While a wide variety of creepy nonhuman creatures populate the world of The Lord of the Rings—ranging from the dark Nazgûl to the revolting Shelob—Gollum stands out from the rest as psychologically intriguing. Capable of speech, he is quite forthcoming in sharing his inner thoughts with anyone who cares to hear them, even talking out loud when no one is there to hear. As such, Gollum is something more than a mere monster. By the same token, he is not quite a villain either, as he lacks the grand stature of Sauron or Saruman, or even of Wormtongue. We cannot imagine any of these other wicked figures splashing around in the water in search of fish or whining about how bread burns his throat. Moreover, though Gollum acts like a servant, it is hard for us to believe that he kowtows to Frodo only in order to win the hobbit’s trust. Rather, this wretched subservience seems to be Gollum’s natural state—at least, his natural state after years of the deleterious effects of possessing the Ring. On the whole, Gollum’s morality is almost completely impossible to guess for most of the novel. While other characters are clearly evil or clearly good, Gollum acts as if he is on the side of good, but he may perhaps be treacherous. Until the end of The Two Towers, we are never quite sure.

Gollum’s fondness for Frodo is one of the mysteries of the creature’s personality. Of course, Gollum willingly leads Frodo to a probable death at the end, and he is no true friend to the hobbit. But still there is a striking and surprising display of real affection for the one whom Gollum calls master, even beneath the false flattery he issues to Frodo in order to gain trust. When Sam catches Gollum fondly caressing the sleeping Frodo, there is no other explanation for what the creature is doing than showing that he loves his master. Sam may suspiciously describe Gollum’s activity as “sneaking” around Frodo, but we feel that, strangely enough, Frodo’s betrayer loves and respects him in his own odd way. We may be inclined to think that at these moments, Gollum’s original nature—his lost identity as Sméagol—shows through, perhaps in response to seeing his earlier self in Frodo.