That’s your Own Personal Gollum (OPG).
Gollum wasn’t always such a heinous wretch. Once upon a time he was a happy-go-lucky Hobbity sort of person who had at least one friend (whom he ended up murdering on a riverbank, sadly) and who loved playing riddle games. Gollum even fondly remembers having a grandmother! Someone like that couldn’t be completely evil, right?
But poor Gollum was corrupted by the Ring, and this constant craving hollowed out his soul. He’s a husk of the Hobbit he used to be. He’s like a meth addict craving another hit, and he will do anything to satisfy that terrible emptiness.
Gollum makes Sam’s and Frodo’s life a living hell. He’s manipulative, hateful and bad company on a very long road trip. (Can you imagine driving across America with Gollum in the backseat? You’d want to toss him into a cornfield somewhere around the middle of Kansas.)
Gollum is so awful he pushes even the kindhearted mild-mannered Sam to violence. And Frodo, who recognizes a kindred spirit tainted by the Ring of Doom, is both repulsed and drawn to Gollum as he tries in vain to redeem him, calling him by his old Hobbit name of Sméagol.
Your Own Personal Gollum might not be as horrible as Tolkien’s Gollum. Your OPG could be an annoying classmate, or someone you work with who’s constantly grating on your nerves, or even a relative who makes you cringe every time you see them. (Many people have told me their OPG is their mother-in-law!) You probably won’t have to make a trek with this person to the fires of Mount Doom, but sometimes it might feel that way. Because people who are obsessed with their own problems, like most OPGs seem to be, want everyone else to feel their pain.
So how do we deal with somebody who makes us this miserable? We can’t tie an Elven rope around their necks, give them a good yank and call them “stinker” like Sam does. That just lowers ourselves to their level (and it’s also illegal in most states). Frodo’s sympathy and kindness is admirable, but in the end Gollum ends up biting off his finger. Do you want your OPG to bite off your finger? Even metaphorically? Because I sure don’t.
A year before The Lord of the Rings begins (according to Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales) Aragorn captured Gollum and led him nine hundred miles to the Elven-king’s home in Mirkwood. The journey lasted fifty days, making Aragorn the unofficial winner of the “I spent the most time with nasty old Gollum” award. I can just imagine how the stoical Ranger would have dealt with his OPG: He would have tuned out the vile Gollum’s whining—utterly ignoring him—and strode onward with a fixed look of determination in his steely eyes until he’d reached his destination and delivered Gollum to the Elves. Then he would have turned around and walked away without giving Gollum a second glance.
It’s Gandalf’s advice to Frodo that’s most meaningful when dealing with your OPG, however. Months before Frodo sets out on the quest to destroy the Ring, Gandalf tells the Hobbit that the only way of dealing with Gollum is to pity him. It’s Frodo’s pity that keeps him from killing Gollum when he has the chance, and this mercy is what ultimately saves Frodo from his own failure to destroy the Ring. He learns about compassion the hard way.
In the end we really don’t have any way of controlling the relationship with our OPG. We can control, however, the way we react to them: With pity and self-control. And if those tactics don’t work, sometimes we simply need to give up and go our separate ways.