Tag Archives: Gollum

Riddles in the Dark

17 Aug

Although like everyone else I’m very much looking forward to The Desolation of Smaug, the first part of Peter Jackson’s cinematic Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, left me a little cold. It was overlong, self-indulgent and sorely lacking the absorbing quality which made its predecessor trilogy such a delight. It’s probably not surprising, therefore, that for me the stand-out scene in the first Hobbit film involved one of the most triumphant elements of the Lord of the Rings movies – the character of Gollum, realized onscreen. In truth, though, I’ve always had a soft spot for Gollum, ever since I encountered him on the page when I first read The Hobbit years and years ago. The chapter Riddles in the Dark works on so many levels – a superb two-handed character study of both Bilbo and Gollum, an ingenious riddle contest, a prelude of sorts to The Lord of the Rings, and a moral lesson concerning the importance of pity. As the years went on and I began to study seriously the fabulous world of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Finnish legend from which Tolkien drew much of his inspiration, my appreciation for Riddles in the Dark only grew. It became clear to me that Tolkien was not simply making this stuff up – he was drawing upon the tradition of ancient and aristocratic literature of Northern Europe where the whole idea of testing by riddles came from. Gollum asks five riddles and Bilbo four – of these nine, several have definite and ancient sources. As Bilbo (and Tolkien himself) knew: “the riddle game was sacred and of immense antiquity, and even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat when they played at it”.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: