Physicist's awesome equations calculate how many fish Gollum needs

Contributed by
Jan 14, 2013

If we know nothing else about J.R.R. Tolkien's freaky creation Gollum, we know that he really, really loves two things: his "Precious" One Ring and raw, wriggling fish. The latter is pretty much all he eats, but did you ever wonder just how many fish he needs to survive? One physicist did, and he took the trouble to do the math.

Rhett Allain is an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University who also blogs about physics for Wired. This week, in anticipation of the release of The Hobbit, he's pondering Gollum's existence, and thinking about how much Tolkien's creature would have to eat to survive.

"First, why would Gollum need to eat at all? Well, he needs energy. We mammals (I am assuming Gollum is a mammal) eat and breath (sic) and drink water (and sometimes beer). Our bodies then take this stuff and use it to give energy. Gollum needs energy to move around and attack Bilbo, that is for sure," Allain said. "However, he also needs energy to keep his body temperature up to some reasonable amount. We all need to do this. However, Gollum is in an underground environment that is typically at some constant (and cold) temperature. If he doesn't eat, his body would eventually reach the same temperature as the stuff around him. I assume this would be bad."

To determine how much Gollum eats in a day, Allain made some educated guesses at the creature's body temperature and mass and the amount of energy each fish would give him, among other things. Then, after a number of smaller equations to calculate energy radiation, always taking into account where Gollum lives, Allain arrived at his final formula, and a fish-per-day number.


So Gollum needs 4.7 fish per day to maintain his body temperature and therefore (presumably) avoid eventual death. Of course, these needs would change if Gollum were, say, journeying across Middle-earth with a pair of hobbits on a quest to the Black Gate of Mordor. Allain also notes that Gollum probably doesn't live on fish alone, as fish are likely not all that plentiful in his mountain hideaway. He also probably gets a good bit of his sustenance from food he steals from goblins (or from dead goblins), but regardless of what part they play in his total diet, Allain has given us a baseline formula to constantly recalculate how much of his favorite food Gollum might be consuming under various conditions. Pretty cool, huh?

To see Allain's complete process (more fun for science nerds than fantasy literature nerds, though some of you are very likely both), head over to his entry at Wired.

(Via Wired)