Sam Rejects the Possibility of Turning Back

For the last two weeks we have been resting with Frodo and Sam after the great climb up to the pass of Cirith Ungol. Soon they will attempt to enter Mordor. Sam takes the opportunity to think about all that they have been through together. He does not speak his thoughts often but when he does they are worth listening to. Some people cannot stop talking and so you might just miss the wisdom they have to offer because you have got out of the habit of listening to them very carefully. Sam thinks much and speaks little so that by the time he does speak his thoughts they have been carefully crafted. You really must listen when he speaks because he will give you something worth holding onto. Tolkien was like this as well, believing that words have power in themselves both in their meaning and in their sound and so must not be wasted.

Sam has been thinking of the “tales that matter” and how we do not so much choose to be part of such tales but are chosen to be in them. “Folk seem to have been landed in them, usually- their paths were laid that way.” So it has been for Frodo and so it has been for Sam who was landed in this story by overhearing what Gandalf’s words to Frodo while he was tending the garden outside Frodo’s drawing room window. At least in one sense we can say that Sam was landed in it in this way but more truly he was landed in the story of the Ring because of the love he had for Frodo.

Sam goes onto talk about the possibility of “turning back”. “I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back,” he says,”only they didn’t. And if they had we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.” Frodo offered Sam this opportunity the morning after they had enjoyed the hospitality of Gildor Inglorion and a company of High Elves even before they had left the Shire. Sam had longed to “see Elves” and his desire had already been granted. Frodo asked whether he still wanted to go on and Sam replied that he knew that he must because there was something that he must see through to the end. He must stay faithful to Frodo. Of that he is sure all the way through the story. Eventually he also knows that he must play whatever part he can in the attempt they must make together to destroy the Ring. He is part of that bigger story too.

Whoever takes the risk of loving another is drawn inevitably into their story. For most of us this comes when we “fall in love” with another and decide to stay together and to journey onward together throughout our lives. All that the beloved has done for good or for ill becomes our story too. So too does all that has been done to the beloved. And we can turn back at any point in the story because we come to believe that the price of carrying on has become too great for us to pay. It might be our life partner about whom we have come to believe this or it might be our children or a member of our family or any community or any friendship of which we have become a part. We can choose not to be a part of their story any longer, to turn back.

I am aware that we are in a place of great sensitivity here. Women and children have been told to stay in abusive relationships and this telling can become part of the abuse itself. We cannot make a law of staying, of going on; all that we can say is that those who have blessed the rest of us who are tempted to give up are the ones who have gone on just as Sam did. We use the language of invitation. Those who carry on have taught us what there is to gain if we do not turn back. We are inspired and strengthened by their story.


18 thoughts on “Sam Rejects the Possibility of Turning Back

  1. Lovely post, as usual. Your last paragraph particularly intrigued me – about the possibility of some misconstruing your message about abusive relationships (I also think it’s important to note that men can be caught in abusive relationships as well, but I digress). Please correct/forgive me if I’m wrong, but I suppose that the type of stick-to-it-iveness that Sam shows is reserved for those who are truly worth it – like Frodo.

    The concept of how Sam thinks a lot, but says very little also struck me. I think I prefer writing to speaking for a similar reason – the words just seem to flow out of me better and have the impact I want them to have when I write rather than when I talk (of course, the opportunity to edit has a great deal to do with it as well)!

    Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Winter!

