July 24th, 2012An Evening With Gollumby Joseph Pearce
Having returned home on Sunday from our family holiday in California, I am now embroiled in the writing of an eight part lecture series on The Hobbit for Catholic Courses (www.catholiccourses.com). As I grapple with the moral and theological dimension of Tolkien’s classic children’s story, I am mindful of Tolkien’s assertion in his famous essay “On Fairy Stories” that fairy stories hold up a mirror of scorn and pity to man. This being so, I recall an evening some time ago when I spent a few tortured and tortuous hours in the presence of Gollum himself – not the literal Gollum, of course, which would have been a little scary, but the mirror of Gollum reflected in an old friend of mine.
This friend had fallen on hard times, largely self-inflicted through his addiction to alcohol. I had met him in the hope that I could do something to prevent his descent into the abyss of no return. He had reached rock bottom, the crisis point between death or resurrection. Tolerably sober when we first met, he listened with apparent interest and even enthusiasm as I told him of the need to embrace and carry his crosses, and of the need to find employment, however menial. Some form of employment was needed so that he could regain his dignity and drag himself away from the vacuum of self-imposed solitude and the bottle with which he sought vainly to fill it. I told him that love was inseparable from self-sacrifice and that he needed to put his life in order so that he could once again be a father to his child. His receptivity to my pleading faded with every glass he consumed until, curled in contortions of pain on my couch, he shriveled into a sniveling and snarling wreck, his world shrunk to the size of his own self-pity. I watched as he sank into a demon-filled dream, twitching and moaning in an unconscious world as merciless and restless as the semi-conscious world into which he would reluctantly emerge after a few hours of tortured sleep. When he awoke I knew that he would once again seek the oblivion to be found in the bottom of a bottle. I prayed for my friend, feeling that my own efforts had been futile and powerless to prevent his terminal decline, asking God for the miracle which was my friend’s only hope.
I went to bed, leaving my friend asleep on the couch. When I awoke, he had gone.
It is difficult to write of such things, knowing of my own unworthiness and the presence of the Gollum that lurks in the murk of my own soul. In seeing Gollum in my friend, I was also aware that I was seeing him in myself. My friend was himself a mirror of Man, reflecting the scorn and pity of our gollumized nature. There but for the grace of God go I. There but for the grace of God go all of us.