Sam Gamgee Teaches Us to Make Good Choices

Freaky Friday was a favourite movie in our family as our girls were growing up. Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother finds herself in the body of her daughter who is played by Lindsey Lohan and her daughter finds herself in her mother’s body and both of them discover that it is tough to be the other. And there is a line that we all came to enjoy  (and most especially my wife!) which was delivered by Jamie Lee Curtis to her daughter.

“Make Good Choices!”

It was a line that summed up a parent’s desperate desire for her child as she makes the journey towards adulthood and also the feeling of powerlessness that a parent feels as the child walks out of the door (which they must!) and into a world that the parent cannot control.

After he fights his great battles with Gollum and with Shelob Sam is presented with a choice. He is sure that Frodo is dead and that if the quest of the Ring is to be completed then he alone must do it. He remembers the words he spoke to Frodo at the beginning of their journey after they had met the elven company of Gildor Inglorion. “I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.”

And so poor Sam takes Sting and he takes the Star Glass of Galadriel and he takes the Ring. A voice within him declares that “the errand must not fail” and Sam knows that he must make up his own mind. No one can else can do it for him. Not that he has any confidence that he will make the right choice.

“I’ll be sure to go wrong,” he says, “that’ll be Sam Gamgee all over.”

We have been here before with Sam and what we know is that he will strive to do the right thing and that he will never be sure that he is doing the right thing. Furthermore, this time it will be even worse for Sam because in any moment of doubt in the story until now he has had a guiding principle that has carried him through and that has been to serve Frodo the best he can. Now, as far as he is concerned, Frodo is dead and the lode star of his life has been taken from him. Sam has to make a choice without him, perhaps for the first time in his life.

We are all grateful for the choice that Sam makes because if the orcs had found him beside Frodo the end would have been heroic but also swift and horrible. Sam is able to evade capture or death because he puts on the Ring. He then learns that Frodo is not dead but only drugged because Shelob’s preference is for live meat. He is horrified when he learns this but he has done the right thing. He could not possibly have saved Frodo from the orcs.

What has Sam taught us about making good choices in the really tough times in life? Surely the first thing is that often we will not be sure that the choice is right especially when more than one possibility seems to be the right one. Like Sam we will have to learn to live with the possibility that we may have been wrong. We may even feel, as Sam does, that we have acted against the grain of our nature. What we do know is that in a moment of crisis we must make a choice. Sam has made his and the very fact that he has made a choice makes all the difference. Next week we will see the part that Providence plays in every one of our lives but neither Providence nor Grace can be of much help to us if we remain entirely passive. We must make whatever choice we can even if it the only one we can make is to bear our lot as bravely and as lovingly as we can.

 

 

32 thoughts on “Sam Gamgee Teaches Us to Make Good Choices

  1. One of the things that I didn’t pick up until recently is that ‘Samwise’ means ‘half-wise’ (ie. ‘half-wit’). Not only does he grow up saddled with a preposterous name, but his dad seems intent to rub it in, saying things like, “You’re nowt but a ninnyhammer.”

    I now see Sam’s lack of self-confidence in light of that – that he has been told his whole life that his brain isn’t up to much, and yet he consistently makes good choices: to hang around Bilbo and ‘learn his letters’; to listen in on Gandalf & Frodo’s conversation; to go back to the boats at Parth Galen; to go to the Cottons when in need of sturdy allies at Hobbiton, etc.

    I think it’s instructive that Sam’s lack of self-assurance seems to a help rather than a hindrance when seeking wisdom. And yet, like you said, he could easily have remained passive, but had the guts not to fall for that temptation or to despair.

    • Popular psychology would argue that all the baggage that Sam has to carry should disable him completely. If Gollum is Sam’s shadow in the story then he is the shadow because he has chosen to be a victim. There is no determinism here. My own conviction is that he finds a true father in Bilbo who teaches him what is worthy of his devotion.
      I was also struck in reading this part of the story that when Sam takes the Ring it has no impact upon him except the feeling of weight and he is used to bearing burdens without complaint. I wrote about this in a recent blog entitled The Hero’s Journey of Sam Gamgee, a reflection on the work of Joseph Campbell. I wish I could be as self-forgetful as Sam.

