Sam Gamgee: Warrior and Gardener

Sam Gamgee never intended to be a warrior. To be the best gardener that he could be, working in the garden of Frodo Baggins at Bag End, was an ambition sufficient for him. And he did not resent his lot because he loved Frodo. If he cherished a secret desire then it was to see the world that he had begun to learn about through the stories of Bilbo; but his secret desire had never turned into a root of bitterness within him.

So it is that when he first encounters a battle “of Men against Men” Tolkien tells us that “he did not like it much”. Faramir, Captain of Gondor, has left him with Frodo in the keeping of Mablung and Damrod, two Rangers of Ithilien, for a battle has to be fought. A force from the south is marching toward the Black Gate in order to join the forces of Mordor and Faramir is determined to stop them from getting there. He leads a guerrilla force whose aim is to make Ithilien as unsafe as possible for the enemies of Gondor. Soon Faramir’s men have the southerners on the run and Sam’s first encounter with one of his enemies is with a young warrior who falls dead at his feet.

It was the victorious Duke of Wellington, writing after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, who said: ” “Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.” Sam’s immediate response is to agree. As he gazes at the dead young warrior at his feet his heart goes out towards him. He “was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace- all in a flash of thought.” Tolkien is probably remembering his own experience of war here. As an infantryman on the Western Front during The Great War of 1914-18 he was present on the terrible first day of The Battle of the Somme in 1916 in which some 30,000 British troops died in a fruitless assault upon the German lines. The response that he expresses through Sam’s thoughts is typical of a volunteer soldier. The natural empathy between one human being and another has to be trained out of the soldier in order that killing should become “natural”.

By the end of The Lord of the Rings Sam will be a battle hardened warrior but he will never be a killer. The journey that he makes from the garden in Bag End and back again is not one that he he makes because he loves battle and adventure. He makes it because he loves Frodo and because Gandalf told him to do the job. Even his desire to see the wonders of the world is quickly satisfied though he never becomes cynical about them. He delights in seeing the Oliphaunt of Harad but it is not as important to him as finishing the job he has been given to do. At the end of the story he will be a gardener again, taking up his old task with the old love but with a new wisdom.

And as we get to know Faramir, the mighty Captain of Gondor, a little better, we shall learn that he shares much more in common with Sam Gamgee than we might ever have expected when we first met him.

26 thoughts on “Sam Gamgee: Warrior and Gardener

  1. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Over the past few months I have been reworking some of my early blog postings on the first chapters of The Lord of the Rings and writing some new material as well. During my mother’s final illness and her death and funeral I have not written any more but I will start again now.

  2. Thank you for leaving your comment. I know Strange Meeting best through Benjamin Britten’s setting of it in his War Requiem. What strikes me in the poem is a sense of mourning for a life incomplete, for all the life that could have been led. And, of course, for the sharing of a common humanity between the two soldiers who have just been killed. I agree that humanity must be guarded and that there is always the temptation to make those that we fear somehow less than human.

  3. Stephen thank you for sharing this.

    As it happens I was only talking with my brother recently about recognition of shared humanity.

    This empathy, and recognition, sits near the heart of Love, doesn’t it, and Love is what makes Sam so special. Love for Frodo and the others, and Love for the world in which he sees the potential beauty, but usually unsentimentally – with the approach of a gardener and grower of food. Love but not sentimentality … A warrior, but not a killer.

    It’s not just the big battles of warfare perhaps where this is important, but also in our day to day exchanges – perhaps in terms of social justice and politics, or even “just” day to day interaction.

    If all disagreements were approached with such compassion and empathy and in seeking for the common humanity – if there were more Sam Gamgee’s – what a better world it may be….

    And yes, I so much agree, this is what marks Faramir (and dare I say Aragorn?) also … They both are men of action as need be – steely in determination – but their determination comes from a need to fulfil a task, and their action is followed by compassion, empathy and mercy…

    Neither seek self glory… But neither abandon repsonsibility…

    I do so enjoy your posts, Stephen, and am really glad to see you are still pursuing the possibility of collating all these thoughts and explorations of yours… I shall look forward to that!

