Sam Gamgee Finds Simplicity at the Tower of Cirith Ungol

Some people think that simplicity means having less of everything; just a few clothes and other possessions in a dwelling with little furniture. They are partly right because simplicity may lead to a life that does not carry too much about upon its back but Sam Gamgee teaches us true simplicity at the Tower of Cirith Ungol.

Not that this was ever his intention. He would rather regard it as being above himself to set himself up as a teacher to “wise folks such as yourselves”. No he never intended to be a teacher. He just finds himself in a place that he never intended to be and must do what he can. It is as… well… as simple as that.

It is over a year on this blog, that is a conscious seeking for wisdom from The Lord of the Rings, since we were last with Frodo and Sam. We spent a year journeying with them from the Emyn Muil, meeting first with Gollum, their strange guide, who took them across the Dead Marshes to the impassable Black Gate of Mordor before persuading them to take another way, a secret way, into Mordor. On that way Gollum betrays them by leading them into the lair of Shelob, a terrible monster in spider form, and although Sam gloriously drives her away Frodo receives a terrible wound from her sting that leaves Sam to believe that he is dead. His heart broken Sam takes the Ring from Frodo and is beginning to set himself to fulfilling the mission that Frodo was given at the Council of Elrond, to take the Ring of Power to the fires in which it was created and to destroy it, but no sooner has he made his choice than a company of orcs come across Frodo’s body. They announce that Frodo is not dead but only poisoned, as is the way with spiders, so that they can eat their prey alive when they wish to do so. Sam is helpless as the orcs carry Frodo into the tower and shut him out.

What can Sam do? This is the simplicity that he is granted at this moment and Tolkien puts it in this way. “He no longer had any doubt about his duty: he must rescue his master or perish in the attempt.”

This is not the kind of simplicity that someone chooses when they wish to make a lifestyle change, when some decluttering needs to take place. This is the simplicity chosen by someone when the one they love is stricken suddenly by a terrible illness and from that moment nothing else matters more to them than to care for them. Or more happily it is the simplicity of a man as he sees his bride enter the church and prepares himself to promise to love and to cherish her until death parts them.

The poet, T.S Eliot, describes this as “a condition of complete simplicity, (costing not less than everything)” that is faith. The philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard describes it as willing just one thing. And Sam himself has not always achieved this simplicity. When he first set out upon his journey he wanted to go with Frodo but he also wanted “to see Elves!” When that wish is fulfilled right at the very beginning Frodo asks him if he still wants to carry on. And when later he sees, in the mirror of Galadriel, the destruction of the Shire that Saruman and his bandits carry out he is torn between going back to sort things out and going on with Frodo. And he will not always know this simplicity. Right at the end of the story when he realises that Frodo is going to leave the Shire he tells Frodo that he is “that torn in two” as he ponders losing Frodo and leaving his new bride and family behind.

True simplicity is first and foremost given to us as a gift. It is rarely a comfortable gift because of what receiving it will cost (not less than everything) but the freedom that accompanies it points us more truly than any other experience to what it means to be fully alive. There is almost a hint of joy in Sam’s voice as his love for Frodo rises above all other thoughts and forgetting his peril he cries aloud: “I’m coming Mr Frodo!”


8 thoughts on “Sam Gamgee Finds Simplicity at the Tower of Cirith Ungol

  1. Yaaay, I’m so happy we’re back to Frodo and Sam! Especially Sam. There is really so much to learn from him, and maybe the best part is he doesn’t realize how much he teaches people. Poor Pippin stuck under that troll, though…

    • Many thanks for leaving your lovely comment. I agree with you entirely about Sam. I am ashamed to say that when I first read The Lord of the Rings as a teenage boy I did not have much respect for Sam. I am glad to say that I have grown up a bit in the years since then. There is a greatness in Sam that he does not see.
      I am so glad that you are leaving your comments on the blog once more.

  2. I echo Middle Hyrule – yeah! Wonderful to be back with our hobbits! 🙂 Yes, Sam would indeed respond that way, using just those words too, thinking we are wiser than he, but my dear Sam, we are wise because you are wise and have taught us so much! Both Frodo and Sam know this simplicity now and will learn even more of it when they leave virtually all but their will behind to come to the Mountain unencumbered. I think it is Frodo’s belief and acceptance of it that he would die which allows him to expend his entire self on behalf of the Quest. He does not hold anything back for he does not think he has to. It gives him a tremendous freedom to devote himself so completely and I think only that would be enough, just as Sam gives himself over entirely to Frodo, even though he retains hope of survival. I can’t remember where I heard that first about Frodo, but I love it and ache for him at the same time.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your beautiful comment, Anne Marie. I particularly loved the part when you say, ” they leave virtually all but their will behind to come to the mountain unencumbered.” I think that is true, wonderfully true, and a profound spiritual lesson. In a way it is a lesson that the whole Fellowship learn on their journey. In offering themselves up at the battle before the Black Gate Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli and Pippin make a similar choice. Merry has to wait having no power any longer to do anything else. Could we say too that at the end, knowing his failure, Boromir also finds this simplicity in choosing to give his life for Merry and Pippin?
      Thank you, once again. I am so grateful for the time you take to share these thoughts. God bless you.

  3. This simplicity is a great thing. True, it’s not an easy choice at times, but keeping in mind how we sometimes tend to overcomplicate things, most choices are fairly obvious.
    I like Sam, and the more I re-read LOTR, the more I like him. He’s a real hero in the story.

    • I think you are right when you speak of most choices being obvious. The challenge from my experience is reaching the place of simplicity when they DO become obvious. As you say we have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I most certainly do! I worry over many possibilities but usually find that the obvious comes to me as a gift.
      It is lovely to hear from you, Olga. Every blessing.

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