    • Thank you so much for your comment that really got me thinking! Yesterday was a busy day with no time for replying but as you noted from what I wrote maybe it is good to think first!
      Firstly, I agree that men can get caught in abusive relationships. I guess that is the problem with giving examples to make a point. No example can make the whole point. It is always partial. The point I was trying to make came from the question I asked myself when reading Sam’s words. Not many of us get to be a part of an adventure in which the whole future of the world depends on us either going on or turning back. But we are all part of stories that matter. I tried to think of stories of which we are a part that are true to many of us and that link in some way to Sam’s story. What struck me was that Sam wouldn’t have even been a part of this story if it had not been for his relationship with Frodo. At the start it is a story of a servant devoted to his master. By the end it is a strong friendship. I agree with you that Frodo is worth it but Sam does what we all do in a relationship that requires our commitment. He makes a bet on Frodo being worth it. Once we have made the bet we are committed to our choice. Frodo takes Sam to Mordor. I love that moment when Sam looks down at the Black Gate and imagines what choice words the Gaffer would have to offer if he could see where Sam’s choice has taken him. The Gaffer thinks that Sam should have stayed in his garden. Sam decided to go with Frodo. At all points in our own stories we continue to have a choice. Do I stay with this person or not? When times get tough we ask ourselves whether they are still worth it. I don’t think that we can make a law about that choice as society once made about divorce. In a way it is a way of saying that we are not under law but under grace when we say that we are invited or even challenged to stay in a relationship but we are not forced to do so by some eternal law. All of us have to make that choice for ourselves. It just strikes me that if Sam had turned back he would have still been a great gardener. He goes on and becomes a mighty hero (and a great gardener too!). What do we choose? If you have time I would love to hear your thoughts.

      • Of course we can’t make any laws about things like this – there’s no way that we can regulate the affairs of the heart, and any attempt at doing so is simply dehumanizing.

        I also couldn’t help but notice the conversation you had with Ms. Wilde about the relationship Frodo and Sam have. As someone who is extremely active in the fanfiction world (to the point of having a blog about it here on WordPress) I can’t tell you how many fanfictions I’ve seen depicting Frodo and Sam as a romantic couple – and frankly, as a person who knows what having a deep, non-romantic connection is like, I find most of them facepalm-worthy.

        Thanks for you wonderful reply! I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful Black Friday! 🙂

      • Maybe People in every age struggle with trying to see things in a different way than through the Zeitgeist of the age. In our time it seems to be that we are only able to think in terms of a sexual relationship and so we see every relationship in every age in those terms. Other ages have not had that trouble. I really don’t think that Tolkien was a suppressed gay man giving us a heavily disguised gay relationship in that of Frodo and Sam. I guess that neither you nor I will convince those who are determined to see one though.

  2. Whoever takes the risk of loving another is drawn inevitably into their story. For most of us this comes when we “fall in love” with another and decide to stay together and to journey onward together throughout our lives.

    This is nice, but I wouldn’t say Sam is “in love” with Frodo – he loves him but he’s not in love with him – in love usually means romantically involved, which they are certainly not. 🙂

    • You are absolutely right. Sam is not romantically involved with Frodo. He does love him enough to be willing to give his life for him as when he takes on Shelob in her lair or the orcs in the tower where Frodo is held prisoner (Sam doesn’t know that they have done his job for him!). I guess I was trying to think about what kind of relationships really change our lives in the way that Sam’s life is changed by his relationship with Frodo and I thought about falling in love which is my experience of such a relationship that changed my life. I first started going out with the woman I married 25 years ago now. We have two beautiful daughters who are a little older than you. There have been some tough times along the way but I know that if I had turned back I would have lost far more than I would have gained. I hope that I will never give up, either on my wife or on my daughters. Their stories are my story even when they do things that I don’t agree with. I hope that they will never give up on me either. What do you think?

  3. After your very true comments about those who speak too much, I am very wary of commenting! 🙂

    Your post here (and the interesting and thought provoking comments) raise so many questions and thoughts (to which I don’t pretend to come near holding answers)… It has given me so much upon which to think.

    I like what you say here about Sam’s pull to journey on being grounded in his Love for Frodo… In his recognition of something in Frodo on which it is worth taking a risk… And I wonder partly whether that is Frodo’s surrendering of himself to follow the path he perceives where something seems to be bigger than himself (isn’t this just a form of Love?)

    This pull of the wider world – something bigger than himself – has perhaps been always with Sam… Hence his desire to see the elves (and eavesdrop perhaps, too!)

    And also what you say about being part of a bigger journey.

