Well done, good and
“There are few examples of loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness recorded in the annals of the Third Age to equal those displayed by the illustrious Hobbit Samwise Gamgee, servant and steadfast companion of Frodo Baggins and honourable member of the Fellowship of the Ring. Throughout the many trials and hardships endured without complaint at his master’s side, his purpose never faltered – to remain with Frodo wherever he might go, even to Mordor. … For where Frodo went, there Sam also journeyed; and Frodo’s tale is Sam’s also. Together they entered Sauron ’s own land: two Hobbits from the simple countryside ‘expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go’. … And in the end [Sam] was rewarded richly: with honour, and many descendants, and a long life; and with a journey across the Sea at the end of it.” — J.E.A. Tyler
Tolkien would be happy to know that, at last, he is not alone in his opinion that Sam is “the chief hero” (Letters, 161) of The Lord of the Rings. Many have written books on the significance of Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn or on the roles of women in The Lord of the Rings, but I have found no one (other than J.E.A. Tyler in his three-page entry in The New Tolkien Companion and M.G. London’s article) who has devoted more than three paragraphs solely to Sam. Many, far from praising Sam’s role and character, find fault with his seemingly exaggerated attitude of servitude or see him only as playing some necessary literary device. Few acknowledge or praise his unique loyalty to Frodo or even see him to be one of the central characters in the book, as Tolkien has stated he is. I find that Sam’s servant/friend relationship with Frodo is as moving as anything else in the book.
I would like to examine Sam’s relationship with Frodo, focusing on the key characteristics of his servanthood and developing friendship with his master. Throughout the tale Sam exemplifies humility, service, self-sacrifice, duty, protection, love, faithfulness, loyalty, trustworthiness, and hopefulness, as well as the love of friendship. And his example exists not only within his fictional setting, but also reminds readers of many traits essential to the life of believers.
Samwise Gamgee is referred to as Frodo’s servant throughout the book and devotedly and lovingly refers to Frodo as Master, Sir, or Mr. Frodo, suiting his words to the sincere and complete service he offers him and the position he willingly takes upon himself. Sam could not have known from the beginning of the journey where his service to Frodo would lead him, yet he trusts Frodo and the direction of Gandalf nonetheless. And because of this trust he and Merry and Pippin are able to tell Frodo, “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. … We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you or following you like hounds” (LOTR, 103). It is only toward the end of the journey that Sam realizes the extent the service required of him. He reflects, “So that was the job I had to do when I started: to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it” (LOTR, 913). His trust, his desire to be trusted, and his unwavering commitment to serve despite the circumstances of their situation harden his will and soften his heart even when complete service to Frodo means great sacrifice to himself. He seems to take this role for granted, as do most around him, yet what sets his service apart from many other legendary master/servant relationships is the extent of his selfless and humble attitude.
I find Sam’s humility and selflessness two of his most remarkable characteristics. Though Frodo is most often the character ascribed Christ-like qualities, Sam’s willingness to humble himself is unmatched by any other in the book, especially as he has no reason to expect success and glory and honor at the end of his task as Aragorn or Gandalf might. St. Augustine says of humility, “In Christian tradition humility is ranked high. If you ask me what is the first precept of the Christian religion I will answer, first, second and third, Humility” (EDT,381). Paul in Ephesians 4:2 writes, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” When do we ever see Sam boasting or seeking to raise himself above Frodo or treating him roughly or insensitively? He is consistently humble and gentle. Tolkien tells of him gently holding Frodo’s hand, gently rousing him from sleep toward the end of their journey, gently prodding him to keep going, and trying to gently impart a little hope to his despairing and broken master. As they neared Mordor, “he took his master’s hand and bent over it. He did not kiss it, though his tears fell on it. Then he turned away, drew his sleeve over his nose, and got up, and stamped about, trying to whistle” (LOTR, 610). During the final stages of the Quest, “Sam stood beside him, reluctant to speak, and yet knowing that the word now lay with him: he must set his master’s will to work for another effort. At length, stooping and caressing Frodo’s brow, he spoke in his ear” (LOTR, 915).
