Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Is Gollum a Villain?

In a slightly more topical blog entry, I want to give my opinion on a rather interesting news story that's currently making its way around the Internet.

Apparently, a doctor in Turkey is on trial for posting a meme online that compares photos of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to screencaps of Gollum from the movie The Two Towers. It's being seen as an attack on Erdogan's character since Gollum is not a very morally upstanding character, and the doctor who posted the meme could face prison time for it.

Since the judge who's overseeing the trial isn't familiar with the Lord of the Rings movies or the character, he actually assembled a team of experts in various fields who will determine if Gollum is really a villain, which will factor into whether or not the meme was meant to be offensive.

Here's a link to one article covering the story:

Naturally, this got me thinking as well about whether or not Gollum is a villain. It's a topic that Tolkien fans have been debating about for decades, with some people saying that he is a villain, others saying that he's simply a victim, and some even saying that he's the true hero of The Lord of the Rings. I'm no expert on any of this, but in regards to the meme that led to this trial, here's my two cents:

Sam said it best about Gollum - "He's a villain." He kills people, plots to kill people, lies and manipulates people, eats people, and delights in causing pain. However, Gollum is not the only entity living inside of the bald, skinny creature that we see onscreen. There's also Smeagol, the sympathetic and decidedly helpful person that the creature used to be before he found the One Ring.

Here's the meme from that news story:

An easy way to distinguish the character's two personalities is by looking at the pupils of his eyes, which are small when he's Gollum and large when he's Smeagol. Of the three pictures shown above, only the first one shows the villainous Gollum personality. The other two show the good Smeagol personality, and they're both from scenes where the audience is meant to sympathize with him.

The question then, I suppose, is whether or not Smeagol ever becomes a villain in the story. We see Gollum more or less sway him into helping to betray the hobbits, and he certainly has no qualms about getting revenge on Sam for being mean to him, but he remains conflicted about hurting Frodo pretty much up until the end.

I think that the last we ever see of Smeagol in the movies is in Shelob's lair when Frodo finally tells him that the hobbits plan to destroy the One Ring. This is the final straw that breaks Smeagol's spirit once and for all, and even then, he isn't the one who lashes out at Frodo for it. You clearly see his pupils constrict as the Gollum personality takes over right before he gets up and jumps on Frodo. I always interpreted that as the good Smeagol side fading away once and for all because he's lost the will to oppose the Gollum side anymore, not as Smeagol becoming a villain.

In short, I think that the doctor who posted that meme has 2:1 favorable odds.

It should also be noted that the doctor claims that he only posted that meme to be funny. I can believe that; it's no more offensive than the hundreds of other comparison pictures that you see every day on websites like Heck, tons of people have been compared to pictures of Gollum on that site.

I won't get into why the Turkish Gollum meme turned into a court case while none of these others did, but it doesn't seem like any harm was meant by any of them. My only hope is that at least one Tolkien fan ends up on that team of experts or on the witness stand.

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