Thoughts on the Gollum Game

It was reported, back in March 2019, that a Gollum game was being brought into the world.

This is a different choice, it’s a character that people wouldn’t think to make a game about. It’s certainly not one of our top expansion stories set in The Lord of the Rings, but we still wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. These video game developers are creative folk, maybe they’ll think of a way to make this work. However, as more news of this game continues to unfold, us Tolkien purists at Of Blades and Kings have become concerned.

To be fair while I think of my self as a Tolkien purist, I still love the movies, inaccuracies and all. The movies started my passion and brought us where we’re at today. That being said, as I’ve continued to re-read the books, I get more and more disappointed by the deviations and find myself wishing the two weren’t so different. I’ve grown to accept that the books and the movies are different things and should be treated as such.

My passion and purist tendencies nowadays prevent me from really enjoying new additions, especially the video games. These video game companies have a tendency to take advantage of The Lord of the Rings name and create stories that don’t fit the lore and world that Tolkien built. It’s unfortunate because there are so many more stories to tell or expand on. Stories that can be unique and beautiful, but no, they just want to tell their stories and force them into the setting.

I fear this game is down the same dark path.

Personally, I don’t understand why this game is in development in the first place. As someone who plays video games I’m unsure of the appeal of Gollum. Why this character? Does he have a tragic story? Yes, but it’s not a story where he conquers adversity, his lust for the Ring creates it, and many times it ends up with him being hurt. There are other storylines you could follow in The Lord of the Rings that would lead to a successful game.

Gollum by himself cannot take on a man or an Orc, he’s definitely not going near elves or dwarves. He doesn’t do much fighting, and when he hunts, it’s usually for small animals and fish, i.e. things that can’t hurt him. Sometimes he gets tired of the fish taste and will hunt for Orc, but, even then the Orc always has to be the runt of the litter.

Gollum’s not a warrior, or someone who partakes in battles. If there was ever a fight going on he wouldn’t join, he would find a safe place to stay and wait till it’s over. Once the fighting ended, he would go rummaging through the remains. I’m not sure how you could make a whole game out of this level of activity. It could play as a stealth/survivor game but the idea doesn’t fit with Tolkiens works. Gollum spent the majority of his time in a cave, in a mountain, not caring about anything that went on in the world. Maybe the game will put Gollum in a scenario where he gets lost and all he has to do is survive and find a way back to his cave. The survive and stealth style would work here and the situation is feasible enough to fit in the world Tolkien built. It’s much more of a game that fits in the TaleTell series. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like they are heading in this direction.

As news of this game has come out, I’ve grown increasingly worried about it’s creation. In January 2020, members of the development team behind the game made some concerning comments, like the following:

“Tolkien didn’t give a size reference for Gollum to begin with, so in the first illustrations, he’s gigantic!”

“Can we use the cool Nazgul?”

“I think ours are the less cools ones. They’re the drummer and bass player of the band. But we have the chance to make them more popular.”

“You will have maybe two, three or four conflicts per chapter that lead to a final decision point. And at this final decision point, it will be harder to pick Smeagol, for example, if you’ve always fought for the Gollumn side before.”

Based off the article, we’re essentially looking at a stealth based game with good/bad decision choices peppered in.

Now, if we use The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and look at these comments in regards to his books, you will find inaccuracies.

In The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 2 Shadows of the Past, Gandalf recounts the history of the One Ring. When he gets to Smeagol’s portion of the story he describes his race as such:

“Long after, but still very long ago, there lived by the banks of the Great River on the edge of Wilderland a clever-handed and quiet-footed little people. I guess they were of hobbit-kind; akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors, for they loved the River, and often swam in it, or made little boats of reeds.”

So, we have proof that Sméagol or Gollum was an ancestor of Hobbits, he could’ve been from the line of the first “little people” to walk Middle-earth. There’s your frame of reference for Gollum’s size, possibly slightly taller than your average Hobbit, but not by much. In the past week images of the game have released and Gollum size fits this description, but we were very concerned at Of Blades and Kings. It took two chapters into the story to figure that out, they either didn’t know or they were thinking about ignoring Tolkien’s words.

Someone will need to explain to me what cool Nazgul are. While the Nazgul in the books are very different than the movie, both are sinister and evil. They work together as one, they are Sauron’s enforcers with one leader, the Witch-King of Angmar. There’s no other hierarchy of Nazgul, there’s no Nazgul who are more important than the others. When the Witch-King was ultimately defeated, that didn’t stop the other’s from working for Sauron. They only follow his will and they only have one purpose, to serve him. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings only took time to name one Nazgul. Beyond naming the Witch-King, they are all equal. I don’t get the point of speaking about the Nazgul like they’re a band. That’s not how this group works, they are a unit that works together seamlessly. To suggest there’s a hierarchy of Nazgul is folly and inconsistent with Tolkien’s writings. Maybe they’re just referring to the difference between books and movies but, this is concerning. It doesn’t seem like they know what the Nazgul are.

