One of the best chapters and scenes in both the book and the first movie is without a doubt Bilbo’s interaction with the mysterious character Gollum. What transpires here will have tremendous effects on the adventure of The Lord of the Rings.
The previous chapter concludedor the first time in the story, Bilbo is alone (the very thing he desires) and in danger (the very thing he fears). The scene begins by describing the stark darkness of Gollum’s lair and it is only with Sting, Bilbo’s elvish blade, that he is able to see anything. It is here he encounters the strange creature.
I trust we are familiar with the scene. Bilbo discovers the magical ring that dominates Tolkien’s trilogy and puts it in his pocket. The two engage in an entertaining riddle game. If Bilbo wins, Gollum must lead him out of the mountains. If Gollum wins, Bilbo becomes dinner!
If Tolkien wanted us to compare the goblins with the dwarves, it seems he wanted us to do the same between Bilbo the Hobbit and Gollum. For all their similarities, they could not be more different. Gollum’s backstory remains a bit of a mystery, but his original form (before being consumed by the ring) was a Stoor Hobbit. The ring has led him to pursue isolation and wickedness and now that Bilbo bears the ring, he runs the risks of going down the same path.
Comparing the two riddles is fascinating but will go beyond the purposes of this brief blog. Gollum’s riddles reflect his dark life and nature. Bilbo, on the other, chooses riddles that reflect his more sunny (and hungry) worldview. Yet the risk Tolkien wants us to see is the power of the ring (especially for those who have already read The Lord of the Rings) to transform this Baggins-Took into a confused and wicked creature that lies under the mountain.