Graces for Gollum: Frodo’s Heroic Charity in The Lord of the Rings

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In Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings, two of his greatest heroes, Frodo and Sam, seem to be at odds over their relationship with the wicked creature, Gollum. While Sam finds Gollum naturally repulsive and seldom hesitates to let these feelings be known, Frodo offers Gollum kindness, even calling him by his name, Sméagol, which Gollum had cast aside long ago. In Peter Jackson’s film version, Frodo appears to treat Gollum so well from a sympathy that overlooks his evil, to the point of naively trusting the deceptive Gollum over his faithful friend, Sam. Yet, in Tolkien’s writings, we get an entirely different view of Frodo. Rather than being blind to Gollum’s evil, it is Frodo’s keen awareness that allows him the ability to choose mercy over repulsion, love over hatred, and trust over fear. It is this free choice of Frodo that makes him rise above those natural reactions of Sam to which we can so easily relate. In so doing, Frodo offers an abundance of kindness for the wretched creature out of an extraordinary, supernatural charity.

Gollum, in his driving lust for the Evil Ring of Power that Frodo bears with the hope to destroy It in the Fires of Mount Doom, is bound and determined to follow Frodo and Sam. He will. It’s as simple as that, and Frodo knows it. The only thing that could stop Gollum would be his death, which seems a just reward for the malicious life he has led. From theft to murder, Gollum has committed so many evils, testified in his sickly, empty appearance. Neither Frodo nor Sam is deceived by that appearance: they know full well what evil Gollum can still do, and they are not about to let that evil loose. When tying a cord of the silver rope they received from the Lady Galadriel about Gollum’s ankle makes the creature scream out in pain, Frodo and Sam have to make a decision about what to do with Gollum, and—since Frodo is the master of Bag End at home, and his gardener Sam is his servant—this decision is ultimately Frodo’s. Demanding a solemn oath from the cursed lips of Gollum, Frodo decides to let Gollum lead them on to Mordor where the Ring must be destroyed. Frodo chooses to trust Gollum.

While Sam is greatly displeased, Frodo is ready to accept Gollum’s word in spite of the very horror of who Gollum is. Hoping against hope that Gollum yet has a chance to change—for, as Sam’s gaffer says, “while there’s life, there’s hope!”—Frodo tries to step out of his own natural aversion to the slimy creature and touch Gollum’s heart in his misery. Frodo speaks to Gollum with gentle kindness; he offers Gollum genuine (though not total) trust; he calls the creature “Sméagol”, inviting Gollum back to the goodness of life he once possessed. All this Frodo chooses freely to give to Gollum, not because of any false impression or attraction to the wretched creature, or even as a “reward” for any signs of Gollum changing. Instead, without any restrictions or requirements from Gollum, Frodo gives of himself in a special way out of a deep hope that Gollum could still turn from his wickedness and choose a new life.

This does NOT mean, however, that Frodo condoned Gollum’s past life and choices in any sense of the word. Where Sam saw malicious wickedness in Gollum, Frodo understood the horror of this wickedness to its very roots. Sam realized Gollum’s lust for the Ring; Frodo recognized Gollum’s total addiction and free, willful submission to the Ring. That Gollum would make such a lust the focus of his life brought natural abhor and repulsion to both hobbits. Sam responds naturally, preferring anything to being around Gollum. But Frodo does not choose to act only according to his natural reactions. Digging deeper, he chooses to act towards Gollum with all the charity he could muster, not for the person Gollum chose to be, but for the person Gollum was still free to become.

In spite of Frodo’s genuine heroic charity, Sam, Gollum, and apparently the screenwriters of Jackson’s film production, all believed that Frodo treated Gollum as he did because he felt a sympathy that arose not from charity, but from submitting to a sort of “poor guy” mentality. “It had always been a notion of his [Sam’s] that the kindness of dear Mr. Frodo was of such a high degree that it must imply a fair measure of blindness. …Gollum in his own way, and with much more excuse as his acquaintance was much briefer, may have made a similar mistake, confusing kindness with blindness.”[1] Tolkien makes it very clear that this confusion of Sam and Gollum did not point to the truth. It was Frodo’s deep understanding of the true reality of Gollum’s evil that allowed him the freedom to reach out to the wretched creature with sensitivity to the depths of his being without embracing his evil. Frodo bore the moral strength to reach down to Gollum without collapsing himself in a silly, naïve sentimentality about the creature he clearly understood to be evil.

