Samwise the Ö Star?
Kaitlyn Elisabet Bonsell
"I could be Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age." So thought Sam Gamgee on the threshold of Mordor, being tempted by the ring. His "hobbit-sense" told him that he was not such a hero. He was merely a gardener, and a garden was all his need. He was not seen by many as the hero of the age. He led no armies to the overthrow of Barad-dur. However in his state as a gardener and a servant he did become a hero. He is in fact the hero and central character of The Lord of the Rings.
Firstly, Sam is a representative of nature Ė an important symbol in The Lord of the Rings. The quest to destroy the ring of power is very much a conflict of technology with nature. The almost angelic elves live among the trees, while the orcs wantonly destroy the forests. The Servants of Sauron create amazing siege machines. Saruman of many colors has "a mind of metal and wheels" but the men of Rohan fight battles on horseback with only their own strength and skill wielding weapons. Samís identification with nature is evidenced through his loved occupation of gardening. Tolkien also encourages connection between Sam and nature by the imagery he uses in describing the gardener. Of all the characters in the trilogy, Sam most embodies the antithesis of the mechanical evil.
The fact that Sam is a gardener and revels in it is an evidence of his closeness to nature. It is brought repeatedly to the readerís attention that Sam is an exceptional gardener. When Gandalf comments on the beauty of Frodoís garden, Frodo immediately gives the credit to Sam Gamgee. Galadriel identifies him as the "little gardener and lover of trees," deeming the most appropriate gift for him to be a box of earth and a mallorn seed. For not only does he excel in his occupation, but he also loves the plants that are the focus of his work. In Ithilien, Sam begins to explore the flora, trying to find out about the new unfamiliar things. His love of gardens is foremost in his thoughts even when being tempted by the ring. Under the ringís spell he pictures himself commanding the vale of Gorgoroth to bloom with flowers and sprout trees. As he realizes that it would be wrong for him to take the ring he envisions his true desire. "The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due." Or as he said to Frodo, his hope was to be "waking up to a morningís work in the garden." Sam loves the growing things that his life revolves around.
Tolkien furthers Samís identification with nature by comparing him to nature. He describes Samís attack on Shelob as follows: "No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate." Samís attack on Shelob is likened to a poignant phenomenon in nature Ė the pathetic hopelessness of such a battle in the animal world. This is used to highlight Samís desperation as he tries to save his master, yet its secondary purpose is to place Sam in the realm of nature. Through his use of imagery, Tolkien entwines Samís identity with nature.
Samís favorite theme of "stories" is a constant motif throughout The Lord of the Rings. Sam is introduced to readers as a believer in "the old tales." He believes in elves "Ďwhatever Ted may say.í" When Sam meets the elves, he believes in their powers in a way that Frodo does not. Sam trusts Galadrielís rope while "Frodo ha[s] not quite Samís faith in the slender grey line." He believes that the rope came off to him when he called because of his faith in the power of elves as revealed to him in Bilboís stories. Sam is comforted by the thought that he and Mr. Frodo are in the tale of Beren and Luthien. His dream is to see the story "Ďput into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards.í" As he faces death on the slopes of Mt. Doom, he goes back to his favorite theme. "ĎWhat a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo Ö I wish I could hear it told! Do you think theyíll say Now comes the story of Nine-Fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom?" In what is arguably the most personal moment on the Field of Cormallen Samís dreams come true as a minstrel steps forth saying "I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.í" Samís involvement with "stories" climaxes when he becomes the keeper of the Red Book. He is keeper of the story and it is up to him to complete it. The motif of "stories," paralleling Samís growth, is central to The Lord of the Rings.
Sam is the hero of the story because he is the character who saves the Shire. The theme of saving the Shire, peace, and innocence comes up often in the trilogy. Frodo originally leaves because he does not want evil to be brought to the Shire. He feels that "as long as the Shire lies behind safe and comfortableÖI shall know that somewhere there is a strong foothold." The salvation of the Shire is foremost in Samís thought also. When deciding what to do after Shelob bites Frodo, Sam says if Frodo is found with the ring "Ďthat will be the end ofÖthe Shire.í" This consideration is strong enough to sway Sam from his "right rule" to "never leave [his] master." Frodo tells Sam before he leaves for Valinor that he "tried to save the Shire." Moreover, he says "it has been saved." Frodo, however, does not claim credit for saving the Shire. Although Frodo does save the Shire along with all of Middle Earth when the ring is cast into the fire, Sam saves the Shire in particular. He uses his box of earth from Galadriel to replant the trees of the Shire that have been uprooted by "Sharkey" and his gang. He spends a considerable amount time around the Shire fixing up holes for other hobbits, and he finally becomes their mayor. Sam saves the Shire, thereby fulfilling one of the major goals of the quest.
