Perhaps we should not be too harsh on Sam. Ever since the sundering of the Fellowship at Parth Galen above the Falls of Rauros he has been forced by reason of necessity to live on a diet of the Elves’ waybread alone. “This waybread keeps you on your legs in a wonderful way,” he said to Frodo earlier in the journey, “though it doesn’t satisfy the innards proper as you might say: not to my feeling anyhow, meaning no disrespect to them as made it.”
Sam has long desired for something he can put in the pot and with that purpose in mind he has carried his cooking gear on the journey across the Dead Marshes to the Black Gate and then into Ithilien. Now at last in the woodlands of that once fair land he has the chance to use his gear and with the aid of Sméagol he is able to clean, prepare, cook and then eat two rabbits on his campfire. At least Sméagol offered his aid to catch the rabbits. Once he realised that Sam did not intend to eat them raw no more aid was forthcoming and soon he departed to catch and eat his own prey.
It was the campfire that led to the capture of the hobbits. Perhaps Sam is a little too content after doing the first cooking he has been able to do for such a long time for when he goes to wash his gear he forgets to smother his fire and it is the smoke rising from it that draws his captors to him. Four tall men stand before Frodo and Sam, two with spears in their hands and two with great bows; all with swords at their sides. They are men of Gondor and their Captain is Faramir, son of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor.
I said a few moments ago that perhaps we should not be too harsh on Sam. He longed to cook something that he regarded as properly nourishing for Frodo, the master that he loves. Sam’s whole identity is founded upon his determination to serve and to deny this would be to do harm to something essential, even holy in himself. It is this sense of identity that causes him to hate Gollum who he regards as utterly false. So if Sam is going to make a mistake we would expect it to be the result of his identity. That is what makes Sam and Gollum so different. When Gollum murdered Déagol long ago in order to take the Ring from him he had to deny something essential in himself. Sam does not do this when he forgets to smother his fire. He has made a mistake but he has not denied his true self.
Is it because of this that Sam and Frodo fall into the hands of a good man and not one who is false or into the hands of a company of orcs? I wish I could say so but to do that would be to say that in some way those who enjoy good fortune deserve it; or, alternatively, that those whose fortune is bad equally deserve theirs. To say such a thing is not true and does no good either to those who say it or to those about whom it is said. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good,” sings Captain von Trapp as he holds Maria in his arms. I think we can safely say that he is happily mocking himself and giving thanks for a good fortune he does not feel he deserves. I am glad that Tolkien does not make Frodo and Sam suffer for Sam’s gentle mistake. Such suffering still lies before them. But whether we suffer or not we cannot do good with a mistake that flows from a denial of our true self. One that flows from the true self can always lead to good because good was always intended.