The Mercy of Sam Will Rule the Fate of Many

Throughout the journey through Mordor Frodo and Sam have been aware that Gollum is not far away but although Sam, in particular, has remained wary, the sheer immensity of their task has meant that they have not been overly concerned about him. Sam’s attention has been primarily centred upon getting Frodo to, and then up, the mountain. Frodo’s attention has been given to the Ring. He has little choice. He is almost in its power. So it is, as Sam carries Frodo up towards the Cracks of Doom upon his back, that they are taken by surprise by Gollum’s attack.

“A sudden weight smote him and he crashed forward, tearing the backs of his hands that still clasped his master’s. Then he knew what had happened, for above him as he lay he heard a hated voice. ”

Gollum’s attack rouses Frodo in a way that nothing else could do and he resists fiercely. Gollum too has the same desire for the Ring but whereas Frodo has been sustained on his journey by lembas, which, while not satisfying hunger, has the capacity to give “a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods”, Gollum has had no such sustenance. He is starved and greatly weakened.

Frodo drives him away and makes his way, “walking slowly but erect, up the climbing path”.

And now,  at long last, Sam has the opportunity to do what he has long wished to do, and that is to kill his enemy, the one who betrayed Frodo to Shelob, the one that he has hated ever since they first caught him in the Emyn Muil. But when he has Gollum at his mercy and his sword is held, ready to strike the fatal blow, he finds that he cannot do it.

“He could not strike this thing, lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again.”

Sam is not able to put what is happening to him into words but the same thing is happening to him as happened to Bilbo at the entrance to the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, the same thing as happened to Frodo when they caught Gollum in the Emyn Muil and he cried out to an absent figure, “Now that I see him I do pity him”.

The absent figure was, of course, Gandalf, and at the moment when Frodo had the opportunity to kill Gollum he was remembering the words that Gandalf had to spoken to him in Bag End when Frodo first learned the story of the Ring.

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need… My heart tells me that [Gollum] has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that time comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many- yours not least.”

And now the end has come and Bilbo’s Pity and Mercy, and Frodo’s too, have brought them all, with the Ring, to this place. And what Sam finds is that Pity and Mercy are not abstract concepts arrived at in leisurely reflection but they are a Connection that binds us to each other. We find that we are not separate from each other but that we belong to each other. When we discover this reality about someone that we love it is the cause of profound joy but when we discover it about someone that we hate then our first response may well be horror. At a level deeper than words Sam realises his connection to Gollum, the suffering that they have both shared and that they share now at this terrible moment.

Would Sam have been just if he had killed Gollum? Probably. Gollum’s desire will lead him to one last attack upon Frodo and he deserves to die for every murder that he has committed but as with Bilbo and Frodo,  the pity of Sam will “rule the fate of many” not least his own and Frodo’s.


4 thoughts on “The Mercy of Sam Will Rule the Fate of Many

  1. When my friends and I were in our mid teens, we passed more than one lunch hour trying to figure out a way that Sam could have resolved that situation with a satisfactory level of violence. Adolescent boys are determined not to understand some things.

    • That phrase, “a satisfactory level of violence”, could be used as the title of the handbook for the ordering of human society in most places. Montesquieu argued that the last word in every society belongs to the executioner. I don’t know if that was a sardonic aside on the unhappy nature of things or a maxim that he offered as the rightful order but it seems to me that it is rarely challenged as a principle.
      It is challenged in The Lord of the Rings both in the behaviour of the central hobbit characters and in the sacrificial nature of “hopeless” march of the Armies of the West to the Black Gate. And, of course, it entirely undoes all the carefully prepared strategies of the ultimate “business as usual” character, Sauron. I say, “of course”, but there is almost no “of course” about it and that is what makes Tolkien’s story so remarkable.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! The pity of Bilbo may have ruled the fate of many, but Sam’s rules the fate of all. Alas for Middle-earth if Sam had yielded to his hate. I thought it was interesting you pointed out it would be horrifying to feel something in common with someone you hated. This was Frodo’s initial reaction too that Gollum could possibly be of hobbit-kind. And yet, Smeagol was, and though he is dead and Gollum is all that is left, Sam still gives pity to an enemy he has ever loathed. Gollum’s betrayal of the hobbits makes this possible, so evil once again does good it does not intend and defeats itself. Gotta love it. 🙂

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • What a wonderful insight! Evil’s downfall lying in the love that it inspires. There is a moment of devastating insight just before he is killed when Saruman realises the wisdom and the mercy of Frodo and rejects it. It is the most poignant moment in his sad downfall because he realises, perhaps for the first time, just how far he has fallen. And all because Frodo looks upon him, not with hatred but with pity.
      And how right you are, that the pity of Bilbo and of Frodo would have been for nothing if Sam had given way to hatred at the moment he has Gollum, literally, at his “mercy”.
      Thank you for your wonderful comment and God bless you 😊

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s