Sam Gamgee Finds Strength to Resist The Ring.

To cry out, “I’m coming Mr. Frodo!” is one thing. Most of us have made promises in a moment of passion that we have regretted later in the cold light of day. It can be one of the bravest things that we ever do in life to keep such a promise long after the initial ardour has gone.

For Sam reality strikes home very soon as he looks out across the plains of Mordor beyond its mountainous defences towards Orodruin, the very mountain that he and Frodo have been trying to reach. It is clear that the task that lies ahead is way beyond his strength and ability. And to enter the Tower of Cirith Ungol is just as impossible. Unless…

There is one thing that he holds that might enable him to defeat his enemies and that is the Ring. Even as he ponders the possibility, “Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr.” Observant readers will note that there no place for Frodo in this fantasy. That is the nature of the Ring. Those who possess it have no heart room for any but themselves. Sam’s fantasy reminds us of Boromir’s, the desire to be the hero of the story and not to share that with anyone else. A moment later and we are reminded of Gandalf and Galadriel and the desire to do good.

“And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit.”

It is a beautiful vision and who is better qualified than Sam to achieve it? Of course when Frodo offered Galadriel the Ring in Lothlórien it was Sam who encouraged her to take it and to put things right. Surely it is the desire of all good people to want to put things right and an obstacle to belief in God for many whose desire is to do good that God does not seem to be interested in putting things right. Well, not as interested as Sam Gamgee and people like, well, me…

Then Tolkien offers us all wise counsel as he describes the inner debate within Sam. It is striking how strong Sam is at this moment as he resists the Ring. Such strength does not come in the moment of crisis for the one who has done no inner work. When Sméagol murdered Déagol in order to take the Ring for himself we are not aware of any inner conflict. Sam’s inner work comprises two spiritual disciplines, one consciously practiced and delighted in, the other so long practiced that he is hardly aware of it even being a moral choice. The one is Sam’s love for Frodo. We noted that Sam’s fantasy had no place for Frodo but as soon as Sam becomes even half aware of this he sends the fantasy packing. The other is more complex, even controversial, and Tolkien calls it “his plain hobbit-sense”.

Sam’s upbringing has had two major influences. One has been the kindness of Bilbo who drew him into the world of imagination and delight. To have received such an invitation has been the greatest joy in Sam’s life and his love for Frodo is an act of gratefulness made deeper by all that they have endured together. The other influence has been the ungentle and highly critical voice of the Gaffer. It is a voice that comes to mind at those points in the story when Sam wants to berate himself for some mistake. The Gaffer’s guiding principle in life is to be satisfied with his lot although it also means defending his small territory, the garden at Bag End and his role in keeping it, with all the strength that he can muster.

Perhaps Sam needed both voices in his head and in his heart. They give him strength in his “hour of trial”. Perhaps too they give us a greater appreciation of what we may have regarded as negative influences as well as thanksgiving for all the love that we have received in our lives.

Frodo’s Dark Journey

Frodo and Sam begin their journey to Mordor from the Emyn Muil with a guide without whom they could make little progress but a guide who wishes them ill. Frodo makes Gollum swear by the Ring not to betray them but he is aware that Gollum will break his promise if he can and that the Ring is stronger and more treacherous than Gollum’s oath.

“Would you commit your promise to [the Ring], Sméagol? It will hold you. But it is more treacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!”

When Dante takes his journey through Hell that he describes in the first book of The Divine Comedy he was guided by the noble Roman poet, Virgil. Time and again he finds himself dependent upon the wisdom and authority of his guide. Although Dante is in Hell he is not beyond the authority of God and Virgil has been tasked as a kind of herald of God, pagan though he is, to bring his charge safely through his dark journey. When Virgil demands that the devils of hell permit them to pass he does so with divine authority and although the devils hate God they have no choice but to allow Dante to continue on his way. Hell in Dante’s vision is not a contested region. It may be hopeless but it has been harrowed.

