In today’s culture, there are a few things that are assumed to be considered “common knowledge” in the world of popular culture. Among them are "Forrest Gump," "Harry Potter," "Twilight," "The Great Gatsby," and "The Lord of the Rings." What I mean by common knowledge is that the majority of people are familiar with them in some way or another, regardless of if they have actually seen the movies or read the books. Most people will probably be able to identify characters or portions of the plots of these stories as well. For "The Lord of the Rings" in particular, I think it is fair to say that people who haven’t had much exposure to the story would be able to recognize the following characters: Gandalf and Frodo. I can say this fairly because, up until recently, I was one of those people without much exposure to the story. Nevertheless, it would be a stretch to presume that most people who are unfamiliar with the tale would have heard of or know much about the character of Samwise Gamgee. While this may seem logical since he is frequently thought of as a secondary character when compared to Gandalf or Frodo, it is actually quite ironic since many people who know the story of "The Lord of the Rings" and know it well (Tolkien included), would argue that Sam is actually the true hero and perhaps even the most essential character in the book.
For a story such as "The Lord of the Rings," the question of “Who is the true hero” is a loaded one, since so many play an integral role in the success of the journey and the (spoiler alert) ultimate destruction of the great ring of power. Among the characters who aided in the quest are Frodo, Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, and Aragorn. These characters stand out among the masses because they were the 9 included in “the company” who seek out to destroy the ring. Despite their varying contributions—which all aided greatly in the fall of Sauron—as well as the profound impacts of heroes not included in this company, I decided to focus on someone a bit more unconventional in my argument of the question “Who is the true hero of "The Lord of the Rings?""
Personally, I have always been someone who is overly trusting and idealistic when it comes to characters or people with flaws. I spent a lot of time trying to rationalize giving traditionally "bad guys" the benefit of the doubt. What if their circumstances had been different? Did they genuinely believe in the righteousness of their actions? I think my open-minded, and perhaps naïve, hopes for people to be misunderstood results from a personal fear. What if that were me? What if I had been put in the same situations they were? The term “victim of circumstance” is one I use somewhat liberally to justify people’s actions that are otherwise unjustifiable. That said, I like to believe that there is a goodness inside of all people—even those traditionally thought of as bad.
Therefore, I am going to attempt to make a case for one of these misjudged characters.
Smeagol—a hobbit whose discovery, and subsequent infatuation, with the Ring led to isolation, physical decay, and the transformation into “Gollum”—is a character in "The Lord of the Rings" who is frequently thought of as a creepy, sneaky, manipulative, and obsessive. While it may be true that he embodies these qualities, there is much more to the character than is on the surface. Because without these qualities dominating the character, the Ring would have never been destroyed.
Even when overlooking his other contributions, it must be addressed that Gollum was the one who destroyed the Ring in the end. If he had not been there, the Ring never would have been destroyed. Since this was the objective of the entire story, Gollum is the hero. *drops mic*
Quite seriously, however, the character of Gollum is one who, without his presence in "The Lord of the Rings" the entire story would completely fall apart. To begin with, if he hadn’t found the ring, it never would have ended up with Bilbo and, later, Frodo. Quite possibly, it could have been found by either Sauron or another who sought complete power. In this case, the story would have been over before it even started. Gollum’s isolation—a factor that resulted in the development of some flawed personality traits (as mentioned earlier)—was actually essential for keeping the Ring safe for hundreds of years! This is a feat which many could not have accomplished—as exemplified by Bilbo, who was unable to protect the secrecy of the Ring for even a few decades.
Furthermore, Gollum guides Frodo and Sam to Mordor. The two were in desperate need of guidance and were on a time-crunch. They couldn’t have relied on finding their own way, and they knew this—enough to put their lives in the hands of someone they didn’t trust. Despite Gollum’s ulterior motives of leading the two to their ultimate demise at the hands—or, rather, eight legs—of a giant spider, the reality is that without his guidance, they never would have made it to Mordor.
Taking all of these things into account, there is no denying that Gollum’s presence is essential to the entire plot of "The Lord of the Rings" to hold up and for the quest of destroying the Ring to be successful. However, it may seem that Gollum cannot be the hero because he didn’t have heroic intentions. The reason that he kept the Ring safe and out of Sauron’s sight was because he was so possessed by it that he wouldn’t allow anyone else to know about it for fear that he would lose it. He isolated himself for this same reason—allowing the power that the ring had over him to control him. He offered to guide Frodo and Sam so that he could get them killed and then keep the Ring for himself. Finally, he destroyed the Ring because he was so outraged that Frodo declared it as his own that he bit off his finger and, successively, plummeted into the fires of Mount Doom.
I get it, Gollum is not the most wholesome guy. But being a hero is not about being a wholesome guy; it’s about getting the job done and, in this case, saving the world---which Gollum did.
However, since I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I must make a case for Gollum’s character as well.
Gollum’s long-lasting internal struggle and ultimate destruction make him one of the most tragic heroes in literature. He struggles to not only battle external forces, but internal ones that are stacked against the success of his character. The inhabitants of Gollum’s body—Gollum, the creature, and Smeagol, the hobbit—are constantly at odds with one another. Gollum’s presence makes it impossible for Smeagol to succeed in overcoming the power of the Ring and behaving in a humane manner. Conversely, Smeagol makes it difficult for Gollum to ever be entirely successful in his endeavors as many of his intended plots for sabotage fall through. Because Smeagol exists within Gollum, I refuse to believe in the complete maliciousness of the character. Despite the plotting, manipulative creature that the Ring seduced him into, there is still a piece of Gollum that holds onto his life before the Ring and perhaps even desires it. This is highlighted through Gollum’s conversations with Smeagol.
All in all, everything that Gollum did with bad intentions was a result of his obsession with the Ring. The Ring’s great power was enough to scare even Gandalf. It was enough to possess Bilbo for years. It was even enough to lead Frodo to choose to forfeit the entire quest at the very end. Clearly, the Ring is powerful enough to conquer anyone and, therefore, Gollum cannot be blamed for falling victim to it.
Despite the impurity of his intentions at times, Gollum’s actions were heroic in establishing the success of the quest. The possession of the Great Ring of Power created the multidimensional creature of Gollum—a character whose complexity proved to be just what was needed for the Ring’s destruction, making him a hero.