“I Had to Choose, Mr. Frodo. I Had to Come With You.” Sam Gamgee at The Doors of Durin.”

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 300-301

The final chapter of The Two Towers is entitled The Choices of Master Samwise, that terrible moment when Sam is convinced that Shelob has killed Frodo and that he must go on alone for the sake of the world, to bear the Ring to the Fire and so complete the task that Frodo was given at the Council in Rivendell. The very title that Tolkien gives to Sam, Master Samwise, in that chapter head, is the most dignified that he can give. Tolkien’s Shire is very much like the rural England of his childhood with clear class distinctions and so Frodo Baggins is entitled Mister while his gardener is Master. One of the themes that runs through The Lord of the Rings is the way in which the relationship between Frodo and Sam, one that begins as Master and Servant, becomes a friendship based upon all that they have shared together.

Not that Sam ever quite realises this. Even as they make their last journey to The Grey Havens together Sam still addresses Frodo as Mister. This is not just an expression of the society of Tolkien’s early years and of the Shire that he creates but it also shows us where Sam feels most at home for there is never a moment in his life in which he bears any resentment concerning his place in this world. When Frodo leaves Sam becomes the Master of Bag End, his family name changes from Gamgee to Gardner and he becomes a gentleman and Mayor of the Shire.

Perhaps Frodo had to leave in order to create this space for Sam because until that moment Frodo is the very centre of Sam’s world and whereas Frodo was probably already living in another world by the time he he made that last journey Sam had work to do in Middle-earth and needed to be a man of authority in order to do it. And it is Frodo’s place in Sam’s world that forces Sam to make his choice at Durin’s Doors when Bill the pony runs away from the terrible creature that lives in the pool before them suddenly attacks Frodo. Until that moment Sam was seriously considering disobedience to Gandalf’s gentle but firm instruction that Bill should be left behind at the gates of Moria for Sam had come to love this creature with whom he has shared so much and for whom he has had a special care. Sam knows that once you have given care to another creature there is a sense in which that creature has a claim over you forever.

John Howe depicts Sam’s Choice at the Gates of Moria

Gandalf knows this which is why he is so gentle in the way he gives Sam the instruction but it is not Gandalf’s instruction that finally forces Sam to make a decision great though Sam’s respect for Gandalf is, it is Frodo’s plight. It is almost certain that the monster in the pool is drawn towards Frodo as the Ringbearer, not that it has been some instruction by Sauron, but that its very being draws it towards the Ring as all creatures of its kind are.

“Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot, and was dragging him into the water. Sam on his knees was now slashing at it with a knife.”

Sam has to choose between Frodo and Bill and he chooses Frodo. But it is a choice that almost tears him in two, something that Tolkien expresses in the tears and curses that pour forth from Sam as he runs back from the fleeing pony as he hears the sound of Frodo’s distress. The tears are the breaking of Sam’s heart while the curses are his anger against a universe that has made him make such a choice. For Sam goodness and happiness lies in a world that has been given to him, a world of fruitful and happy service, and at the moment in which he hears Frodo’s cry that world falls apart. Sam has to choose and choosing is something that Sam has never wished to do. Sam did not really choose to go with Frodo. He expresses what he does as obedience to a command. Whether or not we agree with him is neither here nor there. This is how Sam sees it and this is what gives him his dignity and his place in the world. And at the moment when Sam chooses, when he has to choose, it is this that enables him to achieve the impossible.

It is through all that they share together that a deep friendship is formed.

10 thoughts on ““I Had to Choose, Mr. Frodo. I Had to Come With You.” Sam Gamgee at The Doors of Durin.”

  1. We must not forget also the care that Gandalf offers to the animals he meets, in particular the horses. The wizard himself gives instructions to the pony so that it can return to Bree where, indeed, they find it on their return. And also in the case of Shadofaxbusca he has a friendly relationship with the meara.

    • Gandalf learned a lot in 70 years. It is charming how Tolkien goes out of his way in LotR to make sure that we know the ponies all got home safely. I imagine some of his children must have expressed dismay at the equine casualty rate in The Hobbit and JRRT was not going to let it happen again.

      • I am also grateful for the safe arrival of all ponies! I had forgotten about the equine carnage of The Hobbit and I am glad that Tolkien did not. There is enough sadness in the world without having to add that to it.

      • Thank you very much. I read your blog whenever it pops up in my inbox and always with great interest. I think you do a phenomenal job of analysis. It is a pleasure to read you and appreciate all the beauty of the underlying theology in Tolkien through your input. A big hug

  2. “Frodo was probably already living in another world by the time he he made that last journey” – yes; I have seen people in this stage, moving into the next realm while still here, and there is a dignity and a distance to them like we see with Frodo. Since they cannot follow, those left behind, like Sam, have to go through a process of recommitting to the realm they are in (for now). After Frodo is stung by Shelob, Sam pleads with Frodo not to go where he cannot follow…but as you point out, that is precisely what has to happen for Sam to grow into the his full role and purpose. Frodo knows it too. While Frodo had to leave for himself, there was in his decision too a recognition, and an act of compassion despite the sorrow it would cause, that it would save Sam from having to choose. Frodo tried once already, at Amon Hen, and Sam thwarted his plan; but not this time. thank you Stephen for the reflections.

  3. Tolkien once said that part of Sam was actually a little bit conceited in his loyalty to his master. I think the main points where he had to grow beyond that were when he first had to take the Ring and leave Frodo when he thought he was dead and again when he had to part with him at the Grey Havens.

    • I agree with you (and, of course, with Tolkien) entirely. His loyalty was the possession he prized above all others. I really like your connection between those two moments in his life. I had not linked them quite so explicitly in my own mind but you are absolutely right. He could not have lived so fruitful a life without giving this possession up.

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