Skinematic Spotlight: Evil skin in The Lord of the Rings

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Chillin' with The One True Ring will ruin your matinee idol looks.



 The Gollum: After Ring exposure

 And before Ring exposure (as the Hobbit Smeagol)
One of Middle Earth's most dermatologically damaged denizens is the freaky fellow known as the Gollum. Originally Bilbo Baggins' adversary, the Gollum started out as an everyday hairy happy Hobbit named Smeagol. His fate was sealed when he came into possession of the One True Ring. He hid away with the treasure he calls his "Precious," but long term exposure to such a toxic item changed him. Not just driven to mental evil, he was physically corrupted by the One True Ring.

Notably for a Hobbit, he lost most of his hair. Alopecia areata is a condition where the body's immune cells attack hair follicles. Initially this begins with patchy hair loss of the scalp and beard, as revealed by fellow curious creature Keanu Reeves. Rarely, this can progress to extensive hair loss over the entire body. Medicines that suppress this immune reaction may temporarily allow some hair to regrow.
The Gollum also shows evidence of both thinning and thickening of the skin. Close inspection of his arm reveals skin thinning, such that his veins are clearly visible. Hunched over and hissing, his blood vessels, muscles, and joints stretch beneath skin like saran wrap. Thin skin, or atrophy, can result from age, sun damage, or overuse of topical cortisone creams. Once thinned, few options exist to restore skin to its original resilient state.
Yet the Gollum's shoulder shows some thickened areas. Increased skin lines (called lichenification) occur when a person compulsively rubs at the skin. Eventually, the epidermis expands, creating this linear pattern. Stress increases the tendency to rubbing. We can only speculate that if the Gollum could reclaim the Ring, his skin might start to approximate normal.
After losing the ring to Bilbo Baggins, grumpy Gollum then spends 3 volumes of text (and now three feature films) desperately attempting to retrieve his "Precious." Forget the Ring--healthy skin and hair are the truly "precious" objects.


 Grima's sweaty, bumpy...

 ...Pale, furrowed and moley...

 ...And has herpes? That's gotta hurt!

 Maybe he should be called Worm-skin.

Actor Brad Dourif seems to be type cast as villains with problem skin. He was the voice of Chucky, the freckled and scarred killer doll from the "Child's Play" series. Now as notorious lackey Grima Wormtongue, we just have to ask: Is there any skin problem this creep doesn't have? He's particularly pale, furrowed, excessively sweaty, and his hair is in dire need of a cream rinse. He shows prominent nodules on his forehead--not the best location for beauty mark moles, though don't anyone tell Gwyneth Paltrow. Adding insult to injury, the film makers have also cruelly added a cold sore on his lip. Recurrent painful flares of herpes virus infection can ruin anyone's day. Without effective anti-viral pills like acylovir or valacyclovir, you'd feel evil too.

Finally, Grima is seen vigorously scratching his skin. Eczema is a common condition that represents a vicious cycle of inflammation which begets itch which begets scratch which begets more inflammation. Triggers include dry skin, food allergies (for the very young), and stress. As the traitorous Judas of the "Two Towers," Grima likely feels a fair amount of pressure.

While giving bad guys bad skin makes it easier for audiences to identify villainy, the deck may be overly stacked against Wormtongue. When wondering whether to trust his confidence, the human characters have to overlook not just his sinister name but also the fact that he is a one man dermatology text book. Haven't they been to It makes it hard to sympathize with them as he turns them over to Saruman.
With this many skin conditions, Grima Wormtongue has a snow ball's chance in Mount Doom of getting health insurance.
On to more LOTR Evil skin

© 1996-2008 Vail Reese M.D.

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