Friday, September 20, 2013

Smeagol vs Gollum; Merlin vs Morgana

You know those projects that you just stare at because the thought of starting them is so overwhelming? Well, I had this thought that if I put in the next Lord of the Rings movie (Two Towers - my favorite!), I might find it an easier prospect. [Transferring the mosaic laid out on cardboard to a board with the cement glue... It's my first one, so I'm nervous I'll mess it up with how small I made the pieces... Memo for next time - use bigger pieces...] I started the first disc and ate my dinner after realizing I'd get too confused if I tried to expand the size/gaps in between the pieces and found myself pondering a completely different topic and ignoring the mosaic. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it's another one of those multiple sources and thoughts converging into one. I took notes of my thoughts in my phone, didn't bother to watch the second disc yet (I wouldn't want to be distracted during the humor of Legolas and Gimli, after all!) and came to the computer where family history distracted me again. But here I am now, phone at the ready and a web of ideas to lay out for you.

The thoughts started as a combining of random sources bringing to mind the role of agency - how our choices determine our destinies inasmuch as the paths we take determine our ultimate destinations. The more wisdom and care we apply when making our choices will do much to indicate where we end up. With that in the background, I found myself considering Gollum in a different way. I'd always been a bit disturbed (still am, truth be told) by Sam's blatant antagonism of Gollum and how dear, sweet, wise Sam couldn't see that Frodo's anxiousness that Gollum could be redeemed was really his own concern that he would/was falling to the evil ring's power. This pity is even more brought forward as we watch the split-personality of Smeagol begin to fight off the wicked drivings of Gollum. But then I recalled something that I don't think is well known. Most are aware, I believe, that split-personalities tends to indicate past trauma in the individual's life, but being an uncommon situation, I think many don't realize that the person consciously seeks the splitting as a way to cope. It's a choice. (At least for the initial split. I haven't thought to ask beyond that...)

As Gollum taunts Smeagol about how he will be betrayed, that 'they'll cheat you, hurt you, lie to you' finally ending with 'nobody likes you', I found myself wondering what caused the split. What was the trauma that Smeagol couldn't handle on his own? The third movie makes it clear that he was ostracized because his greed caused him to murder his friend, so to say he'd been horribly wronged doesn't really fit. But then I remembered Loki and Thor and The Avengers. Loki hadn't been wronged and yet, in his mind, his actions were perfectly justified because of how he chose to interpret events. It is also how my family chose to see me as the source of all problems even as I was in relative form a house-elf. So, returning to the 'cheating, hurting, lying', this seems the basis for Gollum's hatred and anger self-justification. Ownership of the ring and citizenship in the Shire were both his right in his mind, so to be banished from the latter because he killed for the former would twist into being cheated. Also, he'd see Bilbo's winning of the ring as a cheat. Smeagol then had a hard life in the course of the consequences of his banishment with the most recent torture at the hands of Sauron's minions seeking the ring. Hence the 'hurt you'. Finally, the one who chooses to turn to anger and hate has no patience of compassion for the frailties of others or circumstances which interfere with stated intentions. He has no inclinations to forgive any perceived slight to himself and so it all becomes 'lies'.

In the stories I know of split personalities, there is usually a weak, protected, identity, and a strong protector identity. This translates to Smeagol as the weak one and Gollum as the protector. The thing is, Gollum as protector is like an abuser/victim relationship where the weak one can't imagine life being possible without what little support, abusive though it may be, the abuser provides. And since Smeagol is by no means an innocent, this gives the Gollum identity more to use in posing for strength over Smeagol. I suppose one could go into a discussion of id, ego, super-ego and say that Smeagol was lacking in the super-ego conscience factor, but I only know a couple split-stories and neither of them follow that pattern. What it does suggest to me, however, is the nature of the bully-coward, happy to hide behind the stronger entity as an easy excuse for their actions. That like the war-criminals seeking to claim that they were only following orders.

The good news is that in Smeagol's turning to Frodo (pre-Faramir), it proves that there is hope for the good to be found even in a long-mired soul. Smeagol had many opportunities to kill Frodo but saved his life more than once. I tried to consider that it could just be he didn't think he could get away with anything with Sam there (as Sam, himself, would see it) but that fails to take into account how Smeagol also showed joy and gave the gift of food and acted on trust when Frodo called to him. The good was there if he would choose to act on it even if things got rough. Sadly, he didn't. The bully has a weak spirit and when circumstances made him hurt, Gollum was quick to return and call it a lie. Rather than accept that more was going on, even when he later had the proof of it, he chose to remain Gollum and full of hate and malice.

It has always troubled me when I come across a character who has been wounded by life and chooses to turn dark for it. I remember a multi-page journal entry after watching The Phantom of the Opera the first time being so upset that a boy abused and set free was not then nurtured into healthy patterns, but left alone to develop in as twisted a manner as his outward form. Quasimodo is proof that the story could have been different. But then, it simply proves the point of Gollum and Smeagol. We choose our attitudes, our responses, our motivations, our destinations. White Collar's Neal Caffrey doesn't need coddled to turn his life as a con-man around, he just needs the Frodo opportunity. Nor does he need to be condemned forever as would the Samwise response. He just needs the chance and to make the choice.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been watching BBC's Merlin. Morgana (read Morgan leFay) is Merlin's nemesis and the story has to hold to that, but in this version, she starts out as friend and good person. But then she learns she has magic (an automatic death-warrant if King Uther finds out) and in her fear, she turns to hate. She becomes Gollum. At one point Merlin, himself magical, points out to his one confidant that he actually has someone to guide and help him where she, the king's ward, sees herself as having no one. And yet Merlin is the Quasimodo to prove her twisting hatred wrong. While he can't tell her his secret, he does tell her that she can choose to use her powers for good, even being in such danger. But she has no desire to listen for she has chosen how she will see things. She has chosen to look to pride and seek vengeance against a reality she doesn't like rather than considering how to work within a flawed reality for the good of all. And, ultimately, she falls because of it.

Merlin, who is good of heart and in just as much danger as Prince Arthur's servant, is constantly using his forbidden gifts to follow his conscience while repeatedly saving those who would kill him with the very powers for which they would kill him. Many project their own natures on him, accusing him of intending to use his powers/position to gain power and influence for himself, but he is not ruled by pride. He is willing to accept that sometimes things go wrong and sometimes that means the innocent suffers. Rather than lashing out in hatred, he seeks to find the best way through for all involved.

The news is full of such stories that I'm frequently reminding of 2 Timothy 3 (perilous times shall be - good old seminary scripture mastery rhymes!) and D&C 88:91.
 91 And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people.
The news feed on my weather app is full of stories of people choosing to be Gollums and Morganas. But that is not the only choice. It's not often the easiest road, but there is such much more dignity in being the Merlin. And the most dignified part about Merlin is how his choices enable dignity for others as well. Let us all be Merlin.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... now this is intriguing . I've never watched Merlin, but I do love Lord of the Rings. Being a psych major, I am actually surprised that I never pondered the mental processes of Gollum/Smeagol. Very interesting, and I would have to agree that you are spot on. It is always fun to ponder what makes a person choose the path they do, when we as outsiders see their situation from an entirely different perspective. I've always believed that putting ourselves in others' shoes is beneficial, if even it does not change our original judgement. It will do us so much good to get in the habit of checking ourselves and why we do/think the way that we do.