J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic Lord of the Rings character is called by two names, Smeagol & Gollum, as a nod to the character’s monstrous transformation.
In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum is called by a different name on occasion: Smeagol. Throughout J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series, the character is referred to both as Smeagol and Gollum, with each name holding separate significance: one is his birth name, while the other represents the monster he became, born out of lust and tragedy.
Smeagol began his life a simple hobbit. He discovered the titular ring when he was out fishing with his cousin, and both hobbits were immediately drawn to it. Smeagol killed his cousin for the ring, and its negative power warped his body and mind. One way in which he was transformed was constantly making a horrible gurgling and swallowing sound, which sounded like the word “gollum.” As he began to change, his friends and family mocked him and cast him out of his home, calling him Gollum. The name stuck. He took to the shadows, which is where the fellowship stumbled upon Gollum in the LOTR movie The Fellowship of the Ring.
The name Gollum in The Lord of the Rings is a cruel and mocking onomatopoeia. But since Tolkien was known for utilizing multiple sources and styles for his naming conventions, Gollum actually has a deeper meaning in addition to just being a nod to the sound he makes. This name in particular is widely believed to be a reference to Tolkien’s deep religious background.
Why Smeagol Turned Into Gollum In Lord Of The Rings
A few theories have circulated about the deeper meaning of Gollum’s name, but one of the most common ones is that the moniker is a nod to the word “golem.” Tolkien was known for his love of language, and Hebrew was one of the many languages he had studied. The phrase can be found in Jewish and Christian folklore. A golem is an artificially-created being that is brought to life through supernatural means. This creature is typically intended to blindly serve its creator. It can be either villain or victim. All of this is reminiscent of Smeagol’s transformation into Gollum and his subsequent behavior toward and surrounding the One Ring.
It’s never been confirmed, but given Tolkien’s background as a devout Catholic, the name’s religious undertones make perfect sense. His faith was so strong that it famously convinced his friend and fellow author C.S. Lewis to convert. There are no overt mentions of Christianity in The Lord of the Rings, but his religion was a constant source of inspiration and guidance in his life. It’s no coincidence that the name and characteristics of Gollum so closely resemble that of a golem. The layered meaning behind his naming convention just goes to show that Christianity’s fingerprint is all over Tolkien’s work — even a blockbuster movie trilogy like The Lord of the Rings.
Why The Ring Changed Smeagol (But Not Bilbo)
A key factor of Smeagol/Gollum’s role in the Lord of the Rings franchise is the contrast drawn between him and the two hobbits who also carry the One Ring. Over time, the Ring transforms Smeagol into Gollum while he possesses it, yet it doesn’t appear to have the same effect on Bilbo. The Ring forged by Sauron possesses holds great evil, which is ultimately the corrupting influence that transformed Smeagol. However, the reason why Bilbo didn’t change as Smeagol did is quite simple: he didn’t possess the Ring for as long.
Smeagol is thought to have possessed the Ring for around 500 years, whereas Bilbo had it for roughly 60 before passing it on to Frodo. Even in that time, the Ring does begin altering Bilbo’s mind, and Smeagol’s physical transformation was actually the result of his choice to live in a cave in isolation with the Ring, rather than the power of the Ring itself. While the difference in appearance and personality between Bilbo and Smeagol is striking, their stories could have been far more similar were it not for Frodo’s role as Ring-bearer in The Lord of the Rings.
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