UCL News


Mental health check for Lord of the Rings character

17 December 2004

The mental health of Tolkien's character Gollum has long been a mystery to Lord of the Rings fans, who have argued the nature of Gollum's 'mental illness' on over 1300 websites - did he have schizophrenia or was he suffering from multiple personality disorder? UCL scientists now diagnose the famous character in a paper published in this week's British Medical Journal (BMJ).

A group of UCL medical students, led by Dr. Liz Sampson, concludes that Gollum was actually suffering from schizoid personality disorder.

In the paper, Sméagol is described as a single, 587 year old, hobbit-like male of no fixed abode. He displays antisocial behaviour, increasing aggression, and preoccupation with the 'one ring'. Gollum was spiteful to others and had only one friend, Deagol, who he later murdered for the ring. He began to detest the outside world and ate only live animals or raw fish. Eventually Sméagol created Gollum, the outsider, who had a more violent personality.

The diagnosis by UCL scientists was reached after a survey of medical students who largely diagnosed Smeagol (Gollum) as having schizophrenia. The authors of the paper asked 30 randomly selected medical students if they thought Gollum had a mental illness. Schizophrenia was the most common diagnosis (25 students), followed by multiple personality disorder (three).

Thanks to his two personalities - Gollum and Smeagol - many people have speculated that he might be have schizophrenia and on initial consideration schizophrenia seems a reasonable diagnosis, say the authors. Multiple personality disorder is also considered however, the interaction between the two personalities shows Gollum is aware of both Smeagol and Gollum at the same time. Instead, Gollum displays 7 of the 9 symptoms of schizoid personality disorder including solitary habits and difficulty in forming friendships, emotional changeability, nervousness and paranoia (the authors refer to his comments about Sauron - 'the eye is always watching' and Samwise Gamgee - 'the fat hobbit he knows').

The team from the Department of Mental Health Sciences said: "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 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."

Notes to editors:

  1. The paper 'A precious case from Middle Earth' is printed in the 18 December 2004 issue of the BMJ. The authors are Nadia Bashir, Nadia Ahmed, Anushka Singh, Yen Zhi Tang, Maria Young, Amina Abba, Elizabeth L Sampson.

Further information:

To arrange an interview or obtain a copy of the paper, please contact Alex Brew, UCL Media Relations, on 020 7679 9726 or a.brew@ucl.ac.uk