Friday, 10 September 2010


I once interviewed Brian Aldiss at the Cheltenham literary festival, and he talked about The Lord of the Rings: one problem he had with that novel, he said, was that it was full of people but had only one character. That character—he meant Gollum of course—is one of the highpoints of Tolkien’s fictional art; and it would be a plausible answer to this mind-meld question. But it’s worth pondering why. Other characters are notionally ‘conflicted’ in the novel: Frodo, Boromir. It might be that their conflict is externalised; they are tempted by the ring, presented with the external dilemma 'can I resist this external temptation or not?' But I'm not so sure. Gollum is a pretty thoroughly externalised piece of writing, too. I now wonder if it doesn't have something to do with potential. With Frodo, and Boromir, the salient is: what might happen? Gollum has already been corrupted. In a manner of speaking (symbolically, that is): most of the characters in the novel are prelapsarian, and consequently only as interesting as Adam and Eve. Gollum is after the fall, and starts to become Iago -- or Lord Jim.

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