When reading a work of literature such as The Lord of the Rings, one can often identify the central character as the one most accessible to the reader. Sam is the character of the trilogy who can resonate most with a normal human being. His down-to-earth outlook on life is more comprehensible to the average reader than that of his master the Ringbearer. Samís inner struggles are universal struggles. Sam sees other characters in a very natural light. Even his motives are more human than those of other characters in the books. Samís ordinary character places him within reach of the reader, making him the central character in The Lord of the Rings.
Throughout the trilogy, Sam has a perspective on the quest that is resonant with the reader. It is impossible for the ordinary reader to fully comprehend all the thoughts of the Ringbearer, and the actions to which they lead him. Samís preoccupation with his masterís and his own survival during the long journey to Mordor is more comprehensible to the audience than Frodoís apathy to it. Sam spends much time trying to figure out how much food he and his master have and need while Frodo does not want to give a thought to it. For himself and Sam to destroy the ring seems to Frodo an impossibility. However, if that unlikely event were to come to pass he asks "Are we ever likely to need bread again? I think not." Sam is convinced momentarily by his master, yet he soon begins again "giving earnest thought to food." On the slopes of Orodruin, Sam still gives himself to the thought of saving his own and his masterís life. He does not want to die passively, awaiting the rivers of fire that would consume him and his master. Frodo has been so demoralized by the burden of the ring that the thought of death is not terrible to him. He would just wait for death, whereas Sam naturally wishes to run from the fire. The reader can relate to this normal hobbit trying to save his masterís life, and his own. The average person can easily comprehend Samís viewpoint on the quest and the actions that result from it.
Most readers can identify with Samís internal conflicts. He does not have the responsibility that Aragorn has, and therefore does not have his dilemmas. He need not determine what course the fellowship of the ring should take. Sam is not in the position of Frodo Ė always struggling with the overwhelming power of the ring. He struggles with the ordinary feelings of hope and despair. He is perhaps in more desperate straits than most, and has more hope in his heart than many, yet his emotions are still recognizable. Near the slopes of Orodruin he fights with despair, knowing that his master has already given up. Sam knows that he must keep them going. It seems hopeless, but he cannot give up for he knows that "the word l[ies] with him." The readers of The Lord of the Rings have common struggles with Sam Gamgee.
Sam has the most natural reactions to and interactions with other characters in the trilogy. He hates Gollum, who is shown to the reader as a disgusting, hateful creature. Only Frodo, who knows what the creature has undergone with the ring, can truly pity him. Sam, along with the readers, does not understand. He can only see Gollumís evil, treachery, and, at best, disgusting servility. As a reader, one also sees clearly the nature of Boromir. He is not to be trusted. Sam also thinks he should not be trusted, so he "watche[s] Boromir and listen[s] to him, from Rivendell all down the road Ė looking after [his] master." In his attitude to his companions, Sam exemplifies characteristics that can be easily related to by most readers of The Lord of the Rings.
Samís very motive for going on the quest, and the emotions he sustains because of it are more pertinent to the average reader than those of other characters. He goes on the journey for the love of his master, and everything he does is for his master. Not many people have a chance to achieve something that will save the whole world, however many have done things for people they love. Parents sacrifice themselves for their children in many little ways daily. By the beginning of the sixth book the relationship of Sam and Frodo becomes that of a father to his child. It is a relationship that one can see and comprehend in the world. Few have truly had the weight of the whole world on their shoulders (or around their necks), but most have felt the weight of watching a loved one die, or losing a friend across the miles. Samís struggle with Frodoís "death," and later his departure to Valinor can resonate with all those who have been in similar situations.
