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.

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  • July 24 2012 | by Kevin O'Brien

    Well written and touching, Joseph. Tolkien's insight into sin and what sin does to us is perhaps the best thing about his writing. May God lead us away from the Gollums within us all; and may He have mercy on your friend.
  • July 24 2012 | by Michael Drollman

    Excellent reflection. Thank you!
  • July 24 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Been there. Sincere sympathy for you.

    A call was waiting for me on my return from a trip to England in 2006. A few days later, her family decided to disconnect the life-support of a young, beautiful, and brilliant French-Canadian colleague and dear friend. From alcohol to cocaine to crack to heroin to OD. It's a straight road, long for some, short for others. She was 33.

    You can't help. Pray for him. Have Masses said for all victims of addiction. That's all you can do. It's a very private war.
  • July 24 2012 | by Christopher King

    Tangential comment: I recently heard the theory that the name "Gollum" derives from a Hebrew word meaning, essentially, a slave to someone else's will. Sophia Mason speculates that the term is "Golem" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem), which seems plausible. (Incidentally, I also came across the opinion that Grima is old Anglo-Saxon for "mask.")
  • September 16 2012 | by Abigail C. Reimel

    A deep and touching post, Mr. Pearce. All of your insights into Tolkien and his symbolism always help to enhance my reading experience, and to allow for Tolkien's spiritual depths to penetrate deeper into my soul.

    Thank you for sharing this wisdom, and this difficult story. Your friend will be in my prayers as well.

    God bless.