Sam Gamgee Finds Strength to Finish the Job.

It was in trusting to luck on the roads of Mordor that Frodo and Sam were driven northward by the orcs in a forced march almost to the same Black Gate that they had seen from the other side just two weeks before. In those short days they have encountered Faramir and his Rangers of Ithilien; journeyed through the Morgul Vale; made the long climb to the pass of Cirith Ungol and there Frodo has been assailed by Shelob and carried by orcs into Mordor and the tower that guards the pass while Sam has defeated Shelob, briefly taken the Ring and rescued Frodo. 

Now as Frodo lies, exhausted by the torment of the march, Sam begins to ponder the journey that still lies before them to Mount Doom. 

“‘It looks every step of fifty miles,’ he muttered gloomily, staring at the threatening mountain, ‘and that’ll take a week, if it takes a day, with Mr Frodo as he is.’ He shook his head, and as be worked things out, slowly a new dark thought grew in his mind. Never for long had hope died in his staunch heart, and always until now he had taken some thought for their return. But the bitter truth came home to him at last: at best their provision would take them to their goal; and when the task was done, there they would come to an end, alone, houseless, foodless in the midst of a terrible desert. There could be no return.”

As we shall see as they make this last journey Sam is never quite able to despair. There is always an action that can be taken to get them a little nearer to their goal and, even at the very end, a place that is a little safer than the utter destruction that lies within the Cracks of Doom. Sam cannot quite abandon the optimism that has played such a part in bringing them so far upon the impossible journey. Trusting to luck, to wyrd, on the roads of Mordor that we thought about two weeks ago, was not just the consequence of dire necessity but a part of Sam’s character formed long before. And even when all hope has gone he must give luck every opportunity that he can.

Sam longs for a happy ending to his story and to Frodo’s and it is Rosie Cotton that he first recalls. His longings are for home and family and a woman to share them with and now, for the first time, it seems to him that he is never to enjoy these things. He would have the right to be angry, with Gandalf or Elrond who sent him on such a hopeless task, or with whatever sense of higher power that Sam has but at this moment he discovers something quite new, and even exciting. “He felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone or steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.”

It is only possible to make such discoveries at moments when they become necessary. Life must be entirely wagered on a venture whose outcome is, at best, doubtful, and most likely impossible, before such strength is given. Sam has laid his bets already, choosing to leave the comfortable world from which he came in order to go with Frodo. It is the kind of wager that we all consider at some point of our lives when the really big choices are laid before us. For only the big choices have the kind of degree of uncertainty about them that make us truly afraid. Now Sam sees, for the first time, the possible consequences of his wager and with it his will hardens and mighty strength is given. He is ready to carry himself, and Frodo if necessary, to the mountain and to the end of their journey. And that readiness to see the wager through to the end is what makes Sam great.  


16 thoughts on “Sam Gamgee Finds Strength to Finish the Job.

  1. Stephen, thank you for this. It was just what I needed this morning, having been discussing A Game of Thrones elsewhere. To me A Game of Thrones is a work of despair, which mirrors all too accurately the despair I see in the world and in myself. Someone suggested to me that she didn’t believe that Martin is counselling despair, and that may well be correct. But at least for me, and as far as the books have gotten, despair is almost all I see in Martin’s world. I know that Martin has said that it won’t end that way, which is perhaps the only thing that might get me to read the rest of his books, whenever they appear.

    But Sam gets you through to the end. (Could someone argue that it was Sam who got Tolkien through to the end? That may well be true.)

    Sam didn’t just finish the journey to Mt Doom. He finished the book, writing the last pages Frodo left for him. I find two thing fascinating here. First, Frodo makes this point explicitly, drawing our attention to it as he draws Sam’s, but, if you think about it, it is actually Sam who is drawing our attention to it, since it will have been Sam who wrote down the scene in which Frodo gave him the book and charged him to finish it.