Decision points and choosing between good/bad in games has been a common theme for a long time. Video game players want to exercise their free-will while making sure their decisions weigh heavily in games. It’s a fun feature, but in the essence of the One Ring, it doesn’t make sense. When in possession of the One Ring, one may want to do good things but the Ring’s power would only make them evil. Gandalf would not wield the One Ring for this very reason.

“But I have so little of any of these things! You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?”

“No!” cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.” His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. “Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

Yes, Frodo and Bilbo both displayed extraordinary resilience to the Ring’s power, and Gollum weilded the Ring longer than anyone besides Sauron, but even so, after a short period of time with the Ring, Frodo couldn’t even try to destroy it. That’s also even more telling of the Ring’s power when you consider the fact that he had the thing stored away and hidden for a long time. Frodo and Bilbo, however, were destined to be Ringbearers, to have a huge part to play in this story. Gollum as well, but his part of the tale was a cautionary one, Gollum is an example of someone who the Ring would want to be found by, selfish and greedy.

These three Ringbearers are extraordinary in there own right, but the Ring itself is no slouch. When in possession of the Ring there is no choice between doing the right thing or the wrong thing, the Ring will always bend individuals to its will. That is what it does, it is altogether evil. If you look at Sméagol’s history with the Ring, he was so enamored with it from the beginning he killed his friend just to have it. That is the power of the Ring, and after that, for Gollum, or Sméagol, there was no turning back. He immediately used the Ring to discover secrets and use that information maliciously, he was crooked and evil, he was shunned by his family and took to thieving, and eventually his Grandmother cast him out. For Gollum there was no Sméagol, there was only the Ring and its influence from the very beginning. A decision based game between Gollum and Sméagol doesn’t make sense because of his story.

That famous scene in The Two Towers when Gollum has an argument doesn’t really take place in the books. Something like it does, but on a much smaller scale, and it’s from Sam’s point of view. At the end of this “debate,” Sam didn’t know which “side” of Gollum won, it was never portrayed like it was in the movie. Regardless, that movie scene is great and we all love to see the Sméagol side come out on top, but that’s not Gollum. While his Hobbit side might be there, hidden somewhere, that’s not who he is anymore. Creating a game where Gollum has battles between Sméagol and Gollum, is basing a game off a movie scene, not the source material. To me, that’s a problem.

We feel the need to circle back around to the fact that Gollum was not a warrior. He was not someone who put themselves in situations where he could get killed, as we’ve said before if there was a bigger plot going on he would hide from it instead of being involved. The only reason he ever left his mountain cave was because Bilbo had taken his Ring. An extreme event had to pull him away from solitude. I’m not sure there is a story for him when the Ring isn’t in his possession. At least not in the way this development team is describing. Did things happen to Gollum after Bilbo had taken the Ring? Absolutely, Gollum goes through many trials and hardships, but he spends most of his time captured, being interrogated, and trying to escape. At this point in Gollum’s life there is no internal battle between Gollum and Sméagol. That Hobbit side of him never comes out until he joins Frodo and Sam.

In the end, Gollum, as Tolkien had written him, is a wretched character. He symbolizes what can happen to a person when greed, anger, and hate consume their being. They become horrible to be around, and someone to pity at the same time. They make you think, “If they had a better life, or if things had been different, perhaps they wouldn’t have turned out this way.”

Tolkien didn’t write Gollum to be a character we’d want to pretend to be, he is a warning, a personification of all things hopeless. When everything is hopeless we stop caring and become greedy to the things around us, we’re angry at those who have hope and any sign of hope because we know it’s a lie, and we hate anything good. Misery loves company, and Gollum is misery, he’s not a character to be fantasized and played with. He’s a character we show kindness to as he bites our hands and wrings our necks. There is no saving Gollum, he had a part to play in The Lord of the Rings and his greed led him to his doom. The premise of this game is against Tolkien’s purpose for this character.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Gollum, I feel for him, I have been hopeless. I have stared into blackness, I’ve fought my own Gollum. But, it’s not a one time battle, I’ve been lucky, I’m still fighting, and I still have a choice. So for me, to see him possibly being portrayed inaccurately, it’s incredibly disappointing.

Even if these quotes are just possibilities and not things that’ll actually happen, I still care deeply, this is my passion.

Neither does The Lord of the Rings nor Gollum deserve a fantasy RPG company capitalizing on their names to make a story they could tell in any setting. Instead these companies should be creating stories that fit within The Lord of the Rings and do the characters justice. Gollum however, deserves his story to be tainted no more by the entertainment industry. He’s had his moment, leave him be, and don’t ruin the character.

Let me know your thoughts, I know this is a lot, and I know I’m intense about my Lord of the Rings. It’s just apart of me, but don’t let that hold you back. Let me know if I’m way off base. If you think I just need to chill cause it’s not real life, sure I understand that, but you’re not understanding me when I say this is my passion. Or is there some truth to my points?

Thank you for your time and remember, all that is gold does not glitter.

– The Wandering One

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