NCBI ROFL: Did Gollum have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder?

By ncbi rofl | February 17, 2010 7:00 pm

A precious case from Middle Earth.gollum

“Sméagol (Gollum) is a single, 587 year old, hobbit-like male of no fixed abode. He has presented with antisocial behaviour, increasing aggression, and preoccupation with the “one ring.”… …His forensic history consists of Deagol’s murder and the attempted murder of Samwise Gamgee. He has no history of substance misuse, although like many young hobbits he smoked “pipe weed” in adolescence. Sméagol has forgotten many memories of his childhood, and we have limited collateral history on his premorbid personality. Before obtaining the ring he was an inquisitive child with odd interests, who enjoyed causing mischief and solitary activities such as burrowing under trees to look at roots. He dislikes himself, stale raw fish, and “hobbitses.”

Several differential diagnoses need to be considered, and we should exclude organic causes for his symptoms. A space occupying lesion such as a brain tumour is unlikely as his symptoms are long standing. Gollum’s diet is extremely limited, consisting only of raw fish. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause irritability, delusions, and paranoia. His reduced appetite and loss of hair and weight may be associated with iron deficiency anaemia. He is hypervigilant and does not seem to need much sleep. This, accompanied by his bulging eyes and weight loss, suggests hyperthyroidism. Gollum’s dislike of sunlight may be due to the photosensitivity of porphyria. Attacks may be induced by starvation and accompanied by paranoid psychosis.

An internet search found over 1300 sites discussing the nature of Gollum’s “mental illness.” We 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). On initial consideration schizophrenia seems a reasonable diagnosis. However, in the context of the culture at the time it is unlikely. Delusions are false, unshakeable beliefs, not in keeping with the patient’s culture. In Middle Earth, the power of the ring is a reality. The passivity phenomena Gollum experiences are caused by the ring, and these symptoms occur in all ring bearers. Gollum does not fulfil the ICD-10 criteria for the diagnosis of schizophrenia…

…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 have caused 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.”

Read the full article here.


Thanks to Ann for today’s ROFL!

Image: flickr/Memekiller

Related content:
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Quadruple feature: Harry Potter and the curse of headache
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: BMJ week.

  • Sheldon W. Helms

    Do people really have so little to do in a day that they can afford to spend time “diagnosing” fictional characters? There are REAL people out there who need help; don’t waste your time with this geekfest.

  • Andrew

    Yet, you had time to not only read it but comment it as well. Shame on you.

  • Mitch

    Sheldon W. Helms, inspector-general of the fun police.

  • cdck

    Sometimes to keep doing the hard work, a person needs to do something that reminds them why they started in the first place. And yes, for a lot of passionate people, it’s because the career they chose was fun to them. Take out the fun, and it becomes the drudgery that eventually burns you out or just loses your interest.

    It’s amusing how many people assume that the time they spent doing this would have actually been spent on curing “REAL people”, and not, for instance, reading their newspaper in their pajamas.

  • Chrysoprase

    Don’t feed the trolls.

  • http://www.twitter.ygern Grania

    @ Chrysoprase
    Saw what you did there :)

  • Eliza Strickland

    Just read the complete journal article and came across this amazing kicker at the end:

    “Competing interests: We are all of short stature and have very large, hairy feet.”

  • feralboy12

    Now we need to get to work diagnosing Gandalf, and try to understand why, when the big battle erupts, he forgets his magic and takes up the sword.

  • HenryR

    @ feralboy12

    OSHA regulations restricting use of supernatural power in densely populated areas.

  • Worldwalker


    And do you spend your time 24/7 helping people?

    Hypothetical cases have been used as a teaching aid … well, probably for as long as anyone has been teaching medicine (or witch-doctoring, for that matter). Why not use Gollum instead of Patient X?