  2. Oh, I like this post! There was an interesting fan fiction I read where Frodo was actually conscious while in his paralyzed state, so he heard everything Sam was saying and tried to call out to him, but he couldn’t move. Which, I guess, means he also felt Sam’s goodbye kiss (I love that by the way) and then the Ring being taken. Poor Frodo, ripped from the Ring, which he lusts for now but he can’t have it and he can’t comfort his best friend either.

    I like a lot of things in this post though. I really enjoyed: “Now, as far as he is concerned, Frodo is dead and the lode star of his life has been taken from him.” (Did you mean “lone” by the way… lode doesn’t seem to make much sense. The dreaded autocorrect?)

    My editor is a Tolkien scholar-type person who wrote a whole book on God’s grace in Lord of the Rings, and she says that Sam and Frodo are “living phials for each other”. This is very true.

    • A really great thought on my writing. Thank you. That fan fiction you describe is really imaginative. I am glad that Frodo was protected from being torn apart in the way you describe by Shelob’s poison. A strange mercy.
      I had to check the definition of lodestar. Webster’s says that it comes from Middle English meaning a guiding star and it was a name given to the North Star or Polaris, the primary star used by early navigators.

      • Ohhh, okay, well great, a new word! Other girls get excited about new shoes, me it’s all about new words.

        I published an entire blog post of head canons because I love them so much. ^.^

    • I love the thought you share from your editor, that Frodo and Sam are “living phials for each other.” What begins as a master servant relationship becomes a deep friendship of equals. What is the title of her book?

  3. Hi, Stephen,

    I’ve really been enjoying reading your insightful analysis of different aspects of Tolkien’s works. I especially enjoy how you focus on Sam, who is such a special and indispensable character in the trilogy. Would you possibly be interested in having some of your recent posts on Sam, Gollum, etc. republished (with proper links and credits, of course) on “The Fellowship of The King” (www.thefellowshipoftheking.net)?

    Blessings,
    Rosaria Marie

    • Thank you so much for leaving this comment. What I have been trying to do in my blog is to read a passage from The Lord of the Rings and then to reflect on whatever strikes me from it. Recently I have been reflecting on the events in Shelob’s Lair and of course it is the moment when Sam the hero is revealed. I would be delighted (and honoured too!) to have some of my work republished on The Fellowship of the King. I have enjoyed reading it. Please feel free to choose whatever has impressed you.

  4. “And I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

    “Like Sam we will have to learn to live with the possibility that we may have been wrong.”
    This is timely for me. A friend had to help talk me down from one of my periodic freakouts over whether or not I am, in writing, doing what I should be doing. And how I have issues with the very idea of making a mistake or being wrong.

    “neither Providence nor Grace can be of much help to us if we remain entirely passive.”
    And I love this. I’ve not heard it framed in those terms before, but I agree so much. Waiting on God is not the same as doing nothing.

  5. Anyone who quotes that line of Frost’s will always capture my attention. I think I read an article once that suggested that it was written as a reflection Frost made on a walk he took with the English poet, Edward Thomas, a walk that had a profound effect upon Thomas as well as Frost.
    I think we should just promise one another that we will keep on writing. The negative voice inside my head on my dark days accuses me of wasting my time when I could be doing something useful in the world. I know from what I have read of your work is that you have a unique voice that I want to keep on hearing. I look forward to reading more of your work soon.

    • It is an amazing poem… one of those that can mean very different things to different people. But it’s always beautiful. I haven’t encountered the article you speak of. Part of me is curious about it, and part of me doesn’t want to know what the poet was thinking or why he wrote it, lest his purpose override my own thoughts and reactions. 😉

      “The negative voice inside my head on my dark days accuses me of wasting my time when I could be doing something useful in the world.”
      God have mercy on us both. I know that very same voice!
      I will gladly promise not to stop, though at present I can hardly imagine stopping. But one day, I might need the promise to bind me.

