I Am with You: The Active Love of Samwise Gamgee
Samwise Gamgee is one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most beloved characters. He is loyal, brave, and selfless. At the mere mention of his name many images rise to the minds of fans and pull at their hearts. Sam hunkering down in the garden below Frodo’s window, eavesdropping; the ring of his shout as he jumps out of hiding at the Council of Elrond and declares that Frodo won’t go to Mordor alone; all of the sleepless nights Sam passes to watch over Frodo and keep him safe from Gollum. And, at the end of all things, Sam carrying Frodo up the empty black slopes of Mount Doom.
Then the reader is reminded that he starts out as Frodo’s gardener. Would he have jumped straight from his flower pots at Bag End to stabbing Shelob with Sting? Where did his intense love and loyalty come from? Over the course of the story the reader comes to understand that Sam’s devotion to Frodo is one of constant choice and of giving far more than is asked of him.
From the very first pages of The Fellowship of the Ring the reader finds Sam and Frodo as two friends who have grown up together. A great amount of time has passed between them in friendship; from friend and playmate to gardener and employer. Sam refers to Frodo as ‘Mr. Frodo’ and quite often as ‘Master’. Doing so is a simple choice that is often passed over, yet it sets the groundwork of their bond. It makes it immediately clear that Sam holds Frodo in the highest regard and is very prepared to serve him.
Once their current standing is established, things start to change. Strangers are lurking around the Shire and Frodo begins to withdraw. Sam is aware of the change in his master and begins spying on him. It becomes his purpose to keep a close eye on Frodo, making the transition from passive acquaintance to active friend. This watchfulness is ever after present in their friendship. He willingly disregards himself and loses himself in caring for Frodo and never asks for any gratitude in return.
One of the most defining and memorable moments in Sam’s love and devotion is displayed at the end of the Council of Elrond. Frodo is summoned to the meeting, but Sam is not. He could very easily have stayed in his room or walked among the beautiful gardens, but instead he hides himself where he can listen to what is being said. He could have not cared—the ring and everything surrounding it has thrown his life into disarray—yet Frodo is there, and so he puts himself there also. Hiding, however, is not the defining moment. The moment is when he decides to abandon that hiding place and be the first to declare that Frodo will not go to Mordor alone. Frodo has a wizard, an elf, a dwarf and a king’s heir to go with him. Sam’s presence is not necessary but he chooses to be there even though it is taking him further away from the Shire.
But his choice is not made without moments of doubt. In fact, it is the moments of doubt that give deeper meaning to his resolve. In Lothlorien, after looking into Galadriel’s mirror, there is a moment that is key for Sam. “‘I wish I had never come, and I don’t want to see no more magic,’ he said and fell silent. After a moment he spoke again thickly, as if struggling with tears. ‘No, I’ll go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all.’” Again he chooses to face whatever may come. He does not even consider the option of going home without Frodo. To him, that would be the worst fate in the world. To him, loving Frodo means being there whatever it may personally cost him. For a friend to go with another into the unknown, determined to be by the other’s side whatever the outcome is perhaps one of the truest marks of friendship.
Sam goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his promise. At the tail end of The Fellowship of the Ring the company comes together to decide what may become of the Fellowship. The decision is left to Frodo to decide. Sam knows Frodo better than all the others, and guesses that Frodo’s hesitation is in taking people with him, knowing that they will likely come to harm. This thought strikes Sam hard while he is looking for Frodo amidst a surprise Orc attack. “‘Not without Sam? Yes, without even his Sam. That’s hard, cruel hard.’” In that moment he can choose to let Frodo go or not. In half a second he decides, and in the next is running like mad back to the shore in hopes that he will catch Frodo. He sees Frodo leaving and throws himself into the water, despite knowing that he cannot swim. He will not be left behind because he considers Frodo to be a part of himself. He even refers to himself as Frodo’s Sam, not just Sam. At other dire moments in the story Sam does this repeatedly, reminding Frodo that his Sam is there.
