For a long time – well, since I first read the books, in fact – I have debated and wondered on the role of one Samwise Hamfast Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings. I am going to try to put pen to paper (this I have done) in an effort to answer this question. Obviously, the other major contestant for the ‘Hero’ badge is Frodo; but there is also Aragorn and indeed Gandalf. There are lots of factors, as the books are complex, but I will mainly be focusing on the relationship between Sam and Frodo.
For me, Sam’s shining moment comes in the second book (or third film) when Frodo is stung by Shelob. Sam takes up the ring when he hears the orcs coming, and in full knowledge of his own choice. Thinking that his master is dead, Sam resolves to continue the quest in the face of all the odds. This, I think, is a mark of his character: he does not allow himself to be overwhelmed with grief, as he has full right to, but stands up to do the deed at hand. Sam is truly prepared to give his life to a quest he never really wanted to go on, one that he simply followed his master in footing.
Sam is one of the three ringbearers to give up the ring voluntarily (the others being Bilbo Baggins and Tom Bombadil). I do not say willingly, for it was not so for Sam, but voluntarily. Frodo, as we know, gives in at the end and does not give the ring away (destroy it), but try to claim it as his own (as did Isildur). Does this make Sam stronger than Frodo? Perhaps. Sam does not carry the ring for nearly as long as Frodo, so it likely has not affected him as much. Sam knows the damage that the ring is causing his master and I think he is simply reluctant to re-expose him to it. Frodo’s health is paramount in Sam’s mind, likely before even his own. In this, Sam is truly selfless.
There is little time throughout the series that Sam is not at his master’s side. When Frodo sets off for Mordor without him, and when Frodo sends him away at Cirith Ungol being the main examples (and neither Sam’s fault, either). Sam is the guardian protector of Frodo, and is always close enough to spring to his aid, as in Ithilien. Sure, he’s fairly clumsy, but as Aragorn says, he is well called ‘Samwise’ (although the word itself means ‘simple minded or ‘half minded’.. doh!).
Sam is no fool. He may not truly understand what he is seeing, but he sees Gollum for what he is right from the start. Sam is of a gentle persuasion, but not towards Gollum. Sam is strongly inclined against anything that may cause his master harm, and Gollum seems to make him see red. Obviously, he is respectful of Frodo, and brings no harm, to Gollum. He is vigilant, however, and takes very good care of his master.
Now, let’s take a look at the ways Sam is not the true hero of the Lord of the Rings.
At first, Sam isn’t very clued in as to what’s going on. He goes to Rivendell with Frodo to escape the wrath of Gandalf, and goes from Rivendell because he has grown overmore fond of Frodo on their journey, and worries about him. Frodo understands more of the sacrifice he must make at the time of setting out. Sam does not truly understand, and I feel that if he did, he might have stayed in the Shire, thank you very much.
I think the most important point is that it is Frodo whom carries the ring pretty much all of the way, and Sam just cannot understand what that is like, despite carrying it himself for a little while. Frodo is changed by the ring in a way that Sam is not. We must give Frodo due credit for this. Frodo sacrifices his life to the quest, and even though he lives, he is scarred and must leave for Valinor. Sam still nurses hopes of returning to the Shire even as they lie dying on Orodruin, the ring gone. Tolkien says that Sam also departed to Valinor three months after the death of his wife, him being of 102 years then (49 of these Sam spent as mayor of the Shire). It may interest you that Sam rides for the havens on September 22nd, the same date as the Long Awaited Party, and thus Frodo’s birthday also. Sam, however, leaves middle Earth in the hope of seeing again the master and friend whom he loves, and not for illness or pain.
My final point is somewhat linked to the first anti-Sam point. Frodo is more understanding, but Sam is more naive at the start of the story. Frodo accepts the mission through necessity, whereas Sam still wants ‘to go and see the elves’ and go ‘there and back again, just like Mister Bilbo did’. I don’t think we can hold this against him, but it is a point to be made.
I think, for me, Sam is the hero of Lord of the Rings. He is everything a hero should be: solemn, humble, loyal, understanding and true. I don’t think Frodo would have managed without him, and whilst Frodo is the main character, this does not make him the all time hero. He may carry the ring, but when he stumbles it is Sam that keeps him stable, and carries him up the mountainside. The pair are the best of friends, and rely on each other without question, but it is Sam whom shines for me. What about you?
Que pensive stare..