THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Summer 2003)
Dobby and Gollum, two figures from this winter’s biggest film successes, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," stand out as remarkable representatives of an intriguing aspect of the Self, one that seeks to protect the personality from harm, but in doing so may thwart the fulfillment of its most important goal, individuation. As the Video and DVD versions of "The Chamber of Secrets" arrive in stores and those for "The Two Towers" turn up later this year, these characters are worth greater scrutiny. As Harry eagerly anticipates going “home” to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and away from the wretched Dursleys, he finds himself confronted with Dobby, a house elf, who insists he is there to keep Harry from going to Hogwarts where he would be in imminent danger. While dangers do exist at Hogwarts--as they do anywhere--it is here in this magical and mysterious school that Harry learns about who he really is and takes steps towards reaching his fullest potential. While at the Dursleys Harry is treated with contempt, repeatedly shamed, and often confined to limited space and social contact. Dobby, in trying to “save” Harry, risks isolating him and keeping him from discovering further who he really is and where he truly belongs. He represents an aspect of the Self that analyst Donald Kalsched calls the “self-care system.” Essentially it seeks self-preservation and survival over self-fulfillment, self-realization and individuation. In particular to “protect” Harry, Dobby has cut off all contact with Harry’s friends from Hogwarts by intercepting all his mail. Dobby hopes that Harry will think he has been forgotten and that his friends are no longer interested in him. This is the negative side of the self-care system at work: cutting a person off from those that one most needs to thrive, with the intention of protecting the person from harm. Dobby represents a particular kind of psychological complex that has to be resolved for the personality to grow. Part of the overarching theme of "The Chamber of Secrets" is Harry’s coming to terms with Dobby. He does so by eventually discovering what Dobby is up to, and eventually freeing Dobby from the wizard family that holds him in slavery. Gollum, too, is an ambivalent Self figure along similar lines. Gollum is actually the “self-care” aspect of Smeagol, a figure not unlike the Hobbits, who has become a shadow of his former self due to his long exposure to the one Ring. The Hobbit Frodo Baggins, having struggled mightily with the burden of the Ring himself as the ring bearer for the Fellowship of the Ring, senses that inside the rough Gollum there is the more sensitive Smeagol, both exist within the same personality. After Frodo befriends Smeagol, despite his companion Sam’s great misgivings, Smeagol agrees to serve as their guide into Mordor where they plan to return the Ring so it can be destroyed. The film version of "The Two Towers" offers an extraordinary scene in which the two aspects of the Smeagol/Gollum character wrestle with each other to see which will predominate. Befriended by Frodo and trusting him, Smeagol wins the day in a moving dialogue and drives Gollum’s influence away. But later we see how fragile the dismissal of such a complex, one that helps the personality survive, can be. When the men of Gondor have positioned themselves to shoot Smeagol with their arrows, Frodo intercedes and goes down to rescue him. When he calls him and Smeagol is captured, Smeagol feels betrayed. He doesn’t realize that Frodo has saved his life, and so Gollum comes back to the forefront and plots revenge and betrayal of the shaky bond that has been formed. In this situation, because of the external circumstances, the self-care system isn’t “freed” as in the case of Dobby. But as Gandalf foresaw, it will still play a role in the larger drama.
Editor: Steve Galipeau