Lessons from Middle Earth: Life lessons from Gollum


  Lessons from Middle Earth: Life Lessons from Gollum is first in the line of (hopefully) a series of articles which will bring us lessons from the adventure books and movies  we all love so much. it is my firm belief that these bestseller movies are not just movies, they are powerful messages by writers who were keen to make an impact of society.We must do more than just sit down and watch the movies. if we sit down a critically ponder on the underlying messages, then  we will be able to get a few messages that would change the way we view life. The first character is from J.R.R Tolkien’s  Lord of the Rings, he is called Gollum, read on and hopefully by the time you finish, you would have gained something or two.

The character called Gollum in J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings plays a minor role, but in the overall scheme of the book, and in  passing Tolkien’s powerful message, the character of Gollum is very significant. Physically Gollum is a small creature about the size of the hobbits, in fact he is a stoor hobbit, who  lived for six hundred years due to the effects of the ring.  Gollum is a dark, bone-white or sallow (pale yellow); slimy and unhealthy creature full of scratches and scars from living in the wilds, a creature with no regard for his personal safety or well being. He covers himself with only a loin cloth and perpetually walks with a crouch due to his age, as well as the enormous burden he has put on himself. But Gollum is more than just another exotic character in an action packed movie, or just an ugly looking character in a strange book. Gollum is more than a character in a fan film. He is an idea, he is a message and more importantly he is a warning about an innocent looking present that goes awry.

Gollum is a wretched, degeneration of a stoor hobbit called Sméagol, a humble fisherman who finds the one ring in the river, after been pulled in by a fish, during a fishing trip with his best friend and brother Dealgol. Because the ring is so attractive, it causes a fight between the brothers in which Sméagol kill his relative. At first Sméagol feels remorse for the death of his best friend but the power of the ring to corrupt the heart of its wielder, it assuages Sméagol that everything is alright. With the ring in his possession, he is able to assume invisibility at will.  He played pranks on people, stole their things, caused trouble among his family members, because they could not see him, He was free as air, nobody was able to control him. He lived as if he were above the law, and this led to his being banished by his family. For some time it was wonderful, but gradually the ring begins to exert its influence over his body and he starts to transform from the much loved humble fisherman who went about his business in a happy carefree manner,  to a wild antisocial monster who is unable to think about anything else than his “precious.” At last in a scene he looks at his own reflection in the stream and he sees that his appearance has been irrevocably altered.    As the maxim goes: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. With Gollum, Tolkien is warning us that there is always a price to be paid for power. You must be ready to pay the price, before  can acquire the power. . As Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” implies, nature has a way of compensating for excess wastage. As the Yoruba adage also affirms “Ikun Je ogede Ikun redi, Ikun o mo pe ohun to dun a maa , Then the ring having done its job is stolen from Gollum by Bilbo Baggins.  But by this time it had already turned Gollum into a wild, mindless robot, driven by an unnatural hunger and desire for the ring.  Have we not seen eighty five year old men, fighting for president, or grown men bursting into tears at a party convention because they were unfairly denied a position? How many of us have not seen grown men groveling in front of people young enough to be their children because of one political appointment or another? The numbers of presidents who have tried to alter their countries’ constitutions so that they could get term extensions are uncountable. Like Gollum, these people have had access to unlimited power, and their lives have been altered. Like Gollum life without the power they had is like hell. Interestingly throughout his life, Gollum desires to free himself from the ring, and at the same time he desires to acquire it. Tolkien tells us that once you have got yourself entangled in the web of corruptive power, it is difficult to extricate yourself.

Gollum is a warning that excessive power always comes with excessive corruption. Nothing comes for free. Living outside the social order will eventually turn you into an outcast. Gollum is a warning of what might happen to us if we don’t stop indulging in an attractive looking but extremely dangerous pastime. He is a warning to the leader (President, Governor, Senator, whatever you are) who is living in sheer luxury, enjoying unlimited power, and using that power to oppress everybody under him. He is a warning to everyone who sees power as a means of settling a score with someone who has offended you. It is a warning to every youth who because he has rich parents or connections decides to laze about and live only for the present instead of finding his own niche and building his own future. Gollum is a warning to everyone who has chosen to act as a bootlicker, mortgaging their conscience for a mess of pottage, groveling before someone young enough to be their children all because of filthy lucre, or position of authority. He is a warning for the young man who in a desperate and reckless race to get rich, so that he can buy the latest toys and get more women to play with. It is a warning for every young lady who sleeps around with every rich Tom, Dick and Harry so that she can get a shortcut to wealth getting unfair advantages over others who are trying to get by through honest means. He is a warning to every married man, who has failed to appreciate the beautiful friend and companion he has, who has to go around having extramarital affairs.  It is a warning to every Judas Iscariot who fails to appreciate friends that give him good advice and positive thoughts, preferring to wine and dine with people above his leve,l so that he can get connections and unfair advantages, forgetting the wise saying that: “no matter how long the log stays in the river, it can never become a crocodile.” Birds of a feather flock together, the rich people you have abandoned your true friends for know you do not belong in their class, they only have something they want from you. Frodo abadons Sam and becomes friends with Gollum, what he does not know is that Gollum is not interested in being his friend, he only wants the ring Frodo is holding.

