If Bilbo had killed Gollum

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
In class it was mentioned that if Bilbo had killed Gollum, Gollum wouldn't have told Sauron about Baggins and the Shire.

If Bilbo hadn't spared Gollum, what would have happened?

1. The story of Bilbo giving up the Ring, and Gandalf's fear and subsequent research, would be the same, except that
2. Gandalf and Aragorn would not have searched for Gollum over those interim years, and would not have learned Gollum's story.
3. We would not have the provenance of the Ring, and wouldn't have proof of the effects of the Ring on a long-time bearer.
4. Gandalf might have decided to consult the Minas Tirith archives long before he did, as the only way to gain any information.
5. The Nazgul would not have come north, but would have besieged and likely defeated Minas Tirith, the job they stopped part-way in order to search for Baggins and the Shire. Would Gandalf have been there? Would this have happened before he had a chance to find Isildur's scroll and possibly other info?

All of which leaves us with more unknowns. The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven./ Upon the place beneath. The importance of mercy and pity cannot be overstated.
 

Forodan

Member
I'd say the real number 1 on your list should be about Bilbo. He would not have been so 'well-preserved' but would have become a much darker person even as he apparently did not age. His 111th birthday might not have been a party and a formal (if snarky) goodbye, but an abrupt disappearance possibly followed by a crime spree in the Shire. Gandalf might have had to hunt Bilbo down and then figure out what do do with the evil little miscreant he had become. But then maybe that would have been strong evidence of the nature of the Ring?
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
That’s assuming Bilbo ever returned to the Shire. He might not have taken the Arkenstone to Bard and the Elvenking, changing the course of the Battle of Five Armies. He may have spent centuries in the depths of the lonely mountain preying on the odd goblin of the people of Bolg, Goblin King under the Mountain.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
So I should have titled this What if Bilbo had killed Gollum and become Gollum.

It's true, Bilbo's whole story would have been very different.
 

Forodan

Member
That's a bit strong. It seems unlikely he would be that swiftly and thoroughly corrupted by a single dubious act and be completely absorbed into the Gollum persona. It's not like he had to be pure evil to have killed Gollum. It was certainly clear that Gollum would have killed him. Admittedly, though, the effects of the different choice would probably have at least begun early on and changed the story in some ways. But it would take some time for him to be really corrupted. It took some time for Gollum to be corrupted, though we don't really know how long. Probably a few years anyway.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
It took some time for Gollum to be corrupted? He murdered Deagol, his good friend, to take the Ring from him - the corruption seems to have been complete and immediate. And he made evil use of the Ring when he discovered that it made him invisible. What took some time was his complete isolation from others, eventually from the world under the sun, hiding under the mountains, but that was the result of his corruption, not the other way around. You are quite right that Bilbo killing Gollum would have been very different - he already had the Ring, and Gollum was threatening his life. But his corruption started immediately anyway with his hiding the Ring from his companions and then lying about how he got it, even after sparing Gollum's life. If he hadn't done that, wouldn't there have been some more dramatic descent? It would make sense that it might have something to do with the Arkenstone, to start.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Yes, I was giving him the grace to believe that he would have reunited with the Dwarves, saved them from the spiders and the Elvenking’s prison, and gotten to the mountain to dislodge the dragon without significant modification of the story. I specifically chose the Arkenstone as the point of divergence as this was the next point in the story where he appears to work against his own self-interest, and have some time for descent. If his corruption was immediate he might have turned around immediately and taken up residence in Gollum’s cave.
 

Forodan

Member
From what background that Tolkien gives, Smeagol was already a pretty dark personality. I don't think the Ring instantly turned him into a murderer. He was already a potential murderer when he and his cousin found it. That he actually did murder his cousin to obtain it would clearly not improve his moral fibre. But it took a while for the already selfish Smeagol to be further corrupted and become the completely anti-social Gollum. Smeagol was apparently able to fool his community about the disappearance of his cousin at least for a while, and use the Ring for some minor nefarious deeds while he continued to live among them.

