concern only for his obsession – the ring. The researchers at BMJ noted that “Objectively, he is emotionally labile and becomes jittery and nervous when discussing the ring. His speech is abnormal and he repeats phrases and noises—for example, ‘Yes, yes, yes’ and ‘Gollum, Gollum,’” and usually says things such as “My precious, my love.”

Also, it is worth noting that Gollum speaks in neologisms (a word coined by an often “psychotic” individual), using words such as “triksy,” “pocketses,” “hobbitses,” and so forth. He also speaks in the plural more often than not – “We wants it, it’s ours” yet will then say phrases such as “it came to me, my own” in the singular. This suggests that more than one personality exists in this individual. Research shows that Gollum “is preoccupied with, and deeply desires, the ring. He has obsessive thoughts but no compulsions, though he would do anything for the ring. He is hostile towards Frodo, the current owner of the ring. He has paranoid ideation about Sauron (‘the eye is always watching’) and about Samwise Gamgee (‘the fat hobbit... he knows’). Gollum has difficulty controlling his thoughts and actions, exacerbated by prolonged contact with the ring.” Other characters – Isildur, Bilbo, Gandalf and Frodo all have similar symptoms when the ring is near or touched, so the difficulty in controlling thoughts and actions can be attributed to the One Ring. Concerning his personality, research notes that “There are features of dissociation. Sméagol has separated his personality and is now Gollum as well. He shows no evidence of any cognitive impairment. He has poor insight into his condition but he is aware of the Gollum-Sméagol dissociation.”

With all of this in mind, although there is a large amount of background information on Gollum cut for the sake of relevancy and space, it is pertinent to determine his diagnosis. The BMJ continues, “Several [different] diagnoses need to be considered, and we should exclude organic causes for his symptoms [due to the magic nature of the ring]… Gollum's diet is extremely limited, consisting only of raw fish. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause irritability, delusions, and paranoia. His reduced appetite and loss of hair and weight may be associated with iron deficiency anemia.” His time in the caves is also why his eyes are large and bulbous, since the five centuries of little light strained his eyesight, and his “dislike of sunlight may be due to the photosensitivity of porphyria. Attacks may be induced by starvation and accompanied by paranoid psychosis.” Now, in the study that was done, of the 30 medical students who were interviewed, “Schizophrenia was the most common diagnosis (25 students), followed by multiple personality disorder (three). On initial consideration schizophrenia seems a reasonable diagnosis. However, in the context of the culture at the time it is unlikely. Delusions are false, unshakable beliefs, not in keeping with the patient's culture. In Middle Earth, the power of the ring is a reality. The passivity phenomena Gollum experiences are caused by the ring, and these symptoms occur in all ring bearers. Gollum does not fulfil the ICD-10 criteria for the diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

However, it has often been noted that the two distinct personalities that come out – “Gollum and Sméagol, raises the possibility of multiple personality disorder. In this diagnosis one personality is suppressed by the other and the two personalities are always unaware of each other's existence. In this case, Gollum and Sméagol occur together, have conversations simultaneously, and are aware of each other's existence” (BMJ). It is not always the case with those who have this disorder that the personalities are unaware of each other – they may be informed by another individual, and in Gollum’s case this is possible though unlikely. His frequent usage of “we” and “our,” however, lends further credence to the notion that he has multiple personality disorder. The students who were surveyed said that “He fulfills seven of the nine criteria for schizoid personality disorder (ICD F60.1), and, if we must label Gollum's problems, we believe that this is the most likely diagnosis.” However, though these individuals hold this to be true, it is also likely the case that Gollum suffers from some form of multiple personality disorder, as the symptoms will show.

While he can have conversations with himself as evidenced by three of the four films he is in, there are occasions where his stress level becomes too much and the Gollum personality takes over. Also, there is a scene in The Two Towers when Sam and Frodo are sleeping and Gollum is talking to Sméagol. By the end of this conversation, Sméagol successfully (for part of the movie) suppresses or fights off the Gollum personality. The host identity (Sméagol) is suppressed for the majority of the 500 years that he was in the cave while the alter identity (Gollum) took over, but it was briefly shown to come out in his interaction with Bilbo, though he was not named nor recognized himself as a distinct individual in that conversation. It was not until Frodo called Gollum by his birth name that he remembered who he was, and the Sméagol personality become more self-aware and tried to take control.

If we utilize the definition of multiple personality disorder (known now as dissociative identity disorder or DID) from the Abnormal Psychology textbook, “According to DSM-IV-TR, dissociative identity disorder… is a dramatic dissociative disorder in which a patient manifests two or more distinct identities that alternate in some way in taking control of behavior. There is also an inability to recall important personal information that cannot be explained by ordinary forgetting.” Gollum fulfills the DSM-IV criteria. Also, “Additional symptoms of DID include depression, self-mutilation, frequent suicidal ideation and attempts, erratic behavior, headaches, hallucinations, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and other amnesic and fugue symptoms.” Although he does not fulfill all of the additional symptoms, the primary symptoms necessary to be diagnosed with DID are present.

Finally, it is worth noting that although Gollum is a fictional character created by Professor Tolkien, he has indeed become a cultural icon and is also a wonderful test study for psychology students. Although an exact diagnosis may be impossible due to the usage of magic in the tale, it is very likely that Gollum/Sméagol has a combination of Schizophrenia, Dissociative Identity Disorder and possibly a small degree of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This is supported by the various things seen in his personality, his history, his life and death, and the manner in which his life was prolonged as well as the split personalities, disconnect from reality and obsession with the One Ring. Ironically, the thing he desired most was finally his, and it was by his hand that both he and it came to an end.

Associated Newspapers Ltd. Gollum diagnosed with mental illness. (2004, Dec. 17). Mail Online.

Butcher, J., Mineka, S., & Hooley, J. (2013). Abnormal psychology. (15 ed., pp. 285-287). Boston: Pearson Education.

Cunningham, C., Jackson, P., Walsh, F. (Producers) & Jackson, P. (Director). (2013). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [DVD]. United States: New Line Home Entertainment.

Gollum. (2013, March 11). Retrieved from

Jackson, P., Walsh, F. (Producers) & Jackson, P. (Director). (2002). The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [DVD]. United States: New Line Home Entertainment.

Jackson, P., Walsh, F. (Producers) & Jackson, P. (Director). (2003). The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [DVD]. United States: New Line Home Entertainment.

Jackson, P., Walsh, F. (Producers) & Jackson, P. (Director). (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [DVD]. United States: New Line Home Entertainment.

Nadia Bashir. BMJ. A precious case from middle earth. 2004 December 18; 329(7480): 1435–1436. Retrieved from  

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