The Character of Sméagol in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
Although JRR Tolkien is notorious for his numerous, and often seemingly irrelevant, minor characters - the necessity of an index of names in The Return of the King proves this without a doubt - one of the most crucial and fascinating characters of The Lord of the Rings physically appears in barely more than one-sixth of the novel. The character Sméagol, often referred to by his alter ego Gollum, on a basic level serves only to guide Frodo and Sam to Mordor, as well as to destroy the Ring when Frodo cannot. However, in the course of doing so, we are revealed, hint by hint, of the enigmatic and contradictory character who "hates the Ring and loves the Ring - just as he hates and loves himself" (Sibley 170). In The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien uses the character Sméagol, forged from a collection of historical and historically mythological tales, as a foil for the central hero Frodo Baggins as well as the Christian example of hope, despite the powerful corruption of evil.
Tolkien, Oxford's Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, was an avid fan of history; the ancient past of his beloved Europe fascinated him to such a degree that it is little wonder the history of Middle-Earth mirrors our own. Sméagol's lust for, reverence to, and even fear of the One Ring bases its roots, most especially, in the ancient practice of Dactyliomancy, or the use of rings for divination and magic. In the first century AD, Apollonius of Tyana, a major figure in the Gnostic religion and early alchemy, received seven rings from the Brahman Indian prince Iarchus, which he believed gave him healing powers if he would "[revere] them as divine... and [make] them partakers of his greatest secrets" (Day 154). While Sméagol's reverence of the Ring can be seen here, his devotion despite fear of it can be seen through another famous instance. In fifteenth century Venice, a sculptor named Pythonickes obtained an enchanted ring, which he claimed honed his artistic skills to their finest. Although he initially believed the spirits within the Ring were charming and intelligent, he soon began to fear that they were demons after his soul. He consulted a priest, who advised him to destroy the ring immediately. Pythonickes, however, was unable to do so, despite his fear of the demons within the ring, because of the ring's powerful hold upon him (Day 22-23).
Yet history was not Tolkien's only passion, nor was it his only influence. Historical myth also played a key role in creating his characters, Sméagol not the least. The Volsunga Saga, the most famous ring legend of Viking literature, features the character Fafnir, who is driven to murder his own father by the desire of a cursed ring. After retreating to the mountains, Fafnir broods over the ring for many years, eventually taking the form of a huge dragon (Day 50-51). From this story may have...