... he found that none of his family could see him, when he was wearing the ring. He was very pleased with his discovery and he concealed it; and he used it to find out secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses. He became sharp eyed and keen eared for all that was hurtful. The ring had given him power according to his stature. It is not to be wondered at that he became very unpopular and was shunned, when visible, by all his relations. (Gandalf's account of Smeagol's use of the Ring in The Shadow of the Past)
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
From what background that Tolkien gives, Smeagol was already a pretty dark personality. I don't think the Ring instantly turned him into a murderer. He was already a potential murderer when he and his cousin found it. That he actually did murder his cousin to obtain it would clearly not improve his moral fibre. But it took a while for the already selfish Smeagol to be further corrupted and become the completely anti-social Gollum. Smeagol was apparently able to fool his community about the disappearance of his cousin at least for a while, and use the Ring for some minor nefarious deeds while he continued to live among them.
Isn't that precisely the point of this thread? If Bilbo had been a potential murderer, and pushed over the edge in killing Gollum, his path would have led to a much darker place; possibly literally.
 
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Forodan

Member
No, it isn't. The thread was started as a discussion of how the story would be different if Bilbo had killed Gollum, but the initial post failed to account for how it would affect Bilbo to have done so. My pointing that out has caused it to slide into some pretty extreme speculations. What Smeagol did was unambiguous murder. What Bilbo might have done was not. The implication is not that he would have had to be a 'potential murderer' like Smeagol to have done so. I don't see why he would have been so severely affected as some of the speculations, though I did want to point out that he would have been affected. And I still think the major effect would have been closer to the end point of the arc when the Ring gains control.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Well, I guess one of us has misunderstood Rachel (or presumed to know her mind).

We do know that Bilbo had the impulse to kill Gollum and suppressed it, out of fairness, pity, and mercy. His own assessment suggested that had he followed his initial impulse he would have seen it as unambiguous murder. His rationalisation takes him on a journey toward allowing the murder (bold text in the quote) and then shows him the way back from that (italics).
Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.
As we understand it, Sméagol killed Déagol out of pure avarice, but that conclusion was drawn by Gandalf:
‘Then what happened after Bilbo escaped from him? Do you know that?’

‘Not so clearly. What I have told you is what Gollum was willing to tell - though not, of course, in the way I have reported it. Gollum is a liar, and you have to sift his words. For instance, he called the Ring his “birthday present”, and he stuck to that. He said it came from his grandmother, who had lots of beautiful things of that kind. A ridiculous story. I have no doubt that Sméagol's grandmother was a matriarch, a great person in her way, but to talk of her possessing many Elven-rings was absurd, and as for giving them away, it was a lie. But a lie with a grain of truth.

‘The murder of Déagol haunted Gollum, and he had made up a defence, repeating it to his “precious” over and over again, as he gnawed bones in the dark, until he almost believed it. It was his birthday. Déagol ought to have given the ring to him. It had previously turned up just so as to be a present. It was his birthday present, and so on, and on.
The very fact that the murder of Déagol haunted Gollum shows that he wasn't purely evil. I believe the text invites the suggestion that Bilbo and Gollum are the divergent paths that the average Hobbit takes from coming into possession of the One Ring without know what they hold. As I read it, the defining factor as to which path is taken is whether the urge to generally act selfishly is suppressed (Bilbo) or not (Gollum).

I don't expect to sway anyone to my perspective, but this is what rings true for me. (No pun intended)
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I like that, Anthony, about Gollum and Bilbo being the two paths a hobbit could take - and a cautionary tale certainly for Frodo. Personally, I believe that all of us are potential murderers, given desparate enough circumstances, so I take that out of the equation. I have never felt we have been fair to Gollum in this class - I have never seen Smeagol's interest in getting to the root of things as bad. I find it rather a positive thing, indicating curiosity and intelligence. Early in my acquaintance with LOTR, I thought the story Gandalf began was going to be about someone who did something important to expand knowledge. Isn't what we are doing in this class, getting to the root of things? Isn't that why we are enjoying it? (I didn't read The Hobbit until I had already read LOTR a few times, so didn't know who Gollum was.)

So I think Smeagol could have had several different outcomes, the same way there could have been several outcomes of his softening on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol.

So again, it's a matter of different choices. Chance plays a part, but our outcomes depend on the choices we make. And Tolkien does take us into Bilbo's mind at the point of choice, and we see clearly how he makes his choice: first, he simply reacts to his fear, but then his sense of fairness and objectivity comes in, and that leads to his moment of pity and empathy. Even with the Ring beginning to have an effect, Bilbo can get away from his own emotional response to the situation and move to his imagining someone else's misery. So for him the Ring's effect is slowed. Thanks Anthony for quoting that passage.

I was at first thinking of how many things in the story would have been different if Bilbo had killed Gollum - and not all of them as positive as Sauron not learning about Baggins and the Shire. Forodan rightly pointed out that I was leaving out the different effect the Ring would have had on Bilbo. And that's where we have ended up.
 
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