In The Lord of the Rings Sam is the most dynamic character. Merry and Pippin grow in some ways (i.e.: vertically J ), but they remain the same carefree hobbits. They have always been gentle-hobbits and they remain gentle-hobbits. In many ways, Frodo grows, but he has been too hurt by the ring to remain in the Shire and exhibit his growth. Sam is introduced to the readers as a dithering young working-class hobbit. He will do anything to hear about the elves that he believes in so strongly. However, by the time they get to Woodhall with Gildor and the elves, Frodo discovers that Sam has already grown. When talking about the elves, Sam startles his master. "It did not sound like the voice of the old Sam Gamgee that he thought he know. But it looked like the old Sam Gamgee sitting there, Except that his face was unusually thoughtful." It is at that point that the reader realizes Sam is really more than he appears. As Frodo aptly says, "ĎIím learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now heís a jester. Heíll end up by becoming a wizard or a warrior.í" Sam grows to completely understand his Mr. Frodo. Frodo knows this. When he decides to leave on his own he does not want to leave the fellowship without an explanation. "ĎSurely they will understand,í" he says. But he is sure of Sam. "ĎSam will.í" Sam has gained his Masterís trust. By the time Frodo and Sam come to the end of the quest, the Sam who was unable to control himself even to keep from being heard by Gandalf is able to force himself up Mt. Doom when everything in him but his will rebels. The Sam who was least likely to fight well Ė "even Sam got his orc" (italics mine) Ė is able to kill the great spider Shelob, a feat impossible for men and elves. Back in the Shire he becomes Master of Bag End, and is mature enough to let his beloved master leave from the Grey Havens. His responsibilities are in the Shire with his young family. He is given the Red Book and carries on the story of the Ring in the Shire. The trilogy follows Samís progression from a rather dull servant to his masterís best friend and finally master of Bag End. Sam is The Lord of the Ringsí most dynamic character.
There are various hints in the actual form of The Lord of the Rings implying that Sam is the sympathetic character in the history of the war of the ring. Each volume of the trilogy ends with Sam Gamgee giving a crucial quote. Furthermore, starting from the middle of Book IV, most of the story dealing with Sam and Frodo is written from Samís perspective. These two factors in the form of The Lord of the Rings hint that Sam is the central character.
Quotes from Sam that are critical to the story line of The Lord of the Rings are found at the end of each volume of the trilogy. The Fellowship of the Ring ends with Samís answer to Frodoís query if they shall ever see their friends again. "ĎWe may Mr. Frodo, we may.í" Then they set off toward the land of shadow. When Sam has discovered that his master is not dead at the end of The Two Towers, he shouts his defiance at the retreating orc-captains. "ĎYouíre forgetting the great big elvish warrior thatís loose.í" The last volume of the trilogy is the most decisive indication of Samís notability in the story. Sam returns from the Grey Havens to his family and home. "Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. ĎWell, Iím back,í he said." So ends the entire history of the downfall of the Lord of the Rings. Sam is returning to existence as a normal hobbit with responsibility to his family. The important quotes from Sam placed in emphatic positions in the story are clearly indicative of Samís importance in The Lord of the Rings.
Another clue in the writing itself is the point of view of the last books. Starting in the chapter "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit" the majority of the writing is in the limited omniscient style from Samís point of view. Samís opinion of Frodo, their journey, and his internal struggles are the focus of the story. The readerís only insight into Frodoís struggle with the ring is that which can be gleaned from Samís internal comments on his master. The episode of the escape from Orodruin is narrated from Samís perspective. The ring has been cast into the flames, yet the fact narrated is that "[Samís] master had been saved." It is not significant at the moment that the whole of Middle Earth has been saved, but that Samís Mr. Frodo no longer carries the burden and is "himself again." Samís feeling of joy at his masterís recovery is brought to the readerís attention. Since much of The Lord of the Rings is narrated from Samís perspective, his preeminence as a character is evident.
Sam controls the quest to destroy the ring. He is there to help his master, but in the end he propels his master to the end of the quest. He starts his role as leader by becoming the provider of food and clothing for his "Mr. Frodo." Sam makes sure that there is enough food. He prepares a meal for his master in Ithilien. He searches the dead orcs in Cirith Ungol for suitable clothing for Frodo. He takes the position almost of Frodoís father on the quest. When Sam finally finds his master in Mordor, Tolkien says that Frodo "lay back in Samís gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand." From that point on Frodo rests completely on Sam. When Sam and Frodo near the end of the quest, Sam knows that "he must set his masterís will to work for another effort." His master "wonít be able to do anything for himself." In the last stages of the quest, Sam keeps Frodo from giving up or turning aside.
All these considerations, ranging from the form to the content of The Lord of the Rings, point to Samwise Gamgee as the hero of the trilogy. He is indubitably a small gardener, not heroic by nature, but in his very humbleness he is a prime candidate for the focus of Tolkienís story. Perhaps he was not the hero of the age, but he is Frodoís hero, the bookís hero, and our hero.