      • I agree with you about not wanting to know too much about the back story. The words have enough power in themselves. And it sounds like the fire of the words is burning inside you.

      • “I think we should just promise one another that we will keep on writing.”

        “I will gladly promise not to stop, though at present I can hardly imagine stopping. But one day, I might need the promise to bind me.”

        and, the what if?

        what if those called did not respond … thinking,… what if this work is not chosen to succeed?

        would the call to write be negated?

      • For myself it isn’t success or otherwise that is uppermost in my mind although what writer does not want to be read? What matters most is to write something that matters. As to rejecting a call, that is always the risk for the one who calls. I think of the line in John’s Gospel, “Here came to his own and his own received him not…”

      • I am not entirely sure that I understand the question. And I am absolutely sure that even if I did, my answer would be a guess.

        But if you are asking what I think you are asking, then my guess is this:
        Failing to answer a call, for whatever reason, would not, I think, negate the call. It would simply leave it unfulfilled. And from what I have seen of denying, or accepting a call, the latter always seems to make a difference, even a miraculous difference, on a life. Not that that always makes it easier to fight the doubts. :/

      • I’d say not. I am going to pair, of all things, C.S. Lewis and Emily Dickinson. Lewis talks about doing what we are called to do “in simple obedience,” not knowing what will come of the seeds we sow. Dickinson wrote this:

        “If I can stop one heart from breaking
        I shall not live in vain
        If I can ease one Life the Aching
        Or cool one Pain

        “Or help one fainting Robin
        Unto his Nest again,
        I shall not live in Vain.”

        The two things combined agree with something my mother taught me, and something that is borne out, I think, by the whole of scripture: We are part of a larger pattern that we cannot see. One act, insignificant to us, can cause ripples that may not even begin until after we are dead, for good or ill.

        That said, I have a caveat.
        Human vainglory is a terrible thing. It can convince us that we have a calling when we do not. And therefore we must really examine ourselves, and not simply assume that we know what we know.
        Also, if one is called, that calling comes with an ultimatum that, I think, a lot of Christian writers ignore: to be as good as you possibly can, and to work our fingers to the bone to reach excellence.
        I feel, sometimes, that a lot of Christian writers are overconfident. They seem to believe that the goodness of their message justifies their work, or they think that being called means they can just spit out the first thing that comes to them and it will be perfect.
        To be fair, a lot of non-Christian writers are just as vainglorious, and just as lazy. But they aren’t under quite as much scrutiny. 😉

      • Surely there is a difference between a sense that there is a job that must be done and the vain glorious belief that I am the only one who can do this.
        I agree with you entirely that there must be a search for excellence at all times. A belief in God means that I will want to please God above everything and everyone.

      • Agreed, but the sense that there is a job to do, and one has been called to do it is, in my mind, the definition of a calling.
        Vainglory is expecting the calling to translate directly into worldly success.
        For every Tolkien and Lewis, there have got to be hundreds, even thousands, who are called, not to fame and fortune or even to a wide readership, but to write in order that they might touch just one life.
        I am called to write. I know this. I do not know, and may never while I live, WHY I am called to do it. What my job is, I know. What God’s purpose for it is, I have no idea.

        Does that make sense?

      • You are right in all that you say here and, of course, the things that you say about those who write, not knowing who will read it, express the beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson. I think of an essay written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for just three members of the German Resistance during World War 2. David Ford, until recently Regius Professor of Theology at Cambridge and my theological mentor, once said to me that the essay was the greatest theological document of the 20th century and yet he had just three people in mind as he wrote, trying to encourage them in dark days. And who was the New Testament written for? Probably for very small communities. The sense has to be in the obedience to the call.

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