Samwise Gamgee epitomizes loyalty and sacrfice in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien depicts this throughout the story as we see an intimate tale of struggle, duty and loyalty in the challenges Frodo and Sam face within the overall epic that is Lord of the Rings. It is the story within a story (Peter Kreeft introduced this notion in his talk: Christianity in Lord of the Rings) where we see, on a discernible scale, the cost of honor, duty and loyalty.
Before I begin in earnest, this post contains many spoilers to the Lord of the Rings trilogy; read the books first!
Whilst traversing through Mordor, Frodo appears to be at risk of his identity as the Ring begins to swallow him up. Sam will go where he goes, face the danger he faces and love him as he becomes less lovable. It is this very loyalty and friendship, however, that allows him to remain whole through the endeavor. Now, loyalty and friendship play a critical part throughout the trilogy, whether it’s Théoden’s coming to the aid of Minas Tirith or Aragorn, Legolas and Gimili jogging through half of Middle Earth to recover their friends Merry and Pippin from the Orcs. It is, however, the initimate story of Frodo and Sam that manifests it best. It is on a scale which we can fathom and which doesn’t carry politcal overtones as we see evidenced in theses passages:
On beginning the perilous journey:
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’ ‘And after all, sir,’ added Sam, ‘you did ought to take the Elves’ advice. Gildor said you should take them as was willing, and you can’t deny it Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings: One Volume, A Conspiracy Unmasked (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Kindle edition.
Sam returning the ring to Frodo once saved from the Orcs in Minas Morgul:
‘No, not everything, Mr. Frodo. And it hasn’t failed, not yet. I took it, Mr. Frodo, begging your pardon. And I’ve kept it safe. It’s round my neck now, and a terrible burden it is, too.’ Sam fumbled for the Ring and its chain. ‘But I suppose you must take it back.’ Now it had come to it, Sam felt reluctant to give up the Ring and burden his master with it again. ‘You’ve got it?’ gasped Frodo. ‘You’ve got it here? Sam, you’re a marvel!’ Then quickly and strangely his tone changed. ‘Give it to me!’ he cried, standing up, holding out a trembling hand. ‘Give it me at once! You can’t have it!’ ‘All right, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, rather startled. ‘Here it is!’ Slowly he drew the Ring out and passed the chain over his head. ‘But you’re in the land of Mordor now, sir; and when you get out, you’ll see the Fiery Mountain and all. You’ll find the Ring very dangerous now, and very hard to bear. If it’s too hard a job, I could share it with you, maybe?’ ‘No, no!’ cried Frodo, snatching the Ring and chain from Sam’s hands. ‘No you won’t, you thief!’ He panted, staring at Sam with eyes wide with fear and enmity. Then suddenly, clasping the Ring in one clenched fist, he stood aghast. A mist seemed to clear from his eyes, and he passed a hand over his aching brow. The hideous vision had seemed so real to him, half bemused as he was still with wound and fear. Sam had changed before his very eyes into an ore again, leering and pawing at his treasure, a foul little creature with greedy eyes and slobbering mouth. But now the vision had passed. There was Sam kneeling before him, his face wrung with pain, as if he had been stabbed in the heart; tears welled from his eyes. ‘O Sam!’ cried Frodo. ‘What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never, been found. But don’t mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can’t be altered. You can’t come between me and this doom.’ ‘That’s all right, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, rubbing his sleeve across his eyes. ‘I understand. But I can still help, can’t I? I’ve got to get you out of here. At once, see! But first you want some clothes and gear, and then some food. Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings: One Volume, The Tower of Cirith Ungol (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Kindle edition
Sam taking revenge on Shelob after she stuck Frodo:
On the near side of him lay, gleaming on the ground, his elven-blade, where it had fallen useless from his grasp. Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master’s sword in his left hand. Then he charged. 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. Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings: One Volume, The Choices of Master Samwise (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Kindle edition
On the side of Mount Doom after the ring is destroyed and the mountain erupts.
Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee,’ said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire. ‘Master!’ cried Sam, and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone. His master had been saved; he was himself again, he was free. And then Sam caught sight of the maimed and bleeding hand. ‘Your poor hand!’ he said. ‘And I have nothing to bind it with, or comfort it. I would have spared him a whole hand of mine rather. But he’s gone now beyond recall, gone for ever.’ ‘Yes,’ said Frodo. ‘But do you remember Gandalf s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam. Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings: One Volume, Mount Doom (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Kindle edition.
So while we love the Battle of Pelennor Fields or the love of the elves for star and song, it is this relationship that strikes home and makes the characters of Frodo and Sam so endearing and the Lord of the Rings so loved. We do love the lofty songs of the Elves:A Elbereth Gilthoniel o menel palan-diriel, le nallon sí di’nguruthos A tiro nin, Fanuilos! O Elbereth Starkindler from heaven gazing afar, to thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death! O look towards me, Everwhite!
It is the more homely Hobbits with whom we most identify:
Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.’ ‘No,’ said Merry. ‘I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. But I don’t know why I am talking like this. Tolkien, J. R. R., The Lord of the Rings: One Volume, The Houses of Healing (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), Kindle edition.
Long live Frodo and Sam!