Long after I finished reading the books and watching the movies, the character from the Lord of the Rings trilogy I couldn’t stop thinking about wasn’t any of the plucky hobbits, Viggo Mortensen’s ruggedly handsome Aragorn, or Gandolf with his words of wisdom.
It was Gollum.
Born a hobbit-like creature named Sméagol, Gollum wasn’t always the shriveled, conniving wretch we meet in Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t until Sméagol was in his thirties that Sméagol’s friend Déagol found the powerful ring that Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring would later seek to destroy. Overcome by lust for the ring, Sméagol killed Déagol and took it for himself.
The ring prolonged Sméagol’s life, but began to corrupt him until his family finally cast him out. From that point on, he lived alone in the dark caves of the Misty Mountains, eating raw fish. Déagol’s death haunted him.
When Frodo learned about Gollum, he said, “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!” (Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 78).
“Pity!” Gandalf answered. “It was Pity that stayed his hand.”
Gandalf believed that everyone deserves a second chance—a chance at redemption. He went on to tell Frodo that even Gollum wasn’t wholly ruined: “I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it…My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many” (79).
Gandalf’s words stuck with Frodo.
Later, when Frodo showed him kindness, the Sméagol side of Gollum’s personality found the strength to fight against the Gollum side. What good was left in him tried to drive out the evil. Frodo’s kindness gave him a second chance.
Sam couldn’t see it. He couldn’t see past the disgusting parts of Gollum to take into account what he’d been through—isolation, torture in Mordor, the clutches of a ring that ruined all who carried it. He refused to try to see what Gollum might become if given a second chance.
When I first met Lynn* in elementary school, all I saw was a girl who disliked me for no reason. She told others’ secrets as soon as she found them out, seemed to take pleasure in embarrassing me in particular, and acted like she thought she was better than the other students. I found her annoying and wanted nothing to do with her.
When I should have been Frodo, I was Sam.
I didn’t bother to find out that Lynn was abused, had trouble reading, and, as we reached high school, struggled with an eating disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
When she disappeared, I didn’t even notice. I cared as little for her as Sam did for Gollum, and would have gladly left her behind in my past. When she came back during our senior year of high school, she wanted to be my friend.
Second chances are tricky things. You could get your finger bitten off the way Frodo eventually did. Every second chance comes with another opportunity to experience the pain you did the first time.
I was hesitant, skeptical. But, to borrow from Gandalf, my heart told me that she still might have a role to play in my life.
Years later, Lynn and I stood up in each other’s weddings. Her children call me Aunt Marcy. We joke now about back when we didn’t like each other and talk about who disliked whom most. And we laugh.
But if I hadn’t given her a second chance, I would have missed the trips we’ve taken, times we’ve cried on each other’s shoulders, good advice exchanged, secrets shared (and kept). I would have missed out on knowing a woman who’s now one of my dearest friends.
For me, the chance to get exactly what I did was worth the risk of giving her that second chance.
Has there ever been a time you decided to give someone a second chance and were glad you did? Do you believe in second chances?
*Lynn isn’t her real name. I’ve changed it to protect her privacy.