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.

Sam Shows Us that We are Part of a Very Great Story

Sam does not know it yet but he is beginning to see what the world truly is once you draw back the veil that hides reality from our eyes. In these last few weeks we have been thinking about Sam’s reflection on the story in which he and Frodo have been a part. Sometimes as we strive to put our thoughts into words it is as if an idea or, even better, an image, takes hold of us and suddenly we can see and speak of what we have seen.

Sam begins to see glimpses of the kind of story that they are in but being Sam, being most wonderfully, Sam, it is of Frodo that he now speaks:

“And people will say: ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”

This is all too much for Frodo who shares with Sam the plain good hobbit virtue of not taking oneself too seriously. It is too much to begin to think of hobbits as famous and it is certainly too much to think of himself as the “famousest” of them all! Frodo begins to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the thought but Sam is not to be put off. His imagination has been captured by the image of the storyteller at work who makes the world strange for a moment in order, at the end of the tale, to return the hearer to his own reality just a little changed. No matter that Sam’s story teller is a father reading to his own children. In this simplest of domestic settings he is no less than a bard with harp in hand chanting verses to the household of a great lord in a meadhall on a long winter’s night. And what Sam sees as Frodo tries to deflect him with his laughter is the stones of the mountains of the Ephel Dúath listening to a sound that “had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth”. He sees the “the tall rocks leaning over them” as if (and this is my image to add to Sam’s!) they are warming themselves upon a fire. Sam has become a mythmaker and not even Frodo’s deflecting mockery can stop him now.

Frodo will be carried to the very end of his quest by the mythmaking vision that has awoken within Sam. His laughter is at least in part a response to what he considers to be Sam’s efforts to cheer him up but what Sam has done is much, much more. In the days that lie ahead Sam will go into battle with a creature of the foulest kind and he will storm an orc tower in order to rescue his master. Such are the deeds of the greatest of heroes and even Beren himself would be honoured to numbered among a hero such as Sam will become and yet all Sam can do is to think of Frodo.

Maybe, like Frodo, we may not be able to see the story of which we too are a part for what it truly is. We should not blame Frodo and we should not blame ourselves either. Frodo bears a burden that even Gandalf and Galadriel feared to take and step by step on his weary pilgrimage to the very heart of Sauron’s power it robs him of all strength and joy. Soon he will have no more capacity to laugh or even to remember that there is a reality beyond the darkness of the dungeon of Mordor. No we should not blame him. But if we can do so then we should strive to do as Sam does and to strip away the veil from before our eyes. Tolkien spoke of the “True Myth” of the Incarnation that we will celebrate soon on December 25th that the Catechism to which he assented described thus:

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Sam is beginning to glimpse glimmers of the True Myth and they will carry him to glory. They can do the same for us too. Our destiny, if we could but see it, is to become gods.

Our Shadow is our Hope for Wholeness

In last week’s blog posting we thought about the debate between Sméagol and Gollum that takes place in the foul pit just before the travellers reach the Black Gate of Mordor. We saw Sméagol feebly resisting the ravenous Gollum who wishes to take the Ring and so be free of all who might harm him and who might become great and even eat fish from the sea “three times a day”! And we see Gollum overcome Sméagol and begin to crawl menacingly toward Frodo “with long fingers flexed and twitching”.

Sméagol is Gollum’s shadow that he has sought to silence over many centuries. Sméagol is the self who on first encountering Bilbo in the dark tunnels of the Misty Mountains welcomes the sound of a friendly voice and in playing the riddle game enjoys the memories of the world that he knew before he crawled into the darkness, the world of sunlight and fresh air. But this self is fearful and cringing and Gollum hates him, though, try as he might, he cannot get rid of him.

For that is the nature of our shadow. Like Gollum, we may despise the weakness that it represents or we may be one who carries a shadow self that clings to us despite our longing for goodness or light. What is certain is that we all have a shadow. That is why I chose Hieronymous Bosch’s anguished triptych, The Temptation of St Anthony a theme that the artist often returned to, as the picture that is at the head of last week’s reflection. The saint is unable to get free of the images of his temptation but learns a serenity in their company. Those aware of Buddhist art will call to mind images of the Buddha smiling, poised in perfect balance upon the turtle that represents the world, while surrounded by demons.

Of course there is no serenity for Gollum/Sméagol only endless and unresolved torment and there is little hope that he will ever find it. But there is that within him that has never submitted entirely to the Ring. That is why he is not entirely under the sway of the Dark Lord as are the Ringwraiths. It is why he has some freedom of action in his dealings with Frodo and Sam and is not bound to bring the Ring straight to Sauron when he has it within his grasp and it is in this lingering freedom that some hope for him lies.

Like Sam who longs to be rid of Gollum, the false and treacherous servant, we might long to return to some state of uncomplicated simplicity but we cannot. But we might come to see that our liberation can only come at the end with the aid of the very shadow that we hate, fear and despise. We might learn to ask what it is that the shadow has to teach us that we could not learn without its aid, what pathways we must travel by the shadow’s guidance in order to reach our goal. And as we yearn for our liberation we are thankful for the torment that is the expression of our freedom