    Continued prayers for you

    • It’s lovely to hear from you again, Victoria. Sam has no idea that he is journeying toward greatness because he is not thinking of himself at all. Faramir and Aragorn are more aware that others will ascribe greatness to them because of the positions that they hold in the imaginations of others. For them the choice not to seek self-glory has to be a conscious one. I am not sure that it is a conscious choice for Sam. Faramir is one of my favourite characters in the story and I look forward to writing about him in the next few weeks. I don’t think Peter Jackson treated him very well in the films. My own decision to write about The Lord of the Rings really began with reflections on Faramir so I hope I treat him well.
      On the subject of compassion and empathy I think these have always been risky qualities. Robert Runcie had a similar experience to Sam’s when as a tank commander in World War 2 he looked inside a German tank that he had just destroyed and saw the young men that he had killed inside. When he brought that empathy to the Thanksgiving Service after the Falklands Campaign he was viciously attacked in the Press.

      • Wow. Love your comments, Stephen. Especially: “Sam has no idea that he is journeying toward greatness because he is not thinking of himself at all.”

      • I think that one thing I would like to explore is that Faramir and Aragorn are both aware that others think they are great and so they have to lay aside that in a conscious manner. Is this similar in spirit to Philippians 2.5? Sam simply has no idea and as far as we can tell he still does not by the end of the book.

  4. There is often a danger, it seems to me, that we are tempted to “dehumanise” people in times of conflict…

    … We see it from warfare to politics to Twitter trolls… And beyond

    • It may well be that we are seeing the beginning of a long war in the Middle East. Clearly we have little idea what to do about it because we are unable to find the simple narrative of goodies against baddies that we so clearly crave, the kind of narrative that allows us to remain within the emotional world of the nursery. Of one thing I am sure and that is that the war will not end until each side discover humanity in the other.

      • So well said.

        The more we dehumanize, the worse it will get, and it seems like everywhere we turn someone is dehumanizing someone else. One of our greatest (and sometimes hardest) duties, as Christians, I think, is finding a way to love our enemies.

    • I also like Sam very much but I think I identify with Frodo more. Sam has a simplicity of soul and a straightforwardness that I cannot say that I share. Frodo is burdened constantly by the corrupting power of the Ring and every true deed that he does is a victory over that corruption. I feel much closer to that experience.

      • You got me thinking about my relationship to the characters in the great stories. I found myself thinking about myself as a small boy at school reading The Cat in the Hat for the first time and the mixture of horror and excitement I felt in pretty well equal measure as he turned the house upside down. I remain grateful to this day to Dr Seuss for cleaning everything up before Mother got home.
        I am grateful to all the great characters in the stories that I have loved. It strikes me that in choosing stories to read to my children as they grew up I wanted stories with characters who would be the kind of friends I would want them to mix with. I would certainly want Sam as a friend even if I knew I could not be like him. I think it takes time for Frodo to recognise how important Sam is to him. At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring he really is cross when Sam turns up. But he gets it in the end.

      • Agreed. The characters in the stories we love are precious gifts. I have no children, and at this point in my life, no expectancy of any, but there are kids all around me, and it’s a delight to open doors for them into other worlds, as they were opened for me. I am thinking of putting a little free library in my yard. http://littlefreelibrary.org/

        I don’t think anyone realized Sam’s worth at first except, possibly, Gandalf. I think Frodo loved Sam from the beginning, but I also think the he underestimated him, and did not have consider Sam as his protector/ally/equal until his own strength began to fail.

        I guess that’s true for many of us. It’s not until we find the limits of our own abilities that we are willing to rely on others or on God. Now, that is something that helps me relate to Frodo. He underestimates his own strength, but he also underestimates some of his friends until he has no other choice but to lean on their strength.

        With Sam, I relate to his fanatic loyalty… I have more than a streak of that, for better or worse. People don’t tend to underestimate me, for whatever reason… usually they do the opposite; and I have no way of knowing how far my courage or willingness for self-sacrifice would go, so Sam is more of a mark to shoot for when it comes to courage and love. I mostly want to be friends with Sam, too.

