So Did We Really Need Gollum?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So all throughout Lord of the Rings, we’re told how “pity stayed Bilbo’s hand” and how it’s a good thing that Bilbo couldn’t choose who lived and who died.  And sure enough, as Frodo gets to Mount Doom, he falters, and it is poor tormented Gollum who actually saves the day.  So yay for morality!
The question is: what would have happened if Bilbo had shanked Gollum?
Because remember, the whole reason why Sauron and the Ringwraiths knew where the Ring was?  Because they captured Gollum and tortured him until he gave up Bilbo’s name.  So if Bilbo had just stabbed Gollum and left him for dead, Sauron would be clueless as to where The One Ring was.
…but Gandalf would know.  Because the chain of events that starts Gandalf’s investigation of The Ring has a fixed point: Bilbo’s 111th birthday.  Bilbo decides to leave the Shire then, on that day, using the Ring in full view of Gandalf, then having a junkie freakout that make Gandalf go, “Maybe I should check up on the history of this ring.”
With Gollum dead, the heroes actually have a head start on Sauron.  Which means they don’t have to travel quietly and isolated to avoid the Ringwraiths, they don’t get Frodo stabbed, they don’t have to make a detour to the elves to save poor stabbed Frodo.
“But Gollum saves the ring at the end!” you cry.  “Without him, when Frodo’s will weakens…”  Except that if they can get to Mount Doom fast enough, they don’t need to worry about that.  In the Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo’s ring addiction is so paltry that he actually tries to give the ring away twice, once to Gandalf and once to Galadriel.  Clearly, at any point in the Fellowship, Frodo would have zero issues chucking the Ring into the lava.
So technically speaking, if we can speed up Frodo’s trip to Mount Doom sufficiently, we have zero need for Gollum. The question is, how quickly does that need to be?
Plus, at least in the films, Gollum is actually an enabler, telling Frodo how his world view is justified, how everyone does want to take the Ring from him, causing schisms between Sam and Frodo.  In a very real way, Gollum actually accelerates Frodo’s addiction, probably worsening it.
Without Gollum, there’s a good chance that Gandalf and Aragon just escort Frodo quickly to Mount Doom, without all the side trips and arguments and spider-related shenanigans, in time for Frodo to chuck the Ring in while he’s still got the guts to do it.
So I ask you Tolkien nerds: assuming that Gollum is out of the picture, and that our heroes have a head start on the evil armies of Sauron and can work without interference (at least in the early game), then can we get Frodo to Mount Doom in time to not need a villain to interfere?  (Assuming that, once again, the eagles are dicks who don’t air-freight the ring to Mount Doom because, hey, we’re frickin’ dicks.)
Because seriously, I think we could get Frodo there a lot quicker.  Maybe even in time.
What do you think happens if Gollum gets the shank?


  1. TheFerrett
    Dec 15, 2012

    This essay’s a bit of a devil’s advocate, as I actually think that Gollum’s death would be disastrous. Not because I think that Gollum is necessary, but because of this:
    If there’s no need to keep Frodo safe, then there’s a good chance that Gandalf says, “Hey, your ring is pretty dangerous, why don’t you come with me to Saruman with me to talk it over?” And then it’s game over before we begin.

    • Kelli R.
      Dec 15, 2012

      Yes, but if they do that before the influence that’s put on Saruman, then there’s still no issue and it’s all solved.

  2. alexander hollins
    Dec 15, 2012

    Screw that. Bilbo shanks gollum, doesn’t feel the odd need to be silent, tells Gandalf about the weird thing in the cave, 2 and 2 get put together faster, and the dwarves, after scaring off the dragon, escort their asses, and the whole thing is over and done with sooner.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 15, 2012

      Interesting. I dunno that Bilbo would be that open, but it’s an interesting alternate history.

  3. little_ribbit
    Dec 15, 2012

    You also have to consider what killing Gollum would have done to Bilbo. There is a strong theme of the Ring amplifying its bearer’s existing tendencies and moral decisions, then influencing them for the worse. Do you really think Bilbo would have been able to give up the Ring at 111 if he’d started his ownership of it by killing someone? There is a good case to be made that killing Deagol is one of the things that screwed up Smeagol so much.

  4. Dana
    Dec 15, 2012

    I would also put forth that Frodo’s willingness to try and give the Ring away and his ability to toss it into Mount Doom are by no means mutual guarantees.
    The Ring WANTS to be given to either Gandalf or Galadriel, for the same reasons that they both refuse it: they are people of power, of might, people who can be tempted to vastly more significant falls than a mere hobbit can. The Ring doesn’t exert its full influence in stopping Frodo from giving it away to either of them. Either of those bearers are more likely to use thing ring and therefore draw Sauron’s attention more easily.
    But Mount Doom means the Ring is destroyed. It will pull out all the stops trying to keep THAT from happening, much as it did with Isildur.
    And yeah, I’m talking about the Ring as if it’s sentient, heh. But I think there’s a line between the two scenarios as a measure of the Ring’s power/hold over Frodo.

    • Ashley
      Dec 16, 2012

      I was going to say something similar. The ring is described with sentient qualities like “wanting to be found” and “abandoning its owner.” Certainly time is a factor with how strong the pull is over the individual carrying it, but I think if they managed to get to Mount Doom significantly sooner there may have been problems within their party for control of the ring. Boromir tried to take it when the stakes were pretty low and he was only a spectator to its influence.

  5. Anna
    Jan 15, 2013

    I have to agree with those who state it wouldn’t. Gandalf makes a major point of the fact that Bilbo starting his possession of the Ring off with a nonviolent tone being key to his ability to hand it off.
    If we want to blame anything, let’s blame the many years Gandalf sat on his ass. He knew about Bilbo’s Ring and had suspicions from the get go. He admits that he likely should have at least brought it up to Saruman at that point (I believe Saruman was still uncorrupted then, as well), as Saruman was the foremost knowledge on the lore of the Rings. Instead, he waits 60ish years to do any research on the Ring.
    Of course, then we run into the issue of whether or not that would have mattered; Gandalf himself did nothing because he felt the Ring was safest where it was. Saruman might have believed the same. It was not until Gollum was captured and they knew that the Enemy knew where the Ring was that they became concerned and started the journey.
    I honestly feel much of the blame falls on good old Gandalf. As great a wizard as he was, he wasted too much time, too many times. Yes, he tries the right the error multiple times, but the Enemy was already on their tail.

  6. Tom
    Dec 18, 2013

    It sounds simple but remember the only way frodo got even a slight path through mordor was due to a huge army being sent to deal with Aragorn and the Rohirrim. If Aragorn and gandalf escorted frodo it is also very likely one of them would have tried to take it at some point. Let’s also not forget that frodo may not even have met Aragorn as he wouldn’t have had to wait for gandalf In Bree, instead wait for him at the shire.

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