• Will Sherwood

LOTR 3: You know nothing, Frodo Baggins.

Chapter 2: 'The Shadow of the Past' is of 'central importance in the evolution of The Lord of the Rings' as it provided Tolkien with the necessary backstory that would drive the plot (Return, p. 250). It did not always exist under this title however and the content of the chapter grew to intertwine the history of the Ring with that of Gollum. As I predicted in my last post about 'A Long-Expected Party', most of the chapters leading up to Rivendell were worked on so much that the full history of each chapter would constitute a book in itself. Christopher said exactly that about 'The Shadow of the Past' because 'Gandalf's conversation with Frodo became the vehicle for the developing history of the Rings of Power' and therefore required much revising (Treason, p. 28).

1. Ringwraiths, Elf-wraiths, Goblinwraiths, but not Dwarfwraiths?

In Phase One, sections of what would become 'The Shadow of the Past' were littered across the various versions of different chapters. Tolkien wished to keep Gandalf's 'fear of fire' line that had originally been applied to Bilbo. In the published text, it features in chapter two and refers to Gollum instead (Lord, p. 57). The Phase Four version aggregated much of the scattered material from the 'wreck' of the Phase Three manuscript and reached 'the final form in most aspects for a long stretch' (Treason, p. 21).

The origins of the Ring are found in 'Of Gollum and the Ring' in The Return of the Shadow (pp. 73 - 87). Bingo and his companions met Gildor Inglorion in the previous chapter but in this one, Gildor becomes 'they'. The first version is strikingly different for the backstory it gives us of the Rings:

In the very ancient days the Ring-lord made many of these Rings: and sent them

out through the world to snare people. He sent them to all sorts of folk - the Elves

had many, and there are now many elfwraiths in the world, but the Ring-lord

cannot rule them; the goblins got many, and the invisible goblins are very evil

and wholly under the Lord; dwarves I don't believe had any; some say the rings

don't work on them: they are too solid. Men had few, but they were most quickly

overcome and . . . . . The men-wraiths are also servants of the Lord. Other

creatures got them. Do you remember Bilbo's story of Gollum? We don't know

where Gollum comes in - certainly not elf, nor goblin; he is probably not dwarf;

we rather believe he really belongs to an ancient sort of hobbit. (Return, p. 75).

Tolkien had already come across the Black Rider and was now trying to work out where it came from. The Dark Lord's motive of entrapping the free peoples was established in Phase One but rather than bestow a select number, here it seems that the Dark Lord was able to produce a vast quantity of magic rings. Not only were men susceptible to the dark power but elves also became 'elfwraiths'. Just imagine the terror they would reap! Dwarves however were not corruptible. To understand what Tolkien is referring to here, we need to look to the version of The Silmarillion that he had most recently completed. 'The Later Annals of Beleriand' was written at some time between 1930 - 1937 and was submitted to Allen & Unwin before starting work on the first version of 'A long-expected party' in 1937. It was finally in this version where the origins of the dwarves was explained (if briefly):

Aulë made the Dwarves long ago . . . but the Dwarves have no spirit indwelling, as

have the Children of the Creator, and they have skill but not art; and they go back

into the stone of the mountains of which they were made. (Road, p. 129).

The dwarves were not created by Ilúvatar and therefore house no 'spirit', no ounce of immortality that will allow them in some way to live beyond Arda. They 'go back into the stone of the mountains of which they were made' and are therefore not malleable to the Dark Lord's control, they are 'too solid' and without spirit. This explains why in this first version of 'The Shadow of the Past' Tolkien did not want the dwarves to have any of the magic rings.

As soon as we enter Phase Two however, Tolkien's thinking changes. The ring-verse is composed, the dwarves are included and the goblins are cast out. There is no reference to 'elfwraiths' (the Elf King's hiding away instead) and this part of the back-story is almost identical to the published version.