    I think perhaps all our experiences of Love are what pull us toward that bigger journey… Once we feel its touch we are pulled inward and onward. True Love has to be *the* defining creative force… Without it we are stuck in circles like Gollum, and through trying to bend it to our will, perhaps, we lose our way in the journey, like poor Boromir. And thus we find ourselves in these bigger tales… Truer and more Real… If we can follow the path where perhaps things seem bigger than we are… And perhaps through that, grow to be bigger than we were too. Love, as a creative and freeing force, combats despair and futility … It is what will allow us to become closer to what we truly are, and it is in giving Love that we perhaps find our true capability and resources…

    Sam says that those who chose to turn back are unknown because they are forgotten… He doesn’t have that fear of success or failure… Just of not trying to follow his tale, inter-wound as it is with Frodo’s, as it unfolds before them…

    I remember a post you made recently about looking forward and back… And that looking (and moving) forward can only be truly made upon an honest and unsentimental, but non judgemental understanding of whence we came.

    I wonder if, as Sam looks back at how the journey has unwound, he sees the initial draw of love and loyalty and desire to be open to the bigger world… Perhaps now with wiser eyes, but as the beginning of a path he must continue to follow.

    I hardly dare touch upon what you say about relationships… But I wonder if this is the key here, too… Sam takes the risk with Frodo.. There is Love and there is Trust. We have faith in those we love, not to be perfect, or infallible, but that together we are trying to share a journey. And each have a part to play. You say about people becoming part of each other’s journey… Both part of the other’s. The relationship between Frodo and Gollum is one where Frodo will take a risk.. But it is a risk with conditions and with great care… And there isn’t a movement toward each other from both parties. There is little trust or mutual respect. This is, perhaps, a little key to the issues you touch upon about abusive relationships..?

    I wonder if Sam’s love and his faithfulness, trust and the mutual respect have worked hand in hand to bring him to this point of decision.

  4. Please do not apologise for the length of your remarks here. I am honoured that you give me a lengthy reflection and I assure you that when I speak of the quality of your writing I am not engaging in flattery. I know this comes from a separate conversation but I would very much like to read your thoughts on The Little White Horse when you feel they are ready.
    I am sure that Sam’s desire to see Elves and his desire to go with Frodo come from the same place. It is clear that he does not know what he seeks and I do not think we do either. As you say we do gain a sense through our lives that there are people who can help us journey towards what we seek and I think Sam senses that instinctively in Frodo although he could not tell you that.
    “Love, as a creative and freeing force, combats despair and futility … It is what will allow us to become closer to what we truly are, and it is in giving Love that we perhaps find our true capability and resources…” As I read these words I find myself thinking about the dangerous times in which we live. Thinking about LOTR does help to do that. Tolkien knew all about dangerous times. I found myself thinking about how, to some degree, I chose my wife. At least I can say that I wanted to marry her although there are so many elements of surprise in the way our relationship has worked out over the years that seem to fit our shared and several experiences in ways that I could never have anticipated. I really have not lived the life that I thought that I would and if I had I do not think that either of us would have been happy. As to my children I am sure that they chose me! That is a deeply humbling thought. All their lives they have taken me to places that I could not have anticipated and as they move to adulthood that seems to accelerate. I could choose not to go with them but somehow it would feel like locking myself away into a dark cell like Gollum beneath the Misty Mountains.
    Finally your thoughts on Gollum and abusive relationships are very pertinent to that area of my reflection. Gollum wishes nothing but ill toward Frodo and Sam and yet without him they could never achieve their goal. I am absolutely sure that I could never judge someone who decided to leave such a relationship and believe that through grace they will find healing. Even Frodo and Sam are not condemned to stay with Gollum for ever. But it is only through that relationship that they could bring the healing to the world that comes through the destruction of the Ring. Perhaps Tolkien is wise simply to tell the story and not to dogmatise from it.

    • I think you’re so right, Stephen. Sometimes the journey just has to be travelled. We learn what we can along the way… But we will only ever have glimpses …. When we try to answer things too precisely often is when we’ve missed an awful lot! Life and Love and the journey are so complex

      Thank you so very much for your words of encouragement, too

      • There is thinking that is serious reflection upon the living and the loving and so is an enfleshment of thought. Then there is thinking that is detached and disembodied. I am drawn more to the first as wisdom although the second is, of course, of great value when it comes to solving a practical problem.

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