While most of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings are either good or evil, the wretched creature Gollum constantly struggles between the two. Gollum was once a good hobbit named Sméagol, and this past identity comes to represent Gollum’s good side, the part of him that loves and wants to help his “master,” Frodo. However, Sméagol the hobbit had a glaring weakness. During a fishing trip, his companion found the ring in the water, and Sméagol wanted it so much that he killed the other hobbit to get it. This heinous act eventually transformed Sméagol into the slimy, hunched Gollum who follows Frodo. Gollum, the dark side of Sméagol, covets the ring, which he calls “my precious,” so much that he is willing to kill for it again. Gollum and Sméagol struggle with each other, often arguing about what course of action to take and how far to go to gain possession of the ring. The evil Gollum side usually wins, and in the trilogy, Gollum serves as a symbol of how the ring can transform a basically decent person into a dirty, smelly, swamp creature.

Gollum serves as a foil to Frodo, his physical presence implicitly emphasizing the younger hobbit’s strength and purity. However, Gollum is not pure evil—that distinction goes to Sauron. Instead, Gollum is pure servility, and this characteristic unites both his good and dark sides and allows him to function as a guide for Frodo. The opposite of servility—strength of character and individual will—become those qualities that a good ring-bearer must have, qualities that Frodo clearly has in abundance.