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When Bilbo opened his eyes, he wondered if he had; for it was just as dark as with them shut.
Very slowly he got up and groped about on all fours, till he touched the wall of the tunnel; but neither up nor down it could he find anything: nothing at all, no sign of goblins, no sign of dwarves. His head was swimming, and he was far from certain of even the direction they had been going in when he had his fall. He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.
Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don't know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was Gollum - as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face. He had a little boat, and he rowed about quite quietly on the lake; for lake it was, wide and deep and deadly cold. He paddled it with large feet dangling over the side, but never a ripple did he make. Not he. He was looking out of his pale lamp-like eyes for blind fish, which he grabbed with his long fingers as quick as thinking. He liked meat too. Goblin he thought good, when he could get it; but he took care they never found him out. He just throttled them from behind, if they ever came down alone anywhere near the edge of the water, while he was prowling about. They very seldom did, for they had a feeling that something unpleasant was lurking down there, down at the very roots of the mountain. They had come on the lake, when they were tunnelling down so long ago, and they found they could go no further; so there their road ended in that direction, and there was no reason to go that way - unless the Great Goblin sent them. Sometimes he took a fancy for fish from the lake, and sometimes neither goblin nor fish came back.
"Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it's a choice feast; at least a tastey morsel it'd make us, gollum!" And when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat. That is how he got his name, though he always called himself 'my precious'.
The hobbit jumped nearly out of his skin when the hiss came in his ears, and he suddenly saw the pale eyes sticking out at him.
"Who are you?" he said, thrusting his dagger in front of him.
"What is he, my preciouss?" whispered Gollum (who always spoke to himself through never having anyone else to speak to). This is what he had come to find out, for he was not really very hungry at the moment, only curious; otherwise he would have grabbed first and whispered afterwards.
"I am Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don't know where I am; and I don't want to know, if only I can get away."
"What's he got in his handses?" said Gollum, looking at the sword, which he did not quite like.
"A sword, a blade which came out of Gondolin!"
"Sssss" said Gollum, and became quite polite. "Praps ye sits here and chats with it a bitsy, my preciousss. It likes riddles, praps it does, does it?" He was anxious to appear friendly, at any rate for the moment, and until he found out more about the sword and the hobbit, whether he was quite alone really, whether he was good to eat, and whether Gollum was really hungry. Riddles were all he could think of. Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains.
"Very well," said Bilbo, who was anxious to agree, until he found out more about the creature, whether he was quite alone, whether he was fierce or hungry, and whether he was a friend of the goblins.
"You ask first," he said, because he had not had time to think of a riddle.
So Gollum hissed:
What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?
"Easy!" said Bilbo. "Mountain, I suppose."
"Does it guess easy? It must have a competition with us, my preciouss! If precious asks, and it doesn't answer, we eats it, my preciousss. If it asks us, and we doesn't answer, then we does what it wants, eh? We shows it the way out, yes!"
"All right!" said Bilbo, not daring to disagree, and nearly bursting his brain to think of riddles that could save him from being eaten.
Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.
"Chestnuts, chestnuts" he [Gollum] hissed. "Teeth! teeth! my preciousss; but we only has six!" Then he asked his second:
Voiceless it cries,
"Half a moment!" cried Bilbo ... "Wind, wind of course," he said, and he was so pleased that he made up one on the spot. "This'll puzzle the nasty little underground creature," he thought:
An eye in a blue face
Saw an eye in a green face.
"That eye is like to this eye"
Said the first eye,
"But in high place
Not in low place."
"Ss, ss, ss," said Gollum. ... "Sss, sss, my preciouss" he said. "Sun on the daisies it means, it does."
But these ordinary above ground everyday sort of riddles were tiring for him. Also they reminded him of days when he had been less lonely and sneaky and nasty, and that put him out of temper. What is more they made him hungry; so this time he tried something a bit more difficult and unpleasant:
It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.
Unfortunately for Gollum Bilbo had heard that sort of thing before; and the answer was all around him any way. "Dark!" he said without even scratching his head or putting on his thinking cap.
A box without hinged key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid,
he asked to gain time, until he could think of a really hard one. ...
"Give us a chance; let it give us a chance, my preciouss - ss - ss." ...
But suddenly Gollum remembered thieving from nests long ago, and sitting under the river bank teaching his grandmother, teaching his grandmother to suck - "Eggses!" he hissed. "Eggses it is!" Then he asked:
Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.
After a while Gollum began to hiss with pleasure to himself: "Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?" He began to peer at Bilbo out of the darkness.
"Half a moment," said the hobbit shivering. "I gave you a good long chance just now."
"It must make haste, haste!" said Gollum, beginning to climb out of his boat on to the shore to get at Bilbo. But when he put his long webby foot in the water, a fish jumped out in fright and fell on Bilbo's toes.
"Ugh!" he said, "it is cold and clammy!" - and so he guessed. "Fish! fish!" he cried. "It is fish!"
No-legs lay on one-leg, two-legs sat near on three-legs, four-legs got some.
... "Fish on a little table, man at table sitting on a stool, the cat has the bones" that of course is the answer, and Gollum soon gave it. Then he thought the time had come to ask something hard and horrible. This is what he said:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
... he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking. Gollum began to get out of his boat. He flapped into the water and paddled to the bank; Bilbo could see his eyes coming towards him. His tongue seemed to stick in his mouth; he wanted to shout out "Give me more time! Give me more time!" But all that came out with a sudden squeal was:
Bilbo was saved by pure luck. For that of course was the answer.
Gollum was disappointed once more; and now he was getting angry, and also tired of the game. It had made him very hungry indeed. This time he did not go back to his boat. He sat down in the dark by Bilbo. That made the hobbit most dreadfully uncomfortable and scattered his wits.
"It's got to ask uss a question, my preciouss, yes, yess, yesss. Jusst one more question to guess, yes, yess," said Gollum.
But Bilbo simply could not think of any question with that nasty wet cold thing sitting next to him, and pawing and poking him. He scratched himself, he pinched himself; still he could not think of anything.
"Ask us! ask us!" said Gollum.
Bilbo pinched himself and slapped himself; he gripped on his little sword; he even felt in his pocket with his other hand. There he found the ring he had picked up in the passage and forgotten about.
"What have I got in my pocket?"
Ai! If you have read this far, then please e-mail me, Lila, at this address and tell me so: firstname.lastname@example.org (I would put it as a link but then I would be giving this away). I'm just curious as to who was observant enough to notice this all. I hope you enjoyed reading one of my favorite parts of The Hobbit, nearly half of the chapter Riddles in the Dark. Poor, Gollum.... I will always have a place in my heart for that sad wretched creature. He never knew what he was getting into; he merely wanted his preciouss... For all anyone knows the Ring may have stayed safe down in those depths and in the tight clutches of a miserably lonely being. Never will we know, my preciouss, no. Go now and leave uss, sss, leave us and go back to reading about hobbit feet, nice hobbitsess, nice master, good Smeagol...