Diagnosing Gollum

This article has an interesting psychiatric diagnosis of Gollum’s possible mental illness [HT: Eric Crampton]:

Sméagol (Gollum) is a single, 587 year old, hobbit-like male of no fixed abode. He has presented with antisocial behaviour, increasing aggression, and preoccupation with the “one ring.”… …His forensic history consists of Deagol’s murder and the attempted murder of Samwise Gamgee. He has no history of substance misuse, although like many young hobbits he smoked “pipe weed” in adolescence….

Several differential diagnoses need to be considered, and we should exclude organic causes for his symptoms. A space occupying lesion such as a brain tumour is unlikely as his symptoms are long standing. Gollum’s diet is extremely limited, consisting only of raw fish. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause irritability, delusions, and paranoia. His reduced appetite and loss of hair and weight may be associated with iron deficiency anaemia. He is hypervigilant and does not seem to need much sleep. This, accompanied by his bulging eyes and weight loss, suggests hyperthyroidism. Gollum’s dislike of sunlight may be due to the photosensitivity of porphyria. Attacks may be induced by starvation and accompanied by paranoid psychosis….

Gollum displays pervasive maladaptive behaviour that has been present since childhood with a persistent disease course. His odd interests and spiteful behaviour have led to difficulty in forming friendships and have caused distress to others. He fulfils seven of the nine criteria for schizoid personality disorder (ICD F60.1), and, if we must label Gollum’s problems, we believe that this is the most likely diagnosis.

Certainly a plausible diagnosis. However, as a law and economics scholar I can’t resist pointing out the possibility that Gollum was acting rationally all along, given his somewhat unusual preferences. After all, getting and keeping the Ring of Power was Gollum’s only way to achieve a measure of wealth, power, and a long lifespan far beyond that of other Hobbits. He successfully kept possession of the ring for decades, and nearly recovered it in The Lord of the Rings, despite facing huge obstacles.

If we assume that Gollum valued long life, power, and wealth above companionship, socializing, and conventional morality, his actions seem perfectly rational. True, the Ring didn’t ultimately make him wealthy. But it was reasonable to assume that it might when he first stole it. And it did give him a much longer life and greater power than he would have had otherwise. As for his supposed multiple personality disorder, perhaps inventing a second personality was a good way to pass the time during his long years of living alone. When he met Sam and Frodo, the supposed second personality was a good excuse for evading responsibility for his deceptions and efforts to steal back the Ring. If not for the alternate personality, Frodo might have let Sam kill Gollum or drive him away. Finally, Gollum’s theft of the ring and his obsessive guarding of it afterwards was arguably a rational response to the extremely poor enforcement of property rights in Middle Earth.

Maybe Gollum is an example of Bryan Caplan’s thesis that many seemingly insane people are not irrational, but merely have unusual preferences. In the same article, Caplan also explains the rationality of Denethor, another Tolkien character sometimes diagnosed as insane.

In the comments to the psychiatry article, Gollum himself takes a potshot at his psychiatric critics:

Nasty psychiatrissstss! Hates them, my precious! They locks uss up in padded cell! They makes uss look at inkblotsss! Tricksy, sly inkblotsss! Nasty Elvish pills burnsss our throat!

Yesss We Hatesss themsss Evil oness yess my preciousss we hatess themsss

But They Helpsss us!

No they hurtsss usss, hurtsss usss sore!

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