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Samwise

posted by Dave Freer

“Humble must he constant be
Where the paths of wisdom lead
Distant is the shadow of the setting sun.”

Benidictus, Strawbs

A comment Stephen Simmons made a little while back about Samwise Gamgee got me thinking about the nature of heroes who stay with us. I thought of those that really got to me and stuck – and Sam was one.  I conclude you’re either a Samwise person or a Frodo person (I at the moment feel like a very old Bilbo-person. Thin and stretched… but that is aside from the point).

I suppose this comes down to question of self identity as well ‘the kind of person I would like to have as a friend/companion’ — because we’re inclined to identify with people we either would like or are like ourselves.  And the strength, simplicity-of-purpose (he’s not simple, and is quite a complex character) and mostly the loyalty of Sam’s character call to me strongly. In bleak times that’s what you need at your back.

Essentially Tolkien painted Samwise as ‘the loyal Servitor who becomes almost a friend’. I actually got quite peeved with Tolkien about it, feeling Sam didn’t get enough credit, while Frodo would have benefited a bit from some of Sam’s backbone, but your milage may vary! 🙂

So why does this sort of self-effacing hero appeal? Is it the loyalty to others? What is it that makes us care? Is this something  we can tap into as authors? I’ve written – partly thanks to JRRT two of these characters. I’ve never really had feedback, and I don’t know if I’m alone in caring.

Tell me.

15 Comments
  1. Dave, I have to agree with you about Sam not getting enough credit. After I read LotR for the first time, one thing struck me: I liked Sam a lot more than I did Frodo. Sam did what needed to be done and did his best to make sure Frodo did as well. He wasn’t perfect but, if I had to choose from the two of them to be my traveling companion, hands down it would have been Sam.

    I would love to be able to effectively tap into that sort of character and reader appeal. I haven’t yet and don’t know if I ever will be able to. But I think part of the issue for me is that I don’t like writing Frodo-like main characters. I don’t do well with too much whining from my heroes. Then tend to find their stories never finished. Shrug.

    October 10, 2011
    • Well, in a way (although she’s painted as cleverer) that’s what I was trying to do with Meb. Dunno if it worked.

      October 10, 2011
      • It did, at least as far as I’m concerned. I LIKE Meb.

        October 10, 2011
      • Stephen Simmons #

        I already told you that answer, Sir. Scrap sits at the same table in my heart as Samwise, and the only reason she hasn’t quite reached his level is because you haven’t given me her next two (or more) books yet. 🙂

        October 10, 2011
  2. Frodo had too much nobility of purpose and way too much teenage angst.

    But while Frodo may have gotten the credit, in the end, Sam is the one who got the girl.

    Personally, I rather liked the transformation of Merry and Pippin from ne’er do well scaliwags into matter of fact warriors, cleaning up the Shire when they returned.

    But Samwise is the one I want at my back.

    October 10, 2011
    • Yes, I suppose it was a complete package in it’s way – each hobbit a different thing and well enough developed for us all to have favorites.

      October 10, 2011
      • Stephen Simmons #

        But Fatty Bolger didn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserved. Especially considering how they left him hanging out to dry, to face the Nazgul all on his own.

        October 10, 2011
  3. Chris L #

    Hey Dave,
    I’ve never met a person who said they didn’t like the character of Sam Gamgee. There are people who don’t like Frodo, or think that he’s a bit of a whiner, or that he doesn’t give Sam enough credit – but I don’t hear them criticise Sam.

    I think characters like Sam NEED characters like Frodo to shine. Try to imagine Sam as the ring bearer rather than Frodo and it doesn’t work for me because Sam has too much self-doubt, or maybe it’s that he seems to humble to even accept the quest in the first place. He’s not a leader, but he’s a bloody good follower.

    I’m not saying Sam was a simpleton, but he had a simple role – protect Frodo at all costs. In terms of not receiving credit from other characters, perhaps that’s a sign of the times in which the story was written, but I tend to think Sam was rewarded instead by the author, who in my view is a much preferred benefactor.

    I have no way of substantiating this, but I reckon Sam was Tolkien’s favourite character as well.

    October 10, 2011
    • I agree with Chris. I don’t think you can have Sam without Frodo. Or the other way around.

