Pilgrim’s Pass: Gollum as the Failed Man

I’ve mentioned this before, but Pilgrim’s Pass is rapidly becoming one of my favorite YouTubers: he’s very intelligent, well-read, has a fun sense of humor, and an interestingly fresh perspective that eschews the dying left-right dichotomy.

His latest video (which follows others on Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf) deals with Gollum as an example of failed masculinity.

“These days we like to call ourselves Alpha and Sigma males, but in truth we’re lucky if we’re not Gollum.”

Some favorite points: his emphasizing the fact that Gollum, though pitiable, is not a good person, even apart from the Ring (Tolkien pointed this out as well), which a lot of commentators miss; his pointing out that we’ll never solve the ‘crisis of masculinity’ until we develop some kind of overriding social mission; his deconstruction of the Alpha-Sigma-whatever dynamic; and his explanation how failed masculinity and femininity manifest differently.

One point I think could be improved; he downplays Sam’s moral failure as the final catalyst of Gollum’s corruption (the letter about the ‘alternate’ version where Gollum is redeemed is #246 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). It doesn’t reduce Gollum’s culpability, or Sam’s essential heroism, but it’s a masterfully tragic touch that what finally blights his last chance at redemption is a thoughtless and quickly repented word from the most selfless character in the story, and double-P seems to have missed that or at least doesn’t go into it.

Incidentally, Tolkien’s ‘alternate’ storyline had that not occurred (though he notes that “Sam could hardly have acted differently” given the logic of the story and characters) had Gollum torn between his love for Frodo and his desire for the Ring, finally seeking a way to satisfy them both. The Professor speculates that, in the end, he would still have tried to take the Ring at the Crack of Doom either by stealth or violence, but that the most likely outcome would be that his newfound selfless impulse would have led him to cast himself into the fire, Ring and all, as his only possible service to Frodo. So, it would have more or less turned out the same, only that Gollum would have enjoyed a final redemption (he then goes into some interesting speculations about what would have happened in the actual scenario had Gollum not intervened).

Anyway, definitely watch it and check out his other videos while you’re at it.

3 thoughts on “Pilgrim’s Pass: Gollum as the Failed Man

  1. I always come back to two things: JRRT himself in one of the other letters said there was really no hope for Smeagol once he murdered Deagol, and the fact that Sam, at the confrontation on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, was simply carrying out the mission given to him by Gandalf, to be Frodo’s companion, servant, and protector. So I don’t go along with Sam having morally failed at that point, except in a kind of Thomist “lab conditions” analysis, which might, I will concede, conclude that Sam should have considered the possibility that Frodo was right about Gollum/Smeagol still having a spark of good in him. But to me, that expects too much of good, simple Sam, under the circumstances of that moment in Mordor. YMMV.

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    • It is too much to expect of Sam to have recognized Gollum’s changed attitude at that moment, or to have not reacted as he did, or even to have taken a gentler attitude with him in general (which really would have been the core issue). I think it is a moral failure, but one that is in itself very minor and almost an inevitable consequence of Sam’s character.

      That, to my mind, makes it all the more tragic; a great failure on someone’s part is one thing, but a small, otherwise insignificant one blasting someone’s last hope of redemption is all the harsher. It’s one of the marks of Tolkien’s moral perceptiveness that he could write such a scene; that even something that is itself a small failure, and one that has almost no impact on the state of the *actor’s* soul may have a devastating and irrevocable effect on the *receiver’s*. That’s, of course, a mark of how low the latter has fallen (as the Professor said, the fact that Gollum’s repentance was checked so easily is a sign of how corrupted he was), but it’s tragic nonetheless.

      Interestingly, the concept of certain things being morally impossible, or too much to expect is something of a minor theme of the story: comp. also Aragorn’s comments that simple people will be simple, so the Rangers don’t begrudge them them their mistrust, or Frodo’s ‘failure’ at Mt. Doom, or Faramir’s “I know there are some perils from which man must fly.” It’s a point that isn’t often made and again shows the perceptiveness of the author.

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  2. Well, this is unexpected and I’ll have to give it a watch.

    I’ve always thought “alpha” and “beta” were conflating three or four different things. Attractiveness, social standing, jock vs. nerd personality type, maybe strength… There’s a grain of truth in it inasmuch as jocks tend to be more attractive to more people than not and a disgustingly high percentage of social standing is based on, or at least dependent upon, perceived attractiveness. But you could just say “jock” and “nerd” and make the same point – only it wouldn’t sound sophisticated.

    “Sigma” as far as I know came out of a certain reactionary blogger (semi-famous for getting on the left’s nerves and popularizing the concept of “social justice warriors”) expanding it to half a dozen Greek letters, I’m assuming mostly so he could use “omega” for the complete losers. I could never track down where he laid it out or explained it, but what descriptions I did see, didn’t sound like it untangled the conflation, so I’m not sure what the point was if it was just going to extend the same problem to more kinds of men. To add irony, now “sigma” seems to have turned into a cool idea floating around among normies…

    Anyway, Pilgrim’s Pass sounds more interesting and this is a take on Gollum I’ve never heard anyone consider, so I’ll have to check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

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