Well, I’m Back

The Three Companions make their silent way back from the Grey Havens and their farewells to Frodo and Bilbo and their glorious fellow travellers.

“At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”

For me these are some of the most poignant lines in all literature, the last lines of a story that I have loved ever since I first encountered it in my teens nearly fifty years ago. When I first read those lines I was filled with a deep sadness because it meant that I would have to leave a story that had somehow taken me to its heart. Middle-earth was now a place within my inner world, a world that was now peopled with new races whose history was a part of my history. A few years ago I was walking with my dog along a lane in Worcestershire, England, with high hedges upon either side. Suddenly I was captured by the thought that Gandalf might be walking towards me in the opposite direction and that when I turned the bend in the road he might meet me there to invite me upon an adventure. I was filled with excitement at the prospect and a little disappointment when he was not there.

Sam is in that world but his own adventure is over. It was an adventure that took him to places that were far beyond his imagining. All of this is now a part of him but all of this is now over. Rosie sets the scene for his future endeavours and she is right to do so. The fire in his own hearth is lit, the meal at his own table is set and his child is upon his knee. He is a husband, a father and a householder. He grows food for his growing family in his garden and from this place, from this homestead, a place worthy of the greatest respect, he leads his community.

Sam has returned from his journey bearing many gifts. The one that all can see is Galadriel’s box, and the fruits of that gift are clear for all to see. The Mallorn Tree in the Party Field, the beauty of the children born in 1420, the flourishing of the woodlands of the Shire that Saruman tried so hard to destroy and the excellence of the beer brewed in that year that satisfied the taste of the gaffers of the Shire for long years after. Galadriel saw this for herself as she passed through the Shire on her way to the Havens and she complimented Sam on the work that he had done.

But there are other gifts too. Sam has brought a wisdom and a fortitude from his journey that he did not know before he set out. He possesses a mastery over himself and over the ebb and flow of life that could only come from being tested to and beyond his limits. And he has brought to the Shire the gifts of Elfland. Not just the box that Galadriel gave him, not just the fulfilment of his longing for beauty that was satisfied by the encounter with Gildor even before he left the Shire. Sam carries Elfland in his soul and Elfland carries him. For a time at least, the Shire will be a place that treasures the memory of Elfland within Middle-earth. Sam’s beloved daughter, Elanor the Fair, will marry Fastred of Greenholm on the Far Downs and their family, the Fairbairns, the keepers of the Red Book, will dwell in the new Westmarch on the Tower Hills and by the gift of the king will be its wardens.

The history of Middle-earth must continue but the great story, in which the Fellowship of the Ring played such a part, that brought such gifts to its peoples must now come to an end.

But all who love this tale know that they can always turn back to the first page and start again.

The Marriage of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton

Tolkien gives the unmarried women of his story something that he did not give to his own wife. When critics sneered at what they regarded as the bachelor atmosphere of Tolkien’s work, a kind of Drones Club (the club in which P.G Woodhouse’s, Bertie Wooster was a member) in a heroic tale, Tolkien replied that it would be irresponsible for an unmarried man to marry before going to war. A husband is one who, in Old English, is bonded to his house and land and cannot leave them.

Tolkien did not follow this principle. As he wrote to his son, Michael in 1941:

“On January 8th I went back to her [Edith Bratt], and became engaged, and informed an astonished family. I picked up my socks and did a spot of work… and then war broke out the next year [July 28th 1914], while I still had a year to go at college. In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in, especially for a man with too much imagination and little physical courage. No degree: no money: fiancee. I endured the obloquy, and hints becoming outspoken from relatives, stayed up, and produced a First in Finals in 1915. Bolted into the army: July 1915. I found the situation intolerable and married on March 22nd, 1916. May found me crossing the Channel… for the carnage of the Somme.”

I will leave my readers who want to know more about the story of John and Edith to one of the excellent biographies of Tolkien. Here we are going to think a little about the story of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton.

Sam joined up or, rather, was conscripted, in April 3018 in the Third Age or 1418 in the Shire Reckoning. He already had an understanding with Rosie Cotton and here I wish to express my admiration for Rosie. She was a farmer’s daughter. Her father owned his own house and land. Sam was only a the son of a land worker with no prospects that this might change. The heirs to Bag End were the Sackville-Bagginses and given their known reputation were unlikely to be overly generous to their retainers. Sam was only a servant and not a master. Rosie was the daughter of a master, and so, just like Gandalf, she must have seen something in him that others might have been slower to see.