The journey that Frodo and Sam make to Mordor is also a journey into Hell but as in the whole of Tolkien’s vision of Middle-earth it remains very much a contested region. Sauron not only hates the light but would deny it any place within his dominions. When Frodo seeks to gain entry there is no word that he can speak that has the authority to force those who guard the dominion of the Dark Lord to grant him entry except, it would seem, the word of treachery that Gollum will speak in the Pass of Cirith Ungol.

In his the first of his series of nine poems On Reading the Commedia the poet, Malcolm Guite speaks of his own dark journey (with typical generosity he posts the poem on his blog  https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/dante-and-the-companioned-journey-1 where you can also find links to ways to buy his book from which series comes,”The Singing Bowl”). Guite speaks of the call of his “shadow-beasts…the leopard, lion, wolf, My kith and kin, the emblems of my kind” who come to draw him “back across the gulf, Back from the path I wanted to have chosen.” Is Gollum a guide of this kind? Is he, like Guite’s “shadow-beasts”, Frodo’s “kith and kin” the emblems of his kind? I think he is. When Gollum swears “by the Precious” and he grovels at Frodo’s feet Sam recognises the kinship that Gollum and Frodo share. “They could reach one another’s minds.” Frodo knows too that Gollum is what he himself will become unless he can cast the Ring into the fire, that Gollum’s call to him is the call to despair as Guite expresses it

Fall back, they call, you can’t run from yourself,

Fall to the place where every hope is frozen…

The place in Dante’s Inferno where every hope is frozen is the ninth and deepest circle of Hell to which Gollum himself journeys by means of his own treachery. But must Frodo travel there in the same way as his shadow guide? Will he fall into the same despair and become himself a traitor to those who have trusted him? Guite offers to us a different path:

“This time I choose to choose

The other path, path of the dead and risen,

To try the hidden heart of things, to let go, lose,

To lose myself and find again the voice

That called and drew me here, my freeing muse.

Begin again she calls, you have the choice,

                Little by little, you can travel far,

Learn to lament before you can rejoice.”

And so we travel on with Frodo through the Dead Marshes on the way to Mordor as he struggles to make the same choice.

Sam Carries Frodo to Mordor

Frodo and Sam are carried to Mordor. The task of getting there is too great for either of them to achieve alone. It is even too great for them to achieve together. They need to be carried there and in the postings on this blog over the next few weeks we will see who carries them and how. As we begin this journey Frodo and Sam are hopelessly alone in the Emyn Muil. They cannot even descend from its heights into the marshlands below that lie between them and the northern walls of Mordor. And yet they are not alone. They are in communion with so many others living and departed and without that communion they would not be able take a step further upon their journey.  The elven rope by which they descend to the lowlands and which returns to them when Sam calls it is the fruit of long years of craftsmanship placed at their service at a moment of need. The gift of lembas that will sustain them on many weary marches is given because the lady of the wood did not hide from the travellers but opened her home and heart to them.

Frodo and Sam could not take a step towards Mordor and the accomplishment of their task without this communion and in the weeks ahead we will be reminded of many that they cannot see as they stumble the weary miles that lie now before them. But we begin with their friendship. Next week we will think about how Frodo carries Sam to Mordor but this week we will begin by thinking of how Sam carries Frodo.

