The character of Gollum plays a vital role in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He becomes not only a memorable and well-rounded character, but also a focus for many of Tolkien’s themes.
Readers first encounter Gollum after Gandalf rescues Bilbo and the Dwarves from the Goblins in The Hobbit, and during their flight from the Goblin caves Bilbo becomes separated from the company and wanders down a side tunnel.
He finds two things…the Ring, and Gollum. We get our first description of Gollum – “a small slimy creature…as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face” (Hobbit pg. 67).
One of the most famous scenes in the book ensues…“Riddles in the Dark”, a scene that Tolkien later completely revised once he had realized the significance of the Ring Bilbo found there.
We learn far more of Gollum’s history in The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf fills Frodo in on some of what he has learned.
“Smeagol”, as he was originally named, was born into the “Stoor” community, early kin of the Hobbit-folk, that lived on the edge of the River Anduin approximately 500 years prior to the events chronicled in The Hobbit.
Smeagol was a very inquisitive member of that race, and when his cousin Deagol found the One Ring while fishing in the River Anduin, Smeagol killed him for the Ring. The Ring began to corrupt Smeagol, who took to sneaking and stealing and muttering to himself deep in his throat, so that he was given the name “Gollum” and eventually driven out of the community.
He wandered for a time, finally settling in the roots of the Misty Mountains. There he hid away from the sun for the next four-hundred plus years, subsisting on raw fish and stray goblins. Possession of the Ring extended Gollum’s life far beyond its natural bounds. He became a slave to the Ring, referring to it only as “my Precious”.
So much time in the dark did not leave Gollum untouched, and his body began to adapt to its environment. His eyes grew “pale, lamp-like” searching for fish in the darkness.
After losing the Ring, his need for it forced him out of his cave and into the open world to search for it. He wandered for a time, but was eventually captured by Sauron, who procured from him the name of “Baggins” and “Shire”.
Shortly after that, Gollum’s narrative re-enters the narrative of The Lord of the Rings, where he plays a pivotal role in the unfolding of the story.