  • Dennis Edwards

    Here’s an alternative diagnosis from a friend I sent the article. (Actually, that should be “former friend,” since now that he’s wasted time on this frivolity, which could have been spent moping, I’ll have nothing more to do with him):

    “Multiple personality disorder does not fit IMHO. In Multiple Personality Disorder you have dissociation, that is, the person is unaware of what the other personalities are doing when they are in control and this manifests as “lost time” The splits in Gollum’s Personality were consistent with the kind of splits one often sees in severe Borderline Personality Disorders. His hypervigilance and shallow servile/dependent persona are often seen in Paranoid Personalities. Keep in mind that the DSM (which I personally don’t care for very much) is a system of descriptive diagnosis. Therefore, one can have multiple diagnoses if the diagnostic criteria are met. Given his extremely bizarre behavior I would say that hallucinations or delusions are not necessary in order to justify a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. Paranoid Schizophrenics are often Schizoid (they avoid human contact and no one ever gets truly close to them) Not all Paranoid Schizophrenics however exhibit the severe splits in personality that Gollum exhibits. So, I would say his Diagnosis would be:

    Axis I – 295.30 Schizophrenia, paranoid type, chronic
    Axis II – 301.83 Borderline personality disorder with paranoid and Schizoid features”

  • Captain Vimes

    @ Chrysoprase

    I bet you’d love some shale with a sulfuric acid and powdered coal dip on the side, eh?

  • FR

    The silly psychologists saw (and even mentioned) the problem: “preoccupation with the ‘one ring.'”

    The One Ring is far more than a ‘preoccupation’ – it actively causes a maladaptive obsession that increases over time to the point of becoming existential. The One Ring has a personality of its own (“Into this ring he [Sauron] poured all his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life.”) Only very morally strong personalities can contend with it, and it even overcame Frodo at the end.

    The closest thing to the One Ring that haunts our world is obsessive addiction to drugs/alcohol. I personally joke with addicts that “those drugs didn’t jump out from behind a bush and grab you” (addicts will sometimes remonstrate on this point- a good indicator of serious obsession.) The One Ring actually could make some decisions on its own.

    Without the Ring, Smeagol would have remained a quirky member of his local society and would not have fallen into antisocial behaviors, willful ostracism, paranoia, etc. All of that is just a symptom.

  • Maria

    YES! I agree with you completely, FR! Addiction, caused by supernatural power/compulsion to possess the ring!

  • HC

    A layman’s observation: the life-span of Smeagol presents a question regarding the effect of longer experiences than have been observed in any other clinical subject, what _is_ the natural progression of thought processes over a multi-century span?

    Also, it should be noted that the subject spent multiple decades/centuries in a low-stimulus, highly repetitive environment (the cavern networks under Goblin-town). The effect of such should be considered.

  • Joseph Hertzlinger

    One Ring? I think you mean the One Phone.

  • Sara W

    If you’re going to geek out, you should at least do a proper geek-out. Author needsssss to bone up on physsssical diagnosssssis–fish are high in B12, not low. Limited diet of raw fish might have led to several deficiencies, but definitely one of B12.

  • Mike O’Malley

    Well said FR.

    Moreover, Gollem’s forensic history is far from limited to Deagol’s murder and the attempted murder of Samwise Gamgee. I don’t have time to check for LoTR page references but I recall that Sméagol was expelled from his native clan of Storrs on suspicion of serial infanticide. Not long after Sméagol stole the Ring from Deagol, Sméagol acquired the practice of using the Ring to kidnap infant children of his own clan of Storrs from their cradles. If memory serves, Sméagol would then straggle and eat the kidnapped infants. How would schizoid personality disorder comprehend this particular “anti-social” behavior?

  • Alex O’Neal

    Re: “we should exclude organic causes for his symptoms.” It seems sad to me that now, when science has been able to demonstrate physiological, organic neural behavior when people problem solve, or make decisions, that organic causes should be excluded. One need not have an aneurysm or tumor to have an organic cause.

    First, it seems reasonable to wonder if the effects of extreme age might not interfere with reality perception and reasoning.

    Second, something organic is clearly happening in a creature whose lifespan has been extended far beyond the norm of his species. Arthur C Clarke famously observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It seems that the mortal Gollum, through his extraordinary association with the one ring, might provide valuable insight into the nature of Maian and Elvish technology. Do we seriously believe this is “magic?”

    Pity Gollum’s remains were [accidentally?] incinerated with the technology in question.

  • Alex O’Neal

    For those who like this kind of thing, a long-standing Internet favorite of mine is The Etiology and Treatment of Childhood, by Jordan Smoller. (Apparently even Harvard alumni think it’s okay to have fun with their work on occasion 😉

  • vsl

    @cdck: I agree about time spent reading newspapers in pajamas. several mentors where I went to school who have tried giving up that habit have become extremely sluggish when they watch student presentations.
    @HenryR: regulating use of supernatural power in densely populated area was a good idea! 😀 we wouldn’t want an explosive scale of friendly fire on a rider-and-foot soldiers battlefield.
    @Mike O’Malley: I agree that Gollum’s criminal history had been far more extensive than murder of Deagol and attempt on S. Gamgee, although other cases may have been harder to prove due to lack of definite witnesses (or the narrator’s voice). I don’t recall kidnapping and eating of infants, but I recall mentions of snooping on neighbors (invasion of privacy) and later making snide remarks at them, like blackmail but without asking for payment..

