Odd, as it may seem, reading J. R. R. Tolkien has helped me love meth addicts—of which there are many in Myrtle Point. Tom Shippey’s book, J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, argues that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings addresses surprisingly modern issues even though written by an antiquarian professor of Old English. Shippey asserts Tolkien may have given us one of the most insightful studies of the nature of addiction.
It is, of course, the power of the Ring that is addictive. The Ring can capture and submerge the identity of the user. We see this powerfully in the character of Gollum. Gollum was the name others gave him when they heard him making gurgling sounds. His original hobbit name is Smeagol. Throughout The Lord of the Rings we see a battle between these two identities. Peter Jackson’s movie makes this battle come alive in several scenes where Gollum and Smeagol argue fiercely over whether to betray Frodo and Sam.
I have seen this: the drug personality at war with the God-given personality. I have eaten dinner and had polite conversation with an addict who a few months later viciously beat and robbed an old man who lived up the street. I have seen how lying and stealing to get drug money changes a person’s heart and mind. Here addicts lose their names to “tweaker or junkie”. Sadly, many meth addicts also end up looking like Gollum.
Tolkien shows the utter depravity of Gollum, while at the same time insisting that Gollum must be shown mercy. Every attempt to cure him must be made. Pity and mercy demand it. Gandalf insists Gollum is not wholly ruined, “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.” I have learned to pray that addicts will have memories of light. Teckla and I once threw a birthday party for a local meth addict. His smile was beautiful—full of light from better days.
Gandalf says, however, that Gollum “hated the dark, and he hated the light even more: he hated everything and the Ring most of all.” Frodo asks Gandalf why Gollum didn’t just get rid of the ring if he hated it so much. Gandalf explains, “He hated it and loved it, as he hated and loved himself.” Like Frodo, I am baffled why drug addicts, who hate their addiction, don’t just stop using. But like drug addicts, Gollum “could not get rid of it. He had no will left in the matter.” Addicts, I have discovered, love and hate themselves. Heaping shame on them doesn’t help.
It is easy for us to just want to be rid of addicts. Frodo’s initial response to the story of Gollum is “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance!” Frodo goes on to insist that Gollum deserves death. Gandalf agrees: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? The do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.” Later Frodo remembers these words of Gandalf and shows pity and mercy to Gollum—hoping to bring him back to Smeagol.
It becomes easier for Frodo to show mercy to Gollum after Frodo has worn the ring and has felt its power. He understands the power of addiction and the bondage of the will. As much as I may not understand physical addiction to a drug, I understand sin—especially my own. I understand Jesus’ declaration, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” My Ring and my drug of choice is what Paul called his “old self.” When he looked at Gollum, Frodo saw himself—or at least what he could become. But Frodo also saw Smeagol—the young hobbit Gollum once was.
The tweakers and junkies that wander the streets of Myrtle Point may not deserve much. Neither do I. And they all have names—given by those who love them—sometimes given by God. Under the deformity of each Gollum is a Smeagol. Mercy and pity should move us to seek their cure. We must learn to love the Smeagols who were once happy hobbits.