What Gandalf saw in Gollum

I never did get around to explaining this. Two years is probably long enough to wait before giving out the answer key.

This is likely why people without discernment will often put those who have it in their “wizard” mental box since they note that, like Gandalf, their articulations of difficult abstractions tend to be at once sensible, insightful, and of mysterious origin. By what art or science, they wonder, did Gandalf’s heart sense that Gollum had a part yet to play? Gollum very clearly had no utility at the time Gandalf said that to Frodo. If you can figure out the answer to that question on your own, you probably have discernment. (I’ll put a hint in the comments, but try it by yourself first.)


The reason Gandalf knew Gollum had a part to play is he sensed that Frodo had a blind spot he would need to overcome. At that time, Frodo couldn’t sympathize with Gollum’s wretchedness because he didn’t understand the significance yet of being the ringbearer. It’s like I said yesterday about setting out on a 100-mile race, he didn’t really understand that by the end he stood a very good chance of becoming exactly like Gollum. If he did understand it, he would have pitied Gollum from the beginning. “There but for the grace of Eru go I.” Or maybe more concretely, to get the mortality salience flowing: “That’s probably what I’m going to be like by the end of the year.” Imagine if you knew that odds were you’d transform into Gollum over the remainder of 2022 (so you’d be halfway there by the end of Summer).

So even though Gandalf couldn’t say why, he knew that Gollum’s existence at least served a purpose as a cautionary tale, like a figure from Galadriel’s mirror. And Gollum did in fact end up being Frodo’s understanding of his own darkness and wretchedness, an embodiment of what he could become very easily under the influence of the Ring. In Jungian terms we’d call it his Shadow (but we have to take Tolkien at his word that he hated allegory and this symbolism was unintentional). Frodo came to understand this as he realized he wasn’t up to the task of fighting the Ring, and even at his best moments he could only slow its progress as it ate away at his soul and sanity. That’s why the sympathy angle was important: Frodo would eventually come to see himself in Gollum, and by showing mercy to Gollum live with himself.

But the cautionary tale was just as important, because despite his mercy Frodo didn’t want to become Gollum. Unlike Jung’s admonition to accommodate the Shadow, I think this was Tolkien saying to literally “master” it (in mythical language). You may recognize this idea from my #1 all-time best post. Gollum as Shadow also explains why he was the guide in the evil lands. The wickedness in us can predict what wicked people will do. Same idea as “it takes a thief to catch a thief”. But you don’t want to do as Jung advised and accommodate your Shadow like Jordan Peterson and so many others have tried, you have to master it if you’re dumb enough to go into Mordor and try to save the world.

If all this is too abstract for you, the takeaway is that if you don’t enjoy Book 6 it’s because you have smol bren.

About Aeoli Pera

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13 Responses to What Gandalf saw in Gollum

  1. Sturm Bringer says:

    “-If you’re dumb enough to go into Mordor and try to save the world.”

    Not “dumb” self sacrificing, courageous and fanatic. What off coloureds and jews do not understand is the heroic spirit, they see Men [themselves(darkies and maggots) being only critters at best(demons at worst] sacrifice themselves selflessly for their folk and/or ideals and think “haha stupid White Man, haha he dumb get himself killed very stupid, if he smart he only look after himself haha.”*

    What the ignorant egotist does not realise is that “Mordor” comes to you if ypu do not face it sooner or later; now a fool might say “but maybe I wont have to deal with it, that will be some poor sap later down the road”.
    Sometimes this is the case and Mordor shows up in the son’s or grandson’s or further son’s time. And then it will be much harder to defeat “Morder” and his line may end or worse. “But me dead,” yes and even if you care not a wick about your offspring or ideals or such. You have little idea what the afterlife may bring, perhaps reincarnation as great great grandson, or maybe punishment for cowardice or maybe the afterlife neighborhood starts fill up with orks real fast and, well there goes the neighborhood.

    So in actuality such an action is not “dumb” it is simply intelligent and good.

    *chinese especially think like this.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      I probably shouldn’t have made light of that, considering the runaway narcissism.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      You’re correct, heroism isn’t actually stupid, I was doing dark humor.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      In my defense there’s precedent for this joke in the Bible where Paul refers to self-sacrifice being the “foolishness of God”, which he says is wiser than the wisdom of men.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      I still think of Tex’s description of thals as “too dumb to quit” as a compliment. Too big to fail? How about too dumb to fail?

      • Sturm Bringer says:

        I do not think you look down upon the courageous, it is more than likely the constant slander against the heroic that wormed itself into your mind(probably).

        A large degree of the success of the “thal” almost assuredly comes from this persistence. It is like the tale of the miner after digging for so long stops but a foot from striking a vein of gold and quits.

    • levi says:

      >What off coloureds and jews do not understand is the heroic spirit

      Uh, I think you are forgetting the numbers of jews who died for God throughout the scriptures, including one called Jesus. Salavation IS from the Jews (John 4:22, Jesus speaking).

      The prophesied ‘restorer’, ‘overcomer’ who will eventually take on the whole world is a Jew.

      And there is neither jew nor greek in Christ, your denegration of those with dark skins dishonors Jesus himself.

      (Are you a Koanic sockpuppet?)

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  3. rillxn says:

    great post. that is all

  4. Splormpf says:

    Before I read your answer, my answer to the reason why Gandalf knew Gollum would play a part is that he knew that Gollum was the most thoroughly corrupted and addicted to the Ring of all beings in Middle-Earth, and he sensed that somehow, someway, the Ring and Gollum would come together somehow before the end. Being the ringbearer, Frodo would have to deal with Gollum, and hopefully it would be with Gollum as a kind of stepping-stone or sacrifice–or scapegoat, which is ultimately what happened.

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