Also written into this scene are a few beautiful lines of dialogue that portray Sam’s heart perfectly. Frodo says “But I am going to Mordor,” to which Sam adamantly replies, “I know that full well, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.” When Frodo protests, Sam adds “I’m coming too or neither of us isn’t going.” In the movie version, Peter Jackson added the word ‘alone’ to the end of Frodo’s statement which brings deeper meaning to the scene. In Sam’s mind, Frodo going to Mordor alone means Sam being there also. The word ‘alone’ means two, not one.
Sam expects to be the only person to walk beside Frodo as they make their way to Mount Doom, but all lovers of the story are aware that very soon Gollum arrives. Because of the shifty and unstable nature of Gollum’s character, Sam must give even more of himself to ensure Frodo is safe. Frodo needs to believe that Gollum, who has been corrupted by the Ring, can change, because if there is no hope for Gollum then there is no hope for him. This blinds Frodo to the dangers of Gollum. But Sam is more discerning and can see the deceptiveness in Gollum’s actions. Because Sam can see this, he doubles his efforts in watchfulness: one eye on Gollum and one eye on Frodo. In this he goes far beyond what is asked of him. He stays awake when they rest so he can watch over Frodo. His pack is twice as heavy and he must be greatly exhausted as well, but he regularly gets little sleep. There is no one to tell him to do this—he is not even required to go with Frodo to the end—and yet he does it anyway.
If it had not been for Sam, Gollum would likely have succeeded in killing Frodo, taking the Ring, and keeping it from being destroyed. As it is, though, Sam is prepared for Gollum’s treachery, and when they are led into Shelob’s lair, he is ready. And it is there, on the border of the Black Lands, that he makes perhaps the greatest choice of all.
Up to this point Tolkien has made it abundantly clear that Sam’s greatest fear is losing Frodo. When Frodo is stung by Shelob it destroys Sam. His one plea to a nonresponsive Frodo is this: “Don’t leave me here alone! It’s your Sam calling. Don’t go where I can’t follow!” He cannot follow where Frodo has gone and it is as if he is losing a part of himself. Amidst his grief he realizes that he must make a choice. Sam recognizes that if the Ring stays there everything everyone sacrificed and everything that Frodo has borne will have been for naught. And so he is faced with an ultimatum: stay with Frodo or carry on Frodo’s duty.
His choice? To carry on what Frodo believed in rather than stay with him as is Sam’s desire. Even though Sam is breaking his own heart in leaving Frodo, he is doing it for him. It is a decision made in complete selflessness. However, Sam very quickly learns—to his greatest joy—that Frodo is not dead and that he can follow where Frodo is going: straight into the tower of Cirith Ungol. Tolkien writes: “His love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he cried aloud: ‘I’m coming, Mr. Frodo!’” There is nothing that can stop him from being there for Frodo, not even a tower full of Orcs.
He saves Frodo and continues to urge him on down the long road that leads to Mount Doom, “one more crawl” or “now for the last gasp.” As they make their way the reader is aware that Sam’s hope is blinking out, but still he keeps going for Frodo’s sake; for the sake of the Quest. Sam is ready to lie down and die but he knows that he cannot. He is utterly spent and yet, in the very end, he still finds the strength of will to carry Frodo up the mountain. With words that send goose bumps up and down the reader’s arms, he gives everything that he has left. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well! So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go and he’ll go.” He does not know the way but still he goes. He goes because Frodo needs him.
And when the deed is done, and they are left without hope amid the barren land, Sam is there despite all the times he could have turned aside. Together they are alone at the foot of a quaking mountain. As they prepare to die, Frodo whispers to Sam, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” And Sam replies, “Yes, I am with you, Master.” His words bear the full weight of all the devotion that fills Sam’s heart. Of a loyalty that is always steadfast. Of a love that is always choosing the other person first. A love that is willing to die. And what greater love is there than that?
By Irene Grace