Many argue that Sam is the true hero of the Quest of the Ring and that Frodo could never have reached Mount Doom without him. Frodo himself agrees with this assessment. Later in the journey he will say this to Sam: “Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.” And he is right. Sam’s father, the Gaffer, worried greatly about where learning to read and write would take his son but of one thing he would have approved and that is that Sam stays faithfully by his master through thick and thin. Gaffer Gamgee believes that the relationship between master and servant is part of the natural order of things. He may not always approve of the actions of the masters and he will say so if he is not happy but he will remain loyal even when he does not agree and he expects his son to do likewise. However, Sam’s loyalty is not because of his father’s precepts although he holds them to be true himself, but because he admires, even loves Frodo. Sam believes that Frodo is “the wisest person in the world (with the possible exception of Old Mr Bilbo and of Gandalf” but his admiration does not carry with it any desire to be like Frodo; even less to be Frodo. There is nothing competitive in their relationship. What gives meaning to Sam’s life is that he lays it down in free service to the hobbit he admires and loves. Such service is hard to conceive in contemporary culture in which even our friendships are often competitive in nature and in which service is often considered to be servile unless shaped by contract and a job description. Tolkien is describing what for many is an “old-fashioned” relationship but he does so in a way that both transcends and transfigures it so that it is neither old-fashioned nor contemporary but greater than both because there is nothing servile about Sam’s service to Frodo.

Perhaps in the drawing of the relationship of Sam to Frodo Tolkien comes as close as any writer to the spirit of the words of Jesus in the gospel of St John in which he says:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

A Story Too Big for Us

It is time to leave Gandalf and Pippin as they make their desperate dash to Minas Tirith upon the mighty Shadowfax to find Frodo and Sam wandering in hopeless circles upon the barren heights of the Emyn Muil as they seek a way down from sheer cliffs that thwart them at every turn. If the pace of Book 3 of The Lord of the Rings was often frantic now it is painfully, agonisingly slow. Over the last year in this blog we have travelled with orcs as they bore Merry and Pippin relentlessly towards Isengard and we travelled with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in their brave but hopeless pursuit of the orcs. With the three friends we met Gandalf in the Forest of Fangorn and joined them in their dash across the grasslands of Rohan towards Edoras. With little time to rest we then rode with them to Helms Deep where they fought a mighty battle against the armies of Saruman and then joined them again as they rode onwards to Isengard. There they met the young hobbits whom they had long sought and who had escaped from the orcs to meet Treebeard who carried them in the last great march of the Ents to the walls of Isengard. And at the last as we have already said we rode with Gandalf and Pippin on their way to the great battle of the age. Aragorn and his friends and Théoden and the Riders of Rohan will soon follow on as swiftly as they can.

Every deed that can be accomplished by them will be vital but all will be in vain if the Ring cannot be cast into the flames of Mount Doom, Orodruin in the land of Mordor; and the Ring has been entrusted to Frodo Baggins and his servant, Sam Gamgee and they cannot even begin their journey there, the “one place in all the lands we’ve ever heard of that we don’t want to see any closer; and that’s the one place we’re trying to get to! And that’s just where we can’t get, nohow.”

Anyone who has tried to do something that really matters will have known times when they feel stuck, when it seems that all they can do is to travel round in circles and back to the beginning again. In such times they will feel abandoned, useless and desperately vulnerable. In the words of an ancient Celtic prayer they will say, “The sea is so very great and my boat is so very small.”

Frodo and Sam are in a story that is far too big for them. Frodo said Yes to the story in Bag End one night when he spoke long with Gandalf and first learnt about the Ring that he had kept for seventeen years. Later he said Yes once again at The Council of Elrond though he did not know the way. Finally he said Yes when Boromir tried to seize the Ring and Frodo knew that he could journey with the rest of the Fellowship no longer but must take the Ring alone to Mordor. Sam made a simpler choice but one that was equally costly, to go with Frodo wherever he might and to offer him whatever support he could.

The truly great stories are the ones that we somehow seem to “land in” as Sam will put it later in the story. The temptation when we realise that this is happening to us is to reject the story, to hide away in some dark corner of our soul with the doors and shutters firmly closed. Or we might try to retell it in some way that will make it more palatable for us. Or we might say Yes to the story in full recognition that it is far too big for us and that in some way we must be carried or else destroyed. We might say that Gollum hides, Saruman and briefly, Boromir, try to retell the story and Frodo and Sam say Yes to it. How Frodo and Sam will be carried as they must be we will see in future weeks.