Along with Paul’s encouragement to humility, I think also of Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:12, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” When Frodo and Sam, after being rescued from Mt. Doom, wake to the beauty and light of Ithilien and are called before the King of Gondor, they are surprised and honored as they pass through a host of valiant men standing in their honor and at last behold the King, realizing suddenly that it is Strider. “And then to Sam’s surprise and utter confusion [Aragorn] bowed his knee before them, and taking them by the hand, Frodo upon his right and Sam upon his left, he led them to the throne, and setting them upon it, he turned to the men and captains who stood by and spoke, so that his voice rang over all the host, crying: “Praise them with great praise!” and he placed “circlets of silver upon their heads” (LOTR, 933-4). How much more beautiful an exaltation of the humble could any author create? Sam had no inkling that this would be his reward for such faithful service and perseverance and was completely delighted to hear Frodo and himself woven into a song, just as he had imagined might one day happen to his master Frodo, not to himself.
As the book ends, several people confer additional praise upon Sam. Often he does not expect it, and never does he ask for it; and as Proverbs 27:2 admonishes, “Let another praise [him], and not [his] own mouth; someone else, and not [his] own lips.” Frodo gives him high praise when the gaffer asks if his Sam’s “behaved hisself and given satisfaction” (LOTR, 991). “‘Perfect satisfaction, Mr. Gamgee,’ said Frodo. ‘Indeed, if you will believe it, he’s now one of the most famous people in all the lands, and they are making songs about his deeds from here to the Sea and beyond the Great River’ ” (LOTR, 991). Tolkien himself comments that “[Sam] did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable – except in his service and loyalty to his master. That had an ingredient of (probably inevitable) pride and possessiveness: it is difficult to exclude it from the devotion of those who perform such service” (Letters, 329). Yet despite any presence of inner pride in his service, one can never accuse Sam of exalting himself.
Much has been written on the sacrificial life of Frodo, yet almost no one has spoken of Sam’s equal and only slightly less-obvious self-sacrifice. While Frodo sacrifices so much to complete the Quest and free the Third Age of the Ring’s dominion, Sam sacrifices all he has for his beloved master with no desire for the regard of others or for future glory,. Frodo himself says, “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them” (LOTR, 1006). Sacrificial love is found to such an extent between no other characters in the book and is the sole reason the Quest is fulfilled.
Small sacrifices Sam makes along the way can been seen throughout The Lord of the Rings, but larger ones manifest themselves as the journey to Mount Doom draws to a close. First, Sam offers to take the lead as he and Frodo try to descend the cliffs of the Emyn Muil. “What’s made you change your mind about climbing?” Frodo asks. “I haven’t changed my mind. But it’s only sense: put the one lowest as is most likely to slip. I don’t want to come down atop of you and knock you off – no sense in killing two with one fall” (LOTR, 592).
A second act of sacrifice is mentioned several times once Sam and Frodo enter the last stage of their journey. “[Sam] gave Frodo water and an additional wafer of the waybread, and he made a pillow of his cloak for his master’s head. Frodo was too weary to debate the matter, and Sam did not tell him that he had drunk the last drop of their water, and eaten Sam’s share of the food as well as his own” (LOTR, 907). Later, Sam argues with himself about the wisdom of repeatedly doing this, his first voice saying, “You can’t go on much longer giving him all the water and most of the food,” but his stronger voice retorts, “I can go on a good way though, and I will. … I’ll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind. … And I’ll carry Mr. Frodo up myself, if it breaks my back and heart. So stop arguing!” (LOTR, 918).
It is interesting to compare this demonstration of Sam’s committed love for Frodo with Gollum’s self-love in light of Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” or John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Sam, fortunately, did not have to give up his life for Frodo or for the fulfillment of the Quest, but was willing to if such became necessary and was, in fact, so close to death that it took all of Aragorn’s healing powers to bring both Hobbits back to health.
These instances of sacrifice don’t even include Sam’s returning the Ring to Frodo after he finds him still alive in the orc tower; and they are small themselves compared to Sam’s willingness to leave the Shire with Frodo, even when he loved his work, had no desire to travel past Rivendell and the Elves, was leaving Rosie, was afraid of anything related to Mordor, and had no idea where he would be going or what he would be required to do. Even when he begins to have some idea of the danger and toil certainly ahead of them, Sam once again decides to follow his master when the company splits above Rauros. “Sam as Frodo’s servant and as a being of freewill, exhibits a selflessness that yields perseverance unmatched by any of the abject slaves of Sauron, and in doing so illustrates the superiority of love freely given over force, no matter how strong” (Crabbe, 82). Michael N. Stanton even goes so far as to say that all of “Book VI is a book about love and sacrifice” (Stanton, 83).
