I have been reading The Return of the Shadow, the first book of the History of the Lord of the Rings sequence, and I’ve found an interesting tidbit.
When he began to write, Tolkien did not have a clear conception of where his tale would lead. And remember, at that point Gollum had seriously offered the ring as a prize to Bilbo. The ring was not yet the Ring. But it was getting there.
In the early drafts, the Ring is just the last ring beyond Sauron’s control. It is most precious to him for some reason, but far from being the ‘One Ring,’ the ‘Ruling Ring’ it was to become. What is most interesting to me is the mechanisms by which the Ring functions at this point.
The Ring gains power over the bearer based upon the use it is put to. Using it for escape or jest is permissible, but stealing or killing would give it power over the bearer, even to the point of making him a wraith. This is why the pity of Bilbo is so important. Had he not had pity on Gollum, he would have become a wraith fully under the power of the Ring. This also lends itself easily to explain why Bilbo was able to pass the Ring on to Frodo (or Bingo), as well as why he was never greatly affected by the Ring.
While in some ways the Ring seems to have less power, it is more devious. It takes hold of Bilbo through his feeling of sentiment. Here is the souvenir of his great adventure. For Frodo it is his great inheritance from Bilbo, it becomes the object of his love for Bilbo after he leaves. And through these sentiments of attachment the Ring begins to take hold.
Gollum is not Smeagol at this point in the drafts, but Digol. Interesting, right? He merely finds the Ring; no yet beginning his ownership with murder. Instead, he uses the Ring to steal and spy on his family. These perfidious acts allow the Ring to bear heavily on him.
Obviously this conception of how the Ring works did not last overtly through to the final book. But it is interesting to consider how it remains. The pity of Bilbo and subsequently the pity of Frodo are the key points in the book. It may be Frodo’s pity for Gollum rather than hatred that saved Frodo from complete domination by the Ring. More importantly, this pity is the reason why the Ring was destroyed, otherwise it would not have happened.
And Gollum, here I may stretch things a bit too far, but I’ve come up with an intriguing application. In the final version, Smeagol kills Deagol to gain the Ring. He begins his ownership with murder and crime. But what of his original name, “Digol,” awfully close to Deagol, right? In a sense, in gaining the Ring and in killing Deagol, Gollum kills a part of himself. He loses Smeagol and any love or hobbitness he once had. He becomes the animated embodiment of the Ring. He is “My Precious.”