        The characters I relate to the most are Gimli (surprise… not), Eowyn and Theoden (there’s more than a little of that Norse fatalism in my makeup. “Now for ruin. And the red dawn!”) and bits and pieces of other characters. But the character I love the most is Sam. I wonder what my friends would think of that assessment. 😛

      • Thank you so much for sharing that! Firstly I love the idea of the Little Free Library. I grew up in a home with very few books. We just did not have much money and libraries were a wonderful gift for me and I owe an incalculable gift to them and to those that created and staffed them. What a gift you would be offering.
        I read somewhere that even Tolkien underestimated Sam at first. I don’t know if anyone could comment on that. Maybe that is why Sam emerges slowly in the story. What is certain is that Tolkien tells the story of the journey to the mountain through Sam’s eyes and not Frodo’s. It is a wonderful gift to give to someone to believe in them.
        I still look forward to your reflections on Eowyn. And Gimli…?

      • Well, with Eowyn, it’s largely a sympathy thing. I’m not so much like her as I get her. I think I’ve mentioned before that my faith keeps me back from the despairing nihilism that seems to be my default setting. We first see Eowyn nearly consumed by that cold, black emptiness. True to Norse form, her hopelessness gives her a kind of strength, but it is a dead strength (as Tolkien highlights, when he describes her as a frozen flower). Aragorn breaks in on that darkness, but almost as soon as that hope dawns, it dies like all the other hopes she’s known, leaving her with nothing but her desire to shout her defiance and then die with honor.

        It’s not a great thing to be able to relate to, but I do. It makes her whole story deeply poignant, to me, all the more so because of its eucatastophic arc. If she had died in battle defending her uncle-king, especially after slaying the Nazgul King, it would have been a powerful tragedy, as we see elsewhere in Tolkien’s work. But no, we see that even the death she desires is taken from her, leaving her with, in her view, absolutely nothing.

        And yet, there, at the darkest point, when she has lost every single hope she ever had, she is given something she either never knew she wanted, or perhaps something which she had long ago given up seeking for lack of hope. …and here I am tearing up. Thinking about this hits me about as hard as anything Tolkien ever penned.

        And, symbolically, I think, Faramir gives her a coat of stars, lights in the darkness they are both facing. She has to lose everything, die completely to herself, before she can come back to life renewed. It’s one of the many death and resurrection stories in this book, and for whatever reason, it’s the most powerful to me.

      • As for Gimli… ohboy, where to begin. I suppose it starts with how I feel about the Khazad. Here are my posts on the subject. Don’t feel like you have to read them, but they’re there, if you are interested:
        https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/khazad-part-i/
        https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/khazad-part-ii/
        https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/dwarrows-part-iii/
        https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/khazad-part-iv/

        Basically, of Tolkien’s folk, I relate most strongly to the Hobbits and the Dwarves (it’s not as contradictory as it sounds!). With the Hobbits, I share a love of home and simple things, trees, good food and peace.
        With the Dwarves, though, I share that burning desire to delve and create, an identity that has layer upon layer, a mistrust of people in general (I know it probably doesn’t seem that way, as I am a friendly creature, but I can count the people I truly trust on one hand), and that quality they have of being single-mindedly loyal/persistent in both friendship and enmity. It’s all stuff that cuts both ways, good and bad, but I relate to it very strongly. Gimli is the gateway through which we learn the most about the Dwarves, because he is the only one who opens up at all to other characters, and the only one other characters seem to try and understand.

        His poem about Moria is my favorite in Tolkien’s canon. I can recite it from memory, and I find it to be powerful. I don’t think it strikes most people that way, but I guess it just goes to show how much I identify with the Dwarves and with Gimli, especially. 🙂

  5. Sam’s my favorite character. That’s why most of my fanfictions on my blog are about him. I may as well just call it, “Middle Hyrule, aka a blog about the awesomeness of Sam, Sam, and Sam.” Seriously though, I greatly enjoyed this post.

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