Such sacrifice seems to be a result both of Sam’s love for Frodo and of his sense of duty. He chokes on the news that Frodo is going away and is very hurt at the idea of being left behind, but as soon as they are on their way (especially after their meeting with Gildor and the Elves), he commits himself to following Frodo to the very end. “I know we are going [into] darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me” (LOTR, 85). In the horror of standing before the Black Gates and hearing Frodo say he will go on, Sam says nothing either of his fear or of his renewed resolve. “[H]e had stuck to his master all the way; that was what he had chiefly come for, and he would still stick to him” (LOTR, 624). His sense of duty remains steadfast even when he believes Frodo to be dead after Shelob’s attack:
[H]e tried to find strength to tear himself away and go on a lonely journey – for vengeance … But that was not what he had set out to do. It would not be worth while to leave his master for that. … He thought of the places behind where there was a black brink and an empty fall into nothingness. There was no escape that way. That was to do nothing, not even to grieve. That was not what he had set out to do. ‘What am I to do then?’ he cried again, and now he seemed plainly to know the hard answer: see it through” (LOTR, 715).
Sense of duty
However, the old responsibility to care for Frodo is now combined with a new responsibility to carry on the task appointed by the Company. With just a couple days to go before they reach Mount Doom, Sam is spurred on to one last effort by his dutiful love and renewed hope. “But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. … With a new sense of responsibility he brought his eyes back to the ground near at hand, studying the next move” (LOTR, 913). It seems as if, though his body is spent, his will only grows ever stronger.
Sam’s sense of his duty to protect Frodo first shows itself during their first meeting with the Elves, when Sam, even in the great safety of such a company, refuses to leave Frodo. Then in Rivendell, when all is being done that can be done in Middle-earth to heal Frodo, Sam hardly leaves his side, though he has waited so long to see Elves and listen to their music and singing. He bravely attempts to guard Frodo against Faramir in Ithilien, speaking to their host: “Don’t you go taking advantage of my master because his servant’s no better than a fool” (LOTR, 665).
However, all such proddings of duty stem from Sam’s unquenchable love for Frodo. We first sense his love from the choke in the bushes, which leads Gandalf to haul him in through the window for inspection. We see it again in the conspiracy that he and Merry and Pippin have formed. We see it as Aragorn says, “I fear, Sam that they believe your master has a deadly wound that will subdue him to their will. We shall see!” and Sam chokes with tears (LOTR, 192). We tense as we feel his desperate love and fear at Rauros, as he realizes that Frodo has “ ‘made up his mind at last – to go. Where to? Off East. Not without Sam? Yes, without even Sam. That’s hard, cruel hard.’ Sam passed his hand over his eyes, brushing away tears …” and tells Frodo “ ‘I couldn’t have borne it, it’d have been the death of me’ ” (LOTR, 397). We have tangible evidence of his love as Sam struggles against the powerful desire in Mordor to claim the Ring for himself, for “in that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm” (LOTR, 881). We see his love and pity as they make the final ascent. “Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’ ” (LOTR, 919). And his ability at the last to let Frodo go to the Grey Havens without placing any burden of guilt or added sadness on him is yet another display of his sacrificial love and the relinquishment of his own desires and joys for the rest he knows Frodo can only find elsewhere.
I wonder if it ever crossed Sam’s mind that he should serve and be willing to die for Frodo because Frodo was willing to die in an attempt to save the rest of Middle-earth? Was Sam simply following on a smaller, more concentrated level what he saw in his master’s life? Whether or no, Sam’s is a memorable role, aptly described by the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonian church as a “labor prompted by love” and an “endurance inspired by hope” (I Thes. 1:3).