In Nigeria today, there is the “if you cannot beat them, then you join them syndrome” what everybody wants is the shortcut money and fame. As the bible says in Proverbs, “there is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is destruction.” As the saying goes for every action there is a reaction and for every gift you get, whether positive or negative someone has to pay for it. In traditional religious circles, it is believed that it is possible to instantly teleport to one’s destination from one’s take off point. But the only snag is that while you will reach your destination early, your body will f the eel the effects of the whole journey, which implies that if you travel a distance that your body cannot cope with, you will probably die of exhaustion. This way the power is not used indiscriminately, the individual has to impose control measures on his use of the power. The human body is weak; it cannot survive the raging power of power not kept under control. Ask yourself, you want a shortcut to your destiny; can you bear the burden of the time used to get there? Gollum is a warning to us that life is not just living for today alone. Do not eat the seed with the fruit, have the foresight to plan, in simple terms your destination is the end of your journey, if you cut corners to your destiny, you will find yourself at the end of your productive life before your time. Gollum became a monster not because he wanted it, but because the ring, while allowing him to enjoy the unlimited power it possessed, made his productive life accelerate, his life came to a standstill and when he reached his limits with nowhere else to go, he began to regress. Like a drug it takes you into heights of ecstasy, but when it wears off, your problems are still there. Gollum is a warning to every individual about the irony of power and oppression, if you destroy everyone around you simply because you have the power to do so, you will remain alone, if you cut yourself off from relationships that matter to you because of the power you have, then you have put yourself on a lonely road. Frodo Baggins always had Sam Gamgee to draw him back to reality when he is about slip over the edge, because they both understood the nature of the ring and where they were coming from. But Gollum having killed Dealgol, had no one to help him and as the bible says: “woe unto a man who is alone, because he will have no one to help him up if he falls” the road of power is a lonely road, but it can help if you share the burden with people who understand you, people who can help you.

Gollum is a warning to every spiritual or shall I say religious leader who thinks the power that is given to him over his flock is to fleece them of the little they have and accrue wealth at their expense. Spiritual fathers, who use false teaching to turn their followers to bigoted, fanatical slaves, with no tolerance for people of opposing faiths, so that they can keep them under their control.  So called men of God with vested economic and political interests which make them unable to say he truth or lead according to the standards that the divine being they worship has given to them. Gollum is a warning to every spiritual father who decides he wants to compete with worldly leaders on the wealth stakes, who have chosen not to judge themselves by God’s standards but according to the world’s standards. So called men of God who spout false doctrine  in order to find excuses for their desire to be acceptable to the world. Gollum is a warning to every Christian, Muslim or whatever belief you or I may have, who goes to the place of worship and promises to live according to the dictates of their faith but whom turn back and do the exact opposite of what they promised, when they get out of the presence of their Pastor or Imam or whoever.

Gollum warns us that while we may seem to be having a nice time, when everything is going according to plan, when, like Gollum our power seem to be unlimited, and our fans are screaming our names to the highest levels, for a while we are like Dorian Grey, seemingly untouchable and the corruption we are reveling in is having no effect on us. We are living life on the fast lane and it seems nothing is available to stop us. Tolkien is warning us before it is too late; that we should not forget that the only constant thing is change. As the wise saying goes “Be kind to those you meet when you are going up, because you are definitely going to meet them when you are coming down again. Gollum is a warning to you and I that if we allow the trappings of money and power, to prevent us from appreciating things that add value to our moral and spiritual lives, we are going to become physical beings who have no other desire whatsoever, except for the transient things that cannot stand the test of time. Gollum tells us that while corruption may confer on us certain privileges like a command of riches, respect and even fear, these things will only be poor substitutes for the things it would take from us. We see in the book that the ring gives Gollum long life, but it is a long twisted life, devoid of any joy or meaning. Gollum screams out loud, the warning that if we keep living for the physical transient things of the world; if we keep allowing our greed to lead us, if we refuse to impose control on our use of power, then we may be moving towards an abyss where we would be left alone, to face the consequences of our lack of control. Gollum is pleading with us to learn from history, from the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe and others of their ilk are history’s way of reminding us that the good times will not last forever, that the power you have now will be taken from you. That if you refuse to relinquish it will be taken from you by force, what then will be your worth? Will you will vindicated as a man with a vision and human spirit with a desire to help others like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr, or are you going to go the way of Gollum, a castaway who has allowed luxury and pleasure to erode the more lasting elements of his life, who has built the foundation of his life on the power he has, a pariah whose life could come crashing down into chaos if he loses that power because it is the only thing of value he has left.  The history of Nigeria is replete with the list of businesses that have collapsed because the founder died. Many people who put their trust in God fathers have disappeared into political oblivion just because their “godfather” died or lost his political standing. Gollum is the warning that as the Yoruba presenter will say: “ipokipo ti eda ba wa adanwo ni, ka lore tori igba ti a ba fipo naa sile(any position which a human being finds his or herself, is at test and it should be used well, because of when such an individual would have to leave such a place).  These are powerful warnings that Tolkien wants us to think abou.t

TO BE CONTINUED……………………..

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from Middle Earth: Life lessons from Gollum

  1. Bayo, you have done well and your analysis here is apt. I am not sure many people would take the same insight that you have produced here. It is even more interesting that you have been able to bring it home and spice it with a little Yoruba (not surprisingly!)…
    Well done on all your work and please, do keep on. Well done.

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