Gollum does not receive many compliments in the text. Characters variously describe him as "wretched," a "vile creature," a liar, a thief, and a murderer — all of which are quite true. Corrupt and vindictive, he cheats, steals, lies, sneaks, and betrays. Sam finds him a singularly unpleasant travel companion, and readers agree. Even without the danger of being strangled in one's sleep, Gollum's constant sniveling, groveling, hissing, and talking to himself would grate on anyone's nerves.
Yet Gollum is not a simple villain. The Ring has corrupted him, but his tragedy is that he is not beyond hope — a spark of goodness survives, crippled by his gnawing obsession with the Ring. Frodo reaches this spark, reminding Gollum of his life as Sméagol. Readers see the proof of this on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, as Gollum reaches out to Frodo: "an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing." Three times his life is spared by the pity of those who could kill him, each time after Gollum has attempted murder. While their actions reflect well on those who spare him, they also reflect the truth that Gollum deserves such pity.