Frodo’s compassion to Gollum was significant because it was referred to by Tolkien as an instrument of Providence.
“His humility (with which he began) and his sufferings were justly rewarded by the highest honour; and his exercise of patience and mercy towards Gollum gained him Mercy: [Frodo’s] failure was redressed.” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 246)
Finding of the Ring
17 years after Bilbo’s and Frodo’s big birthday celebration, Gandalf shows up at Bag End for big news. He shows up with news concerning the magic ring that Bilbo had left for Frodo, and finds out more about the One Ring’s history.
Bilbo might’ve told Frodo briefly in his last letter, but not too much about the ring, though Bilbo had never connected his long life to it but more so to himself.
Thus, we get a glimpse at just how hard it was for Bilbo to let go of the ring when it was time.
Gandalf finally mentions that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring of Sauron the Great, Dark Lord – before talking about Sméagol.
Gollum’s early days
Sméagol was suspected to be a hobbit. He was the most inquisitive and curious-minded of his family. He had a friend called Deagol – who disappeared, and no one knew what happened except he was murdered far away from home.
Sméagol loved that no one could see him when he wore the ring, and used it to find out secrets, along with using his knowledge for crooked and malicious uses.
“He took to thieving, and going about muttering to himself, and gurgling in his throat. So they called him Gollum, and cursed him, and told him to go far away; and his grandmother, desiring peace, expelled him from the family and turned him out of her hole.
He wandered in loneliness, weeping a little for the hardness of the world, and he journeyed up the River, till he came to a stream that flowed down from the mountains, and he went that way. He caught fish in deep pools with invisible fingers and ate them raw. …
‘…The Ring went into the shadows with him, and even the maker, when his power had begun to grow again, could learn nothing of it…It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left [Gollum].” (FOTR, “The Shadow of the Past”)
Thus, in The Hobbit, Bilbo solved a riddle and as a result he found the One Ring.
Gollum was tracked and imprisoned by the Wood-elves in Mirkwood, though he mainly wept and called the hobbits cruel, probably after hearing of hobbits and the shire. The Wood-elves treated him with kindness.
Gandalf finally concluded with this statement:
“‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need…he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.’…’Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life…do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
After looking at the ring, Frodo tried to cast it away as if he were to strike it into the fire, but ended up putting it back in his pocket.
When Frodo first sees Gollum in his retched state much later – he starts to pity him.
(On screen: “For now that I see him, I do pity him.” (The Two Towers, “The Taming of Sméagol”)
This is not out of being gullible but more so out of pity – and later, empathy.
Because of this, Gollum was able to get on his own good side until the Forbidden Pool scene when he thought that Frodo had betrayed him.
However, Frodo spares Gollum his life begging Faramir that Gollum should not be harmed.
Faramir agreed, as long as Gollum would be Frodo’s servant – though Faramir’s warning was that Gollum had evil that was growing.
Sam was frustrated, not knowing what his friend and master was doing because he simply didn’t see Gollum as trustworthy. “[He] stared at his master, who seemed to be speaking to some one who was not there.” (TTT, “The Taming of Sméagol”)
“It is difficult to exclude [pride and posessiveness] from the devotion of those who perform [Sam’s services]…In any case it prevented him from fully understanding the master that he loved, and from following him in his gradual education to the nobility of service to the unlovable and of perception of damaged good in the corrupt.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter # 246
However, this didn’t seem to be any fault of his – as he could possibly just not have the understanding needed to show compassion to Gollum at this point, before he would have any contact with the One Ring…
(L246 cont.) “…[especially] in the incident of the Forbidden Pool. If he had understood better what was going on between Frodo and Gollum, things might have turned out differently in the end…Sam could hardly have acted differently.”
However, Sam did reach the point of pity at last for the good of Gollum, after reaching the cracks of Mount Doom.
Pity and Mercy
In the beginning we would see that Frodo would have more or less, similar sentiments that we would see from Sam much later in not trusting Gollum:
“What a pity that Bilbo didn’t stab that vile creature, when he had the chance!” (FOTR, “The Shadow of the Past”)
This could be due to the fact that at time of judgment they have not borne the ring yet and would not be able to understand Gollum’s temptations.
It is also further explained in Letter # 192, why, when it came down to it, that Frodo eventually succumbs claiming the ring as his own.
“It is possible for the good, even the saintly, to be subjected to a power of evil which is too great for them to overcome – in themselves. In this case the cause (not the ‘hero’) is triumphant, because by the exercise of pity, mercy, and forgiveness of injury, a situation was produced in which all was redressed and disaster averted” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 192)
…referring to the eventual outcome of Gollum slipping into the fire with the ring.
But this doesn’t mean one must be merciful just for later, but more so that one is assured the true meaning of showing this mercy that is inherently desired.
“The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), ‘that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named’ (as one critic had said)” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 192)
This would most likely be referring to Eru Ilúvatar – the deity of his legendarium, that Tolkien had written for The Silmarillion.
As finite creatures, we don’t necessarily know the scope of limits by natural strength and grace, and to others we must “apply a scale tempered by mercy: that is, since we can with good will do this without the bias inevitable in judgements of ourselves, we must estimate the limits of another’s strength and weigh this against the force of particular circumstances.” (L246)
This double scale was frequently seen in the saints and their judgments upon themselves when suffering great hardships and temptations, and others in like trials.