      I also think we are supposed to like Sam more because he is someone who’s problems we can understand. He’s helping a friend. But how can we truly know what it’s like for the ring bearer?

      I always hated (not as in thought is should be written another way– hated in that I think it’s very sad) the end of Frodo’s story. Sam got Rosie,. Merry and Pippin were heroes that came back and fixed the shire. But Frodo gave up the most– he gave up everything in the end (going into the west isn’t a reward– it’s purgatory or something like it)– and the local hobbits just thought he was some rich old eccentric so he didn’t get recognition for his sacrifices.

      For me, happy ending are where everyone gets what they deserve, one way or the other. Frodo’s dying doesn’t make it sad. No recognition makes it sad. (anyway, I digressed)

      October 10, 2011
      • Well, outside of the Shire Frodo got the recognition he deserved. It’s just in the Shire that the others got more than he did.

        Of course, Frodo wasn’t sure that he deserved recognition. After all, he didn’t destroy the One Ring and fell victim to the One Ring.

        October 10, 2011
      • Stephen Simmons #

        Scott, that’s the thing about “the old stories”, as Samwise calls them. They *cost* something. There were only two beings who ever put on the Ring and still got to have happy endings — and Bombadil almost doesn’t count. But the reason it didn’t affect him is the same as the reason Sam came out ok: lack of ego. But even Sam didn’t get his heart’s desire. he got Rosie, sure. But what he wanted more than anything was to spend all of his days in Bagshot Row, tending Mr. Frodo’s garden. Mayor of Hobbiton wasn’t his cup of tea at all.

        October 10, 2011
  4. Stephen Simmons #

    Dave, the adjective that belongs to Samwise, more than any other, is “pure”. It is that absolute commitment, the *complete* devotion to whatever needs to be done, that makes him more than human, and makes him stick with us.

    He is Spock, in his own way. (Remember Edith Keeler’s description: “You belong right where you are. Beside him.”) And Holmes’ Watson, and Bassanio’s friend Antonio in Venice, and Delos Harriman’s partner George Strong, and Sydney Carton’s law partner, all rolled into one. The glue that holds the hero together, that makes the hero’s heroics possible.

    But there’s another piece to why so many of us love Sam: His role is attainable for any of us. You don’t have to be as brilliant as Carton and Holmes, or as bold as Bassanio and Kirk. You just have to not quit.

    October 10, 2011
  5. Synova #

    I think…

    I think that a reader tends to supply the emotion that is absent in the text.

    If a character doesn’t recognize their danger and isn’t afraid, the reader is likely to feel afraid for them. Someone who feels sorry for themselves has that covered so the reader doesn’t need to feel sorry for them and will probably find the whining annoying. A character that gets a lot of acclaim in the text has that part taken care of already. What’s left for the reader to do?

    October 10, 2011
  6. Now, from a writer’s POV, Sam is a disaster, as the Hero. I mean, he’d do something sensible like drop the ring in a cupful of cement so the temptation wouldn’t bother him. He’d shrug and say “Well, Old Gandoph is late, hope nothing’s happen to the old fellow.” And get going, not wait around. No Nazgul would ever suspect some barefoot farmer, he’d not like the looks of that Strider fellow, and go his own way . . .

    October 10, 2011
  7. For me, Samwise is the hero. He’s the rock of solid common sense and loyalty that Frodo relies on. He recognizes that Boromir’s been caught by the Ring, he recognizes that Gollum can’t be trusted because the Ring has eaten out almost everything that was ever worthwhile – but he still abides by Frodo’s judgment.

    I rather suspect there’s a lot of English yeomanry in Samwise Gamgee, in the idealized form.

    That heroic dependability and humility is what makes him such a wonderful character. He might not have carried the Ring for long, but he’s one of only three beings who ever voluntarily handed the thing to someone else. Bilbo had to struggle with it, Bombadil kind of doesn’t count because what he is isn’t affected by it, but Sam gave it back to Frodo almost without hesitation.

    Meb is quite similar in a lot of ways, particularly the way she just quietly rearranges things so that everything works properly, even though it takes her away from everything she’s ever known. Sam would do the same thing, because it’s the right thing to do.

    October 11, 2011

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