The characteristics of faithfulness, loyalty, and trustworthiness are all closely related and, like humility and love, are prominent in Sam’s character. The title I have given this paper “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) seems a perfect description of Sam’s person and the praise he received. Sam proves his trustworthiness first in his conspiracy with Merry and Pippin, these three claiming that they could and would be more secretive than Frodo himself. At the Council of Elrond, his loyalty to Frodo leads him to sit in on the Council uninvited and silent but, at the end, to suddenly burst out against Elrond, “But you won’t sent him off alone surely, Master?” (LOTR, 264). Perhaps the clearest example of Sam’s loyalty is his conscious decision in Lothlorien to remain faithful to Frodo and the Quest. He has looked in the mirror of Galadriel and seen the terrible things that could happen to the Shire. “ ‘I can’t stay here,’ he said wildly. ‘I must go home.’ ” Galadriel reminds him, “ ‘You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the mirror,’ … After a moment he spoke again thickly, as if struggling with tears. ‘No, I’ll go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all’ ” (LOTR, 354). Several chapters later Faramir commends Sam for being “shrewd as well as faithful” (LOTR, 666).
It is commendable that most of Sam’s pressure to be faithful and loyal to Frodo comes from within himself. Very little is laid on him by Gandalf or the Elves. In this sense he goes beyond the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:2 – “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful,” since he essentially assigns himself the responsibility to guard and help Frodo to the bitter end. And he does prove faithful at the greatest cost to himself and with no thought of praise. Every thought of praise is reserved in his mind entirely for Frodo. Frodo must remind him that he “wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he … ?” (LOTR, 697). Sam knows this and may be proud of it, as Tolkien himself commented, but we see little of this come out, except in his first meeting with Rosie after they return to the Shire. “ ‘Well, be off with you!’ said Rosie. ‘If you’ve been looking after Mr. Frodo all this while, what d’you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?’ This was too much for Sam. It needed a week’s answer or none” (LOTR, 985).
Frodo depends upon Sam as much for encouragement and hope as he does for physical help. Sam, though he says “he had never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning” (LOTR, 624), is yet doggedly determined to try to accomplish what Frodo has despaired of completing. And without reason, Sam even dares to hope that their journey and their lives will not end at the Cracks of Doom. As they find a perch on the side of the erupting mountain, Sam says, “Yes, I am with you, Master … and you’re with me. And the journey’s finished. But after coming all that way I don’t want to give up yet. It’s not like me somehow, if you understand” (LOTR, 929).
From the humble, unambitious gardener in the Shire to the weary, starved, sorrowful but still hopeful guardian of and strength behind the heroic Ring-bearer, Sam’s suffering has certainly produced perseverance, and “perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:4). His sufferings have, in fact, produced or matured in him all of the “fruits of the Spirit” – “love, joy [so much of it, especially as he wakes in Ithilien with Gandalf laughing by his side, that it brings Sam and me to tears], peace, patience [with his weary and sometimes inadvertently hurtful master], kindness [even, in the form of pity, to Gollum at the end], goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Love above all
Now we know that Sam and Frodo bear a mutual love for each other, yet most of their interaction is overshadowed by the master/servant relationship. However, at one point as they approach the Emyn Muil, Frodo refers to Sam as “my dear hobbit – indeed, Sam my dearest hobbit, friend of friends” (LOTR, 610). William Dowie notes that “they progress only by mutual aid. … And their triumph depends on their mutual love” (Dowie, 279).
No one embodies [the love and the capacity for sacrifice] more than Frodo’s servant Sam Gamgee, arguably the true hero of Lord of the Rings. There is no reason for Sam to be there. He’s certainly not the warrior that the humans, elves, and dwarves are. Nor was he “meant,” as Gandalf puts it, to bear the ring, as his master Frodo was. He isn’t even adventurous like Merry and Pippin are. Sam’s only reason for being there is the most Christian reason of all: he loves Frodo and won’t hear of Frodo’s going on this perilous journey without him. In the end, this least of hobbits becomes their undisputed leader, elected mayor of the Shire seven times, as a reminder to all of us that the meek do inherit the earth” (Roberto Rivera, Boundless Webzine).
M.G. London also notes that “Sam’s loyalty to and love for his master is depicted as transcending life and death, hope and despair, and so Tolkien establishes that this relationship is the standard by which all others should be judged.” May we be as loyal to our Master and companions and serve as humbly as Sam Gamgee.
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