Monday, 13 August 2012

The Taming of Smeagol

"The Taming of Smeagol" by Donato Giancola

I stumbled onto this absolutely exquisite painting, depicting a scene from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It is by multiple award winning artist Donato Giancola. The title "The Taming of Smeagol" refers to a chapter from the second novel of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, "The Two Towers", in which Frodo and Sam captures Smeagol (Gollum).

A scene from a staged production of
Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew",
directed by Conall Morrisson (2008).
(Image Source)

Tolkien's chapter title "The Taming of Smeagol" alludes to Shakespeare's play "The Taming of the Shrew" in which a gentlemen "tames" his stubborn bride into becoming obedient. The "taming" in The Lord of the Rings is summarised as follows on the Tolkien Gateway wiki:

As the hobbits huddle in the cold, Frodo spots a crawling insect-like creature on a distant cliff, clinging to the wall by its hands. Sam realizes the creature is Gollum. As the creature draws nearer, he leaps on Sam. They wrestle. Frodo draws his knife Sting from its sheath and thrusts it against Gollum’s neck, demanding obedience from the creature. Gollum is suddenly subservient and vows total servitude, but Frodo does not trust him entirely. Gollum suddenly bounds away, attempting escape. The hobbits get him back and harness him with the Elf rope, which causes Gollum great pain. Gollum again vows obedience, and this time he seems sincere. The creature leads his Hobbit masters onward to Mordor.

Many readers, particularly readers of later generations, have wondered if the relationship between the Hobbits Frodo and Sam are possibly homosexual, considering the strong love the Hobbits have for each other and the physical affection that Sam shows towards his master Frodo. I think this misconception reveals the sad state of modern Western culture where any intimate friendship is assumed to be sexual. As if the only way to intimacy is through sex. No, any close reading of the text makes it clear that the two Hobbits are not homosexual. They do, however, express great camaraderie and platonic intimacy and such physical affection between same-sex friends are quite common in many cultures around the world and carries no sexual significance--not in many parts of our world, nor in Tolkien's Middle Earth.

The painting by Giancolo, on the other hand, flips the tables and asks a different question; not if there is sexual intimacy between Frodo and Sam, but rather if there is a type of sexual tension between Frodo and Smeagol, or Sam and Smeagol.

"The Taming of Smeagol" by Donato Giancola

The homo-erotic elements in this painting is glaringly obvious. The naked Smeagol sits on Sam's back; Smeagol has toppled Sam and mounted him, hinting at an attempted rape. Fortunately Frodo intervenes and pulls Smeagol away by his hair, while keeping "Sting", his sword threateningly close. Frodo's violent action is paradoxically contrasted with his face so intimately close to Smeagol's that it almost appears like Frodo is about to kiss Smeagol. Furthermore, swords are by their very nature phallic symbols and in this painting with its close proximity to the naked Smeagol, the sexual symbolism is obviously alluded to.

Giancolo's depiction evokes a lover's triangle. Those that have read the book (or seen the movie) will know that an actual lover's triangle between these three characters do not exist. Yet the painting makes us aware of such a possibility nonetheless and we are forced to rethink the relationship of these characters. And so we do find a lover's triangle of sorts--not of Frodo and Sam and Smeagol, but of Frodo and Smeagol and the Ring. Smeagol's obsession with the Ring, his "precious", is stronger than any normal erotic obsession. Smeagol's seeming attempt to get closer to Frodo, i.e. Smeagol's "taming", is based on his obsession with the Ring. While Frodo finds the Ring burdensome, he also becomes infatuated with it, and because he knows that Smeagol understands this infatuation, he feels a special bond with Smeagol. The Ring draws them both to itself, but also strangely to each other. Sam is the one left out, the one "underneath", separated from Frodo and Smeagol's special intimacy. Notice how the menacing sword points at Sam, showing how he is "threatened" by Frodo and Smeagol's connection.

Giancolo's homo-erotic interpretation highlights the intensity of the Ring's power--brilliantly comparing it to an erotic obsession.

You can view more of Giancolo's artwork at his website.

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