The case for Gollum

A man in Turkey is facing possible jail time over an Internet meme he shared that features images of Turkey’s president alongside the character Gollum from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Insulting the president is a crime according to Turkish law.

But whether or not the meme was a true insult is under consideration, and the judge in the case has called in five literary experts to help him decide. The defendant, Turkish physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci, faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

A prominent Tolkien expert himself, Wheaton Professor of English Michael Drout weighed in on the case in a recent New York Times article and in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered.

“I don’t think there’s any consensus that Gollum is evil,” Drout told the New York Times. “He is the most tragic character in The Lord of the Rings.”

Drout said he heard about the case about 24 hours before being contacted by media.

“Every person who saw it posted it to me on Facebook or sent it to me in an email,” he said. “In some articles, they were referred to as ‘Tolkien experts,’ though the actual news out of Turkey calls them ‘literary experts,’ so people were asking if I was one of the experts.”

Based purely on Gollum’s appearance, proving the comparison was not meant as an insult could be a tough sell, Drout said.

But Drout also sees a possible argument in Ciftci’s favor: In the end of the series, Gollum saves the entire world of Middle Earth by destroying the very ring whose influence led him do evil acts.

Though Drout called the idea of being jailed over comments about a president “horrifying,” he said the case does shed light on an aspect of Tolkien’s work that often gets misunderstood.

“There’s a stereotype, often used by people who have not read The Lord of the Rings, that Tolkien’s characters are cardboard perfect and that everything in Tolkien is black and white,” Drout said. “But all Tolkien scholars realize that Gollum is unbelievably complex.”

This meme created and shared by Turkish physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci shows Turkey’s president alongside the Tolkien character Gollum.