Her judgement proved accurate. Sam may have left the Shire a servant but he returned to it as one of the lords of his people. Frodo says as much to the sceptical Gaffer in Rosie’s hearing. “He’s now one of the most famous people in all the lands, and they are making songs about his deeds from here to the Sea and beyond the Great River.” All of this is way beyond the Gaffer’s rather limited imagination and so he quickly puts it out of his mind but “Rosie’s eyes were shining and she was smiling at [Sam]”.

Rosie never quite understood in what way her man had become famous and so, unlike Arwen to Aragorn or Éowyn to Faramir, she never became a “soul mate” to Sam. As Sam said to Frodo, as far as Rosie was concerned, Sam had “wasted a year” in which they could have got on with the really serious business of creating a home and family.  Did Sam mind? I suspect that his reference to himself as feeling “torn in two” means that he did, at least in the half of him that longed for the life that Frodo represented. He became very close to his daughter, Elanor, and when, after Rosie died in a good old age, Sam made his last journey across the Sea to the Undying Lands, he gave the Red Book to her and to her husband, Fastred, Warden of Westmarch as he was leaving the Shire for the last time.

Rosie and Sam may not have had a deeply romantic relationship but they do not seem to have complained about the lack of one. Rosie had the satisfaction of seeing her husband become Mayor of the Shire and along with Merry and Pippin, Counsellors of the King in his northern kingdom, and Elanor become a maid of honour to the Queen.  The marriage of Rosie Cotton and Sam Gamgee was a good one and I hope that when the time came for Rosie to say farewell to this life she was able to do so in peace and in contentment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Gamgee Remembers a Gift to Heal the Hurts of the World.

As always, Saruman underestimated the capacity of those that he made his foes to undo the harm that he sought to do to them, and he greatly underestimated the power of good in the world. In many ways the final chapter of The Lord of the Rings is a celebration of  that goodness. And the goodness is given graciously and abundantly.

I ended last week’s reflection on the death of Saruman lamenting one who, in Wordsworth’s words, “laid waste his powers”, meaning Saruman, and then hinted at one who, in his labours to restore the Shire discovered power that had lain hidden deep within him. Of course I am speaking of Sam Gamgee.

It is typical of Sam that he gets down to work straight away to remove all traces of Saruman’s malign influence upon the Shire and to begin to restore it “as it ought to be”. Sam finds many willing helpers. Perhaps some hobbits might have been ashamed of their failure to stand up against the invaders and wished to make amends. There might even have been some among the more willing collaborators who might wish to do so also. Let us hope so. Tolkien does not tell us.

But it isn’t until Sam begins to ponder the destruction of the trees and how it might only be his great-grandchildren who might see the Shire as he once knew it to be that he remembers the gift that Galadriel gave him in Lothlórien. It is a box of plain grey wood with no decoration save a single silver G rune set upon it.

“If you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.”

When Sam at last remembers Galadriel’s gift it is typical of him at this stage in his life that he is more afraid of making wrong use of it than he is confident in his power to use it well. It is Frodo who rightly encourages him saying, “Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam… and then use your gift to help your work to help your work and better it.”

It is a fundamental principle of faith and of life that grace perfects nature and so it is with Sam here. It is not that Sam had to start the work in order that the grace given in Galadriel’s gift could build upon it. It is that the person that Sam has always been in potential is now revealed in the grace given to him through the gift.

Galadriel saw Sam’s greatness in his vocation as a gardener. That he was one who could turn a wasteland into a place of abundance. Her gift allowed Sam to discover that in himself. Perhaps Gandalf caught a glimpse of that greatness when he caught Sam by the hair and dragged him through the open window into the sitting room at Bag End. Gandalf may have spoken of punishment in sending Sam with Frodo but the punishment would have been Frodo’s if Sam had been a fool. Gandalf sees enough of what Sam will become to choose him for the great adventure.

Frodo’s challenge to Sam’s wits and knowledge proves sufficient. Sam travels the Shire doing his work. He plants saplings everywhere and places a grain of Galadriel’s gift by each one. He plants the little silver nut that the box contained in the party field at Hobbiton. And then he stands at the Three-Farthing Stone and casts what remains of the earth into the air “with his blessing”.

The result is wonderful and the year 1420 is a “marvellous” year. Even the children are extraordinarily beautiful, the beer becomes a thing of legend and the silver nut proves to be a mallorn, a wonder of the world. Sam’s faithful journey with Frodo, even after seeing the vision of destruction in Galadriel’s Mirror, is rewarded. Perhaps it is his father, the old curmudgeon, the Gaffer, who puts it best. “It’s an ill wind as blows nobody any good… And All’s well as ends Better!”

Sam discovers a greatness and a power within himself, perfected by grace, that  Saruman squandered. Saruman’s soul became the very wasteland that he took pleasure in making. But goodness is the stronger as Sam reveals in his labours.

 

The artwork this week is by Edward Beard Jnr