This post is a follow-up to my previous one about Mr. Gamgee, in which I wrote about three occasions in which Sam was the hero of The Lord of the Rings. Earlier this week, I visited the Hobbiton film set in Matamata, New Zealand, and I overheard a family in our tour group (who had, up to this point, been the most Tolkien-ish besides ourselves), describing Samwise as a “whiner.”
Since Samwise is my most favoritest hobbit and probably the most precious cinnamon roll in all of Middle-earth history, I am going to tell you just what I wanted to tell that ridiculous family: Samwise Gamgee is a hero and Middle-earth would have been doomed without him.
J.R.R. Tolkien himself thinks so.
Now, I realise that most people are only familiar with the films, and that’s just fine, but it should still be acknowledged that the world in which these characters were created is so much more complex and intricate than what the films can show us in a mere…nine hours. Samwise Gamgee, in the books, is depicted as a lower-class than Frodo–something that wouldn’t have done well in the movies. When he refers to Frodo as “Mister”, it’s a sign of respect to someone of a higher class than he is. I could write dissertations on class distinction in Middle-earth as compared to the rest of British literature, but for now it is suffice to say that the majority of Frodo and Sam’s relationship is a blurring of class lines.
This is important because Tolkien considered Samwise to be the real hero, regardless of his class.
It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment, when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort I hope, that the ‘Sam Gamgee’ of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. -J.R.R. Tolkien
That’s right, the Eru of Middle-earth himself, Professor Tolkien, once described Samwise as the “chief hero” in a letter, and if that’s not confirmation, Tolkien also fashioned the character after fellow soldiers that he knew during his time in the armed forces during WWI.
He describes these soldiers as “so far superior to myself”, and if Sam is fashioned after these men, so too must Sam be a superior sort of man..errr…hobbit.
Sam values the important things.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Heroes do not have to be kings, or live in castles, or have special swords. J.R.R. Tolkien was a great believer in the simple life; many hours he spent wandering pastoral countrysides or in the pub (usually accompanied by his good friend C.S. Lewis). The hobbits, in particular, embody this particular lifestyle, and none more than Samwise Gamgee. Indeed, it is Sam who carries with him pieces of home wherever he goes, and it is Sam who reminds Frodo (repeatedly) that there is something worth fighting for: the Shire.
Sam’s heroism isn’t flashy or obvious–he is no Aragorn, after all–but his quiet heroism is the steady kind that anchors the other protagonists, namely Frodo, and allows them to complete their quest and defeat the Dark Lord.
In conclusion, Sam is not a “whiner”, but rather a simple hobbit taken away from everything familiar and his resilience makes him invaluable in the saving of Middle-earth. We could all stand to be a little more like Samwise, and be steady, kind, determined, and faithful, and appreciative of the simpler things in life.