  • vsl

    @FR: I have a serious question here. always wondered. we could well say that Gollum’s quirky personality turned into serious problem when he became afflicted with addiction to the Ring, but along with diagnosis of “addiction”, are we still allowed to give diagnosis of paranoia or schizoid personality or any of the abovementioned.. or can we only put those as accompanying symptoms? such a sentence “Drug use causes paranoia” have often turned up in newspapers and magazines read by the general public. I know that some drugs cause paranoia-like symptoms. but if a patient fits the diagnosis of paranoia long after he has stopped using the drug (even though he may still feel he wants it), will he be given a diagnosis of paranoia??

  • Sméagol (Gollum)

    Nasty psychiatrissstss! Hates them, my precious! They locks uss up in padded cell! They makes uss look at inkblotsss! Tricksy, sly inkblotsss! Nasty Elvish pills burnsss our throat!

    Yesss We Hatesss themsss Evil oness yess my preciousss we hatess themsss

    But They Helpsss us!

    No they hurtsss usss, hurtsss usss sore!

  • vsl

    OK, I finished reading the whole original article from BMJ. Why did people think it and the discussion here would be a geekfest or otherwise waste of time? The article at the very least pointed out that Gollum’s hypervigilance and statements of persecution were all quite true in the cultural setting in Middle Earth and after Gollum’s own entanglement with the Ring in particular, none of them delusions. Thus, the overwhelming diagnosis of “schizophrenia” by the sampled medical students was in fact quite far from the mark. If anything, one could learn from this article to consider the cultural context and mindset when one looks at, say, a patient who grew up in a foreign country with a very different religion.

  • bb

    I agree VSL. Especially in relation to foreign countries like Mordor, and religions like Pure Evil it is important to consider the cultural context.

  • Dan

    You go to hell, Sheldon W. Helms and cdck.
    And the LOTR series is the most epic movie trilogy ever made.

  • Kdannyst

    Do you not realize how many movies have mentally ill characters. I mean come one man! A Beautiful Mind is all about a man who developed schizophrenia. It isn’t coincidence that these characters have such illnesses. It’s a well thought out process and there is always a reason that a character is the way he/she is. Would the movie not be the same if Gollum had not developed a psychological disorder? If you think about it, the movie wouldn’t have the intense and intriguing effect if Gollum was simply depressed. There are real people out there who need help, but not everyone is qualified to help them. Do some research and you’ll find out what it takes to actually be qualified to help some of these people. I’m sure who ever wrote this took great pride in their analysis and you go and crap on them. Grow up Sheldon W. Helms. Oh by the way I’m a high school senior… how old are you? 

  • ClearTC

    its mpd, idiots. whats with the schizo craze?

  • Zachary Stansfield

    Well, this is certainly a tough one.

    An important consideration is that the ring may produce electromagnetic waves, causing neurochemical disturbances when individuals come in close proximity to it. Gollum’s longitudinal and repeated exposure may have caused him to develop a comorbid substance abuse disorder, in addition to his other psychiatric symptoms. Perhaps, this suggests a genetic susceptibility to substance abuse? Recall, Frodo (also of a similar species) was able to sustain direct exposure for years while only developing moderate addictive symptoms.

    Exposure to fungal spores may have occurred during the long duration of his life spent underground, potentially suggesting secondary neurological complications due to infection including neuroinflammation.

    Gollum may also have had undiscovered genetic anomolies associated with his ultra-long life (relative to other hobbit-like creatures 587 vs ~ 150-200 years). Could this suggest a latent viral infection, perhaps mediating horizonal gene transfer? It’s difficult to tell. Too bad Gandalf didn’t find a method for Sanger Sequencing in one of those old tomes (next-gen sequencing was a jealously guarded secret of Sauron’s).

    Of course, we should always keep in mind that the late Dr. J Tolkien was only about to accumulate data on Gollum through retrospective accounts of his symptoms, rather than direct clinical observation. Accurate recording keeping might be an area for improvement in clinical practice within Middle Earth.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

About ncbi rofl

NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


See More

Collapse bottom bar