2. From Dígol to Sméagol

Shortly after writing the first version where Gildor became 'they' and Gollum was assumed to be a hobbit, Tolkien wrote a second version that would for a time be considered a new 'Foreword'. This version consisted of Gandalf informing Bingo of Gollum's and the Ring's history. At no point between the second and the published version did Gollum's race change. Tolkien in fact used this to underpin a crucial point that stuck throughout all the subsequent versions. I give here the first and final forms to show how the idea did not change:

There was a lot in the background of both their minds and memories that was

very similar - they understood one another really (if you think of it) better than

hobbits ever understood dwarves, elves, or goblins. (Return, p. 79).

There was a great deal in the background of their minds and memories that was

very similar. They understood one another remarkably well, very much better

than a hobbit would understand, say, a Dwarf, or an Orc, or even an Elf. Think of

the riddles, they both knew, for one thing. (Lord, p. 54).

The only amendments being the phrasing, the changing of 'goblin' to 'orc' and the justification for the riddle game.

This second version also gives birth to the Sméagol personality but he is instead called Dígol and it is he who finds the ring on a river bank. It is only in the Fourth Phase that Dígol becomes Sméagol and Déagol is introduced. Consequently Déagol's murder is also woven into the tale of the ring (Treason, pp. 23 - 24). Tolkien makes it clear from very early on that to kill someone to obtain the ring is a catastrophic decision. In the second version Gandalf observes:

It was pity that prevented [Bilbo]. And he could not [murder] without doing

wrong. It was against the rules. If he had done so he would not have had the ring,

the ring would have had him at once. He might have been a wraith on the spot.

(Return, p. 81).

The act strikingly anticipates the creation of a horcrux from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and has faint echoes of Cain and Abel. The act of murder appears to go against the very 'rules' of life that Ilúvatar governs. To murder means to expose oneself to corruption and in this case the corruption of the ring. Bilbo would have become a Hobbit-wraith if he had murdered the lonesome hobbit in 'Riddles in the Dark' (an idea Tolkien toyed with in the first version in Return p. 78). The ring yearns for violence and dissention against Ilúvatar and the Valar. Although Sméagol does not become a tangible Hobbit-wraith when he murders Déagol, his spirit is certainly corrupted. His desire to strangle Déagol is not his own and evidences the phenomenal power that the Ring yields. Even in the second version, the hold of the ring is evident: 'he used it to discover secrets, and put his knowledge to malicious use, and became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was unpleasant' (Return, pp. 78 - 79).

To become Gollum is a slow process. It does not happen overnight; his banishment from his people takes time and from the second version Tolkien understood that the ring prolonged life: 'it is a poor sort of long life that the Ring gives, a kind of stretched life rather than a continued growing - a sort of thinning and thinning. Frightfully wearisome, Bingo, in fact finally tormenting' (Return, p. 79). Whether the ring bearer is conscious of the influence or ignorant of its power it will slowly take hold and corrupt over an artificially drawn out life span. Tolkien reflected much later in Letter 212 that 'Longevity or counterfeit "immortality" (true immortality is beyond Eä) is the chief bait of Sauron - it leads the small to a Gollum, and great to a Ringwraith' (Letters, p. 286).

Christopher does not indicate when Sméagol's story between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is fully realised but we can safely assume that this was in the Fourth Phase when the chapter 'reache[d] the final form in most respects for a long stretch' (Treason, p. 21).

3. Cyclical lives: Bingo's growing up!

In my last post on 'A Long-Expected Party' I indicated that Frodo's and Bilbo's ages in the published version were cyclical. Tolkien continued to develop this in the second version of what would become 'The Shadow of the Past'. In the chapter Bingo approaches:

the more sober age of 50 . . . a number he somehow felt was significant (or

ominous), it was at any rate at that age that adventure had first come upon Bilbo -

he began to think more seriously of it. He felt restless. He used to look at maps

and wonder what it was like beyond the edges . . . he began to feel, sometimes, a

sort of thin feeling as if he was being stretched out over a lot of days, and weeks,

and months, but was not fully there, somehow. (Return, pp. 251 - 252).