Frodo and Sam both experienced the wicked reality of Gollum, and yet responded in different ways. Sam reacted with aversion. Since Gollum was living in wickedness—from his past choices to his undoubtedly shady intentions for the future—it was natural for the pure and innocent soul of Sam to turn away from that evil. Frodo, in his kindness towards Gollum, behaved not less, but more than Sam, as a master’s actions should rise above a servant’s. For “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master,”[2] and Frodo did indeed rise above Sam in his charity. Frodo, searching beyond Gollum’s ugly exterior and the festering malice in his heart, took courage against his natural inclinations for the sake of the person Gollum could yet choose to be. Rising above the limits of nature, Frodo could desire to reach out to Gollum without accepting his evil, freely choosing to treat Gollum with simple kindness and open generosity, born of his extraordinary charity.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 626.

[2] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Matthew 10:24), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 8 December, 2015, https://www.biblegateway.com.

Marissa Standage

Marissa Standage

Marissa Standage is simultaneously studying at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and Angelicum Academy to earn her bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology, and also loves her teaching post at Highlands Latin School of Pasadena. As the oldest of six, Marissa was home schooled right through high school, and has enjoyed a deep love for the Catholic faith, family, and education based on Socratic discussion. Between her college work and teaching, her favorite past-times include spending time with her family and friends, writing epic fantasy stories, reading, baking sourdough bread (and all kinds of other sourdough goodies from chocolate cake to crackers), and knitting socks. In the midst of this full and wonderful life, she is striving to discern God's plan for her in this world, and to cultivate the virtues in the daily opportunities to grow in His love.

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9 Responses

    1. Hi James!
      Yes, Gollum does show his true colors in the end, but that is the point: Gollum was not the devil, but a person within time and space who still had the free will to choose good or evil, and so Frodo did not despair and give up on him, in spite of the fact that Gollum had the power to choose evil in the end (as he did).
      Further, Jesus did not try to save the devil because the devil was of a different nature, and the devil had already made his final decision for evil. Thus, by the time of Jesus’ life on this earth, the devil’s ultimate choice for evil was fixed and could not be changed, just as Gollum made his ultimate choice for evil at the end of his life and, once he died, that choice could not be changed. Jesus did not alter the devil’s decision, and Frodo did not try to alter Gollum’s after he died.
      It might be noted also that Frodo and Gollum were created persons in the world, distinct from the Creator and distinct from the source of ultimate evil in Middle-earth, and for this reason it is difficult to compare them with Our Lord and the devil.
      Hope this helps! 🙂

    2. James, I believe you have jumped to a conclusion that may not be correct. The Church Teaches in 2 Cor 5:18-19, “And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”.

      In the CCC 760 we find, “Just as God’s will is creation and is called “the world,”. Therefore when we read, “God was reconciling the world” we can read “creation”.

      also in CCC 2637 “Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for his glory. the thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head.”

      What does Christ set free? Creation!

      Also in CCC 2814, “The sanctification of his name among the nations depends inseparably on our life and our prayer:

      We ask God to hallow his name, which by its own holiness saves and makes holy all creation …. It is this name that gives salvation to a lost world. But we ask that this name of God should be hallowed in us through our actions. For God’s name is blessed when we live well, but is blasphemed when we live wickedly. As the Apostle says: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” We ask then that, just as the name of God is holy, so we may obtain his holiness in our souls.82
      When we say “hallowed be thy name,” we ask that it should be hallowed in us, who are in him; but also in others whom God’s grace still awaits, that we may obey the precept that obliges us to pray for everyone, even our enemies. That is why we do not say expressly “hallowed be thy name ‘in us,”‘ for we ask that it be so in all men.”

