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Gandalf, Gollum, and the Death Penalty

Most people know about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings from the immensely successful film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson.  In those movies America came to know the characters Gandalf, Gollum, and Frodo through their portrayal by actors Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis (via superb animation), and Elijah Wood respectively.

In the first book and feature film, The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf and Frodo with their traveling companions are lost deep beneath the earth in the abandoned mines of Moria.  But they are not alone.

Frodo has discovered that the miserable and dangerous creature, Gollum, is following them in the darkness.  Frodo laments that his uncle Bilbo had not killed Gollum when he had the chance, saying that Gollum deserved to die for his “horrible deeds.”  Gandalf replies:

Deserves it! I daresay he does.  Many that live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.  I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.

St. Louis University Professor Tobias Winright uses this literary vignette as a jumping off point for a powerful reflection on Christian faith and the death penalty in his article, “Gandalf, Gollum, and the Death Penalty,” published in the January 2013 edition of Sojourners Magazine


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