This is almost word for word what appears in the published version. There is a sense of Bingo judging his own development as a hobbit against Bilbo's adulthood. However, like I also mentioned in my last post, whereas Bilbo had Gandalf ferrying him out of Bag End, this time Bingo has the Ring. The key difference between the second and the published version is that Bingo does feel the stretching out of his days without being whole whereas Frodo does not feel the thinning process. Tolkien must have decided that it was too early for the Ring to have had such an effect on him. He had not been exposed to the Ring for the sixty years that Bilbo experienced.

The restless feeling could be one or two things: either the Ring being called to its master and therefore Bingo/Frodo feeling by extension feeling the same yearning, or the Tookish queerness that Bilbo felt in The Hobbit blossoming (I will from here only refer to him as Frodo). The openings of both novels have a cyclical feel and considering how the Baggins family is part of the greater genealogy of the Took family, (Frodo's grandmother was Belladona Took's sister) we can conclude that Frodo will have inherited the Tookish queerness that awoke in Bilbo when he was fifty.

The cyclical feel also compliments the theory of the Hero's Journey that Joseph Campbell developed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

The first step was called the 'Call to Adventure' and it 'signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown' (Hero, p. 48). We can certainly see the parallels here between Frodo and Campbell's theory. The 'zone unknown' is the wider world of Middle-earth that Frodo is 'restless' to see and explore, having being brought up with Bilbo's tales. He has grown bored and is driven to leave home. Again, Jordan Peterson's book on meaning in mythology would be helpful here. I know he has commented on the necessity for a child to leave home and Frodo is a strong case of someone who requires external stimulation. Home is no longer enough.

To leave home indicates a requirement for growth and learning. Campbell's use of the word 'zone' also reminds me of Lev Vygotsky's 'zone of proximal development' that was first conceived and partially developed by Vygotsky between 1932 - 1934. Vygotsky's ideas were first introduced to the West in the 1920s so Campbell's familiarity with Vygotsky is possible.

Vygotsky's theory is so profound that the UK education system still employs it today. It deals with a person's maturation and theorises that we have our safe 'zone' in which a person can act 'unaided' (for example, cooking toast). Outside of this, we have an immediate zone that indicates achievable development (cooking a roast). This 'zone of proximal development' includes 'those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation, functions that will mature tomorrow but are currently in an embryonic state' (Mind, p. 86).

If we apply this to Frodo, we can see that he is bored of his day-to-day life and requires greater stimulation. This is triggered specifically by his age which has now reached the age of Bilbo when he started his adventure. He is yearning to explore his 'zone of proximal development' with Gandalf as his guide - and it is worth noting how Gandalf is replaced by figures of power and/or knowledge (Gildor, Tom Bombadil, Aragorn, Sméagol/Gollum). Frodo requires some guidance along his journey and when it is needed, he receives it. He is allowed to fall and pick himself up (literally and figuratively) but it is also done with guidance.

I am uncertain how much psychological work has been conducted on Tolkien's characters. I am aware of Timothy R. O'Neill's 1979 The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien, and the Archetypes of Middle-earth but nothing else. If anyone knows of any then I would be interested in knowing as my posts appear to be drawing more and more on the psychological elements of Tolkien's story-telling.


Campbell, J. (2008). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato: New World Library.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987). The History of Middle-earth: The Lost Road and Other Writings. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1988). The History of Middle-earth: The Return of the Shadow. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1989). The History of Middle-earth: The Treason of Isengard. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2006). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. [Ed. Carpenter, H.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien. J. R. R. (2007). The Lord of the Rings. London: HarperCollins.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. [Ed. Cole, M., John-Steiner, V., Scribner, S. & Souberman, E.]. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

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