A Turkish judge has enlisted a team of experts to determine whether a comparison of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the character of Gollum from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is an insult.
The defendant, Bilgin Çiftçi, was fired from his job at the public health service after he circulated images comparing Erdogan and Gollum (from the film version). It’s unclear whether he meant to suggest anything other than a physical resemblance; Gollum is described in The Hobbit as “a small, slimy creature.”
It’s worth noting that this elaborate kerfuffle is actually quite complimentary — toward Tolkien, that is, for crafting a character morally complex enough to occasion expert literary analysis in a court of law. But if Çiftçi meant to compare their character traits, is the comparison a clean hit against Erdogan?
In the prologue of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes: “After ages alone in the dark, Gollum’s heart was black, and treachery was in it.” Gollum is a wizened and pale wisp of a being with over-large eyes; over time, he has become addicted to the evil power of Lord Sauron’s Ring. Originally, Gollum was known as Sméagol, a Hobbit just like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. But he became corrupted by the One Ring when he, infatuated with it, stole it from his friend Déagol (whom he also murdered), who had found it at the bottom of the River Anduin.
Hobbits normally lived to about 100; the Ring prolonged Sméagol’s life to an unnatural 556 years. He became known by the onomatopoeic name Gollum when, after acquiring the Ring, he began making gurgling noises in his throat. The Ring animated him with spry energy despite his ancient age. But the more attached he became to the dark power of the Ring, the more it erased his identity and sense of himself as an individual. He gradually lost the ability to say “I,” and instead began referring to himself as “We”: “We hates it for ever!” For Tolkien, a practicing Catholic, the One Ring is the symbol of sin and its power, attraction, and destructiveness. Gollum shows us the result of a life lived in the throes of sin; the Ring torments him and is “eating up his mind.”
Gollum’s story is not straightforward. When Frodo accuses Gollum of being a wicked cheat, the wizard Gandalf replies:
Only too true, I fear. . . . But there was something else in it, I think, which you don’t see yet. Even Gollum was not wholly ruined. He had proved tougher than even one of the Wise would have guessed — as a hobbit might. There was a little corner of his mind that was still his own, and light came through it, as through a chink in the dark: light out of the past.
All hope is not lost, and “even the very wise cannot see all ends,” Gandalf cautions. Gollum hates and loves the Ring. His character alludes to the laments of Augustine about man’s “two wills,” and to the struggles of Paul, who says in the Letter to the Romans, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
All humans must struggle with their own darkness, and if they become addicted to some evil, it consumes them. Gandalf continues, “[Gollum] hated it and loved it, as he hated and loved himself. He could not get rid of it. He had no will left in the matter.” After centuries in his possession, the Ring subsumed Gollum’s will. “Unless,” Gandalf muses, “it could be cured.”
#share#So what do we make of Gollum? Was Erdogan insulted or not?
Throughout the Tolkien saga, Gollum guides Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, although all along he is plotting to seize it again at the opportune moment. The end of Gollum’s story seals his fate. At the edge of Mount Doom, above the seething fires that could at last destroy the Ring, Gollum attacks Frodo, biting off his finger. He obtains the Ring, but then he stumbles and falls with it into the flames below. Though Gollum’s treachery leads to Middle-earth’s triumph, his enslavement to the Ring brings about his own end.
So yes — it was an insult. Guilty. But there was a more apt insult for Çiftçi to level.
Turkey is the Isengard of the Middle East. In the Lord of the Rings world of Middle-earth, Isengard was situated in the once-green and peaceful home of the wizard Saruman, before Saruman turns evil, amasses an Orc army, and directs them to raze the surrounding forest. Erdogan has eroded Turkey’s freedom of press and freedom of speech by quelling dissenters in the once-Western-oriented and democratic nation. Seven journalists are currently jailed, down from nearly 100 in recent years. The accusation against Çiftçi is but one of many like it — it’s not the first time a citizen has faced jail time for mocking the Turkish president.
Erdogan is Saruman the traitor, forfeiting Turkey’s past alliance with the West as he turns Turkey into an Islamist nation. He is razing the structure of liberalism, and members of the Muslim Brotherhood are his Orcs.
— Celina Durgin is a Collegiate Network fellow at National Review.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally stated that Déagol found the Ring in the Gladden River. He found it in the River Anduin, which is near the Gladden Fields. The author regrets erroneously fusing the two names, and it has been corrected.