      God’s name saves and makes holy all creation is the teaching of the Catholic Church.

      We have Wisdom 11:23-24, “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

      For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.”

      Now what is the definition of God’s love that we are called to try and imitate, try to make His love our love? God’s love is that He wills good for all, wills them to be good, wills them to be holy, and He does everything He can (dying on a cross) to accomplish what he wills.

      and we have CCC 275, “With Job, the just man, we confess: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (⇒ Job 42:2).

      Therefore God will accomplish what He intends, to reconcile all things (another translation of “the world”, creation)

      Also, we have CCC 457 “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who “loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins”: “the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world”, and “he was revealed to take away sins”

      In the approved prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy we have, “For the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world” and “Eternal Father, we offer you the body, blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world”

      Since God eternally loves all that exists, that includes the devils and everyone else who may end up in hell forever and ever and ever…..

      God wills to reconcile all things and He asks us (CCC 2741) to consciously unite our prayer with the infinite, eternal, indivisible, always in the present tense prayer of Jesus on the Cross for all sinners.

      That some (many?) priests do not teach all that the Church teaches is nothing new. The Church tells us that “cursed is the man who puts his trust in men or their institutions” Jeremiah 17:5)

      The Catholic Church is the only religion that tells its adherents to place their trust in Christ and the truths the Church has officially taught( The Holy Bible and the CCC and …), not in individual persons (especially ourselves or individual priests) but to,

      “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all.
      See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good (both) for each other and for all.
      Rejoice always.
      Pray without ceasing.
      In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
      Do not quench the Spirit.
      Do not despise prophetic utterances.
      Test everything; retain what is good.. (1 Thes. 5:14-21)

      James, to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, love your enemy (even the devils who need it the most). Trust that God is infinitely powerful enough to create free will such that when each is given truly infinite graces in the end, so that God is all in all or everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:28) their free wills will freely choose to do God’s will, even if that is going to hell forever and ever and ever and ever…. reconciled by the truly infinite graces of God with no cooperation on their parts, but still freely choosing God’s will for them to go to hell with the peace of Christ, love, joy, thanksgiving to God and infinite sorrow for sin that Christ has eternally and had on the cross. Therefore God’s Kingdom will be infinite, with nothing outside it.

      Yes, I know the Church teaches in the CCC 393 that the devil’s decision is irrevocable. But since all that the Church officially teaches must be true when understood the way God wants it understood, and all the above leads to the conclusion that God wills to reconcile all things, the question is how to properly understand CCC 393. I believe that the devil’s chose hell forever and ever and that is irrevocable. That God is infinitely powerful enough to give souls enough (infinite) graces to be thankful for suffering for ever and ever and ever and ever….without violating their free wills is the key. Do you believe God is infinitely powerful?

      1. James, I am curious as to whether or not you have found error in anything I wrote earlier? Thank you

      2. Doug, all that you wrote is too much for me to reconcile with
        my understanding of God. Yes, I have found error in your theology but am wise enough not to .. go there.

      3. James, if you believe my theology is in error, please, please, please try to help me understand this error in understanding God as being infinitely all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, the Creator of all time and space and therefore with only one, single, infinite, indivisible, always in the present tense eternal thought (WORD) in which He accomplishes everything that He eternally Wills to do, that is sharing Himself completely, infinitely, with each creature made with the nature for that purpose. Thank you for trying to help me see my error. (Do you agree that it is theoretically possible that your understanding of God is at least a “little bit” in error?)

  1. Thanks, Marissa. You have given me yet another reason to believe I did the right thing by avoiding the movie versions of Tolkien’s work. The Lord of the Rings has remained one my favorite books since I first read it way back in 1969, and I didn’t want some filmmaker’s imagination to supplant the mental images I had built up of Frodo, Sam, and all the other characters over the years.

    People will almost certainly be reading The Lord of the Rings 1000 years from now (that is, if they’re reading anything at all – who knows?…), whereas in a generation or so, the only people still watching the movies will be antique film buffs.

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