    Second, there is no way Sam could have known anything about what Frodo saw after the ship sailed. And yet he takes Frodo to that far green country under a swift sunrise. I have no more doubt that Frodo in fact gets there than Sam does. And for the same reason. The dream or vision of Frodo in the house of Tom Bombadil. Sam uses that dream to give Frodo the happy ending he felt Frodo had been cheated of, and in doing so he acknowledges it as prophetic. Here is a moment where tears are the very wine of blessedness.

    Sam, as if by the power of Elvish minstrelsy, makes us see this.

    • Tom, thank you so much for your comment. I read it last night and then gave myself time to reflect on it.
      I confess to having had very little to do with Game of Thrones having read reviews that put me off the experience and also, when stumbling across my daughter watching the series on Netflix, having quickly decided not to join her because of what I have seen. She is too old for me to stop her watching it and I have generally followed the principle of wanting her to develop confidence in her own taste. I blame C.S Lewis and his essay on inner circles here. Both my daughters have to be prepared for discussion after and they are. I have hope that the year in which my younger daughter read and re-read Narnia and listened to dramatisations on tape will have its effect.
      One of the biggest effects of my own re-reading of LOTR for this blog has been to make me think much more deeply about its ending. I can’t blame Peter Jackson for trying to make the events on Mount Doom the climax of his retelling and I do admire him for giving us the ending at the Grey Havens and Sam’s return. What Tolkien gives us is layered with so much of his greater history. I cannot think of any other work of literature that offers quite so much at its conclusion. War and Peace is both sparse and inconclusive by comparison. In some ways, of course, LOTR is inconclusive too. But it is inconclusive in the way that our lives are. Tolstoy hints at his characters involvement in the Decembrist uprising but simply leaves that hanging. Tolkien (with Sam’s aid) makes us confront the very mystery of the ending of our lives both in the main text and in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen. And the whole thing remains (as it is) a mystery, but not one without hope.
      And, as you say so movingly, hope is at the heart of it all. So too is Sam’s wonderful inner journey. He is never formally named as Elf Friend as is Frodo but I am sure that he becomes one. How else could he make his last journey? And I love your linking of the dream in the house of Tom Bombadil to the final page of the story. Their stay in the house, as we as being one of my favourite scenes, has so much significance within the greater tale.
      Once again, thank you so much for leaving this. It helps my own reflection enormously and I know that I will carry it with me as I continue my own work.
      And as for the relative influence of Martin and Tolkien my belief is that Tolkien will have the greater long term effect and that for the good of us all.

    • The thing about bad times in my own experience is that I have to get past what seems to be (so far at least) of my perception of them as being harmful. I always seem to need to do that work in order to receive some good. Sam has got beyond hoping in the sense that he expects a happy ending. He simply has a job to do. If I have reached this in any sense it is in a growing conviction that I must be on the side of love and that everything else is of secondary importance to that. That includes my hope for success and even for happy endings. I still “hope” for both of those of course. I simply begin to know what is of greater importance.
      Thank you so much for leaving your first comment. I do hope that you will return again.

  2. I hope you had a great holiday! I know I repeat myself but this is another great post about why Sam rocks. 🙂 I love especially what you said he just couldn’t bring himself to despair. Frodo has so long drowned in this but even more than Galadriel’s phial, Sam is his light in dark places, just as he is our light.

    • Many thanks, once again, Anne Marie 😀 I did enjoy my holiday, especially the joy of spending time with old friends, even discussing plans to work together on a project in the coming year.
      As Brenton Dickieson said in another comment, Sam’s the man, or the hobbit! My guess is that when Gandalf dragged Sam by the ear through the window at Bag End neither he, nor Tolkien, had any idea what he would grow into in the story. It is one of the things that I love about Tolkien. He allows himself to be surprised by his own characters. Next week I will be reflecting on Sauron for whom the very idea of being surprised is a horror! He wants slaves, not friends.
      God bless you!

      • I love that about Tolkien – being surprised – he certainly was by Faramir and others. I have that joy of discovery myself in my own fiction. It’s the best part of writing, traveling down the Road with these people who have given you the honor of telling you their story and trusting you to tell it right.

        Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

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