Guardian Angels of the Quest: Frodo, Sam, and the Valar
Sam is Frodo’s guardian angel on the Quest, but he is not the only one. The Valar also play instrumental roles in aiding the Ring-bearer and his friends during the War of the Ring and beyond. So vital is their help, the Quest could have failed at many points if not for their intercession.
Varda, or Elbereth as the Elves call her, begins to bless Frodo and his companions even before they leave the Shire. The Elder King aids his spouse in this: “And if Manwë is with her, Varda hears more clearly than all other ears the sounds of voices that cry from east to west, from the hills and the valleys, and from the dark places that Melkor has made upon Earth” (Silmarillion 14). While on the way to Crickhollow, Frodo suffers under the great temptation to claim the Ring. The pursuing Black Rider almost finds him but flees at the sound of Gildor and his company singing to the Lady of the Stars. After the Elf hears of the encounter with the Rider, he calls upon Elbereth to protect Frodo.
At Weathertop, after the Ring-bearer succumbs to the coercive pressure of the Nazgûl, he also responds to the inspiration to cry out to Elbereth, a name that Strider calls “deadly” to the Witch-king. After Frodo crosses the Ford of Bruinen, nearly overcome by the Morgul-shard within him, he defies his enemies by calling upon the queen of the Valar once more. The stars cheer the hearts of the Ring-bearer and his faithful companion after they leave the Emyn Muil. Sam invokes her during his ferocious fight with Shelob, and as he and Frodo escape from the Tower of Cirith Ungol. The star that is the Silmaril that Elbereth placed to shine upon Eärendil’s brow fuels Sam’s hope and assurance in Mordor that evil will not prosper forever.
Ulmo also gives essential assistance to the Ring-bearer and his friends from the beginning. Crossing the Brandywine separates the hobbits just in time from the pursing Black Rider, just as Frodo’s flight across the Ford keeps him from capture. The hobbit feels fatigue fall from him as he passes through the stream Nimrodel. In an answer to prayer, Sam receives the light and water he asks Galadriel for in Mordor. Likely the Lord of the Waters is the one who answers his plea. “…water came dripping down: the last remains, maybe, of some sweet rain gathered from sunlit seas, but ill-fated to fall at last upon the walls of the Black Land and wander fruitless down into the dust” (LOTR VI:2, 899).
After this miraculous find, Sam says he wants to drink first. He reasons that if it is poisoned it would be better that he die rather than his master. But Frodo says that they will drink together, as the water could possibly be “our blessing” (LOTR VI:2, 900). Tom Shippey beautifully speaks of this grace-filled moment. “‘Fruitless’ . . .? The water seemed so, but turns out not to be. By refreshing the Ring-bearer it does the best that any water could. The ‘streamlet’, in its apparent failure and eventual success, becomes a kind of analogue to Frodo’s pity for Gollum, say, to all appearances useless, in the end decisive” (The Road to Middle-earth 219). It would be hard to say any one of Ulmo’s aids to Frodo is the greatest, for they are all critical to the success of the Quest. And, of course, one cannot forget the blessing of the passage West across the Sundering Sea.
Irmo, the master of dreams and visions, is also active in Frodo’s life, far before the Quest even begins. Though the hobbit has never seen the Sea, it often figures in his dreams. Twice, he sees his future home in the West, once in Tom Bombadil’s house, where he also sees Gandalf’s escape, and again, in Rivendell. Irmo also blesses the Ring-bearer with peaceful dreams on the Quest that he cannot remember but wakes from refreshed. Before Frodo leaves Middle-earth, he receives the consolation of knowing how full Sam’s life will be and tells his beloved gardener and guardian much of what the future will hold including several of the children to come and that Sam will be Mayor.
Estë the gentle works in concert with her spouse, Irmo, in caring for the Ring-bearer. She brings healing rest to Frodo, in spite of the nightmares of fire that invade in Mordor. Sam notes that Frodo’s face while sleeping was “content and unafraid” (LOTR VI:2, 907).
Nienna teaches those who will listen “pity, and endurance in hope” (Silmarillion 16). Gandalf was the one of these, and so he could teach the value of pity to Frodo, who proves an apt student and teacher as well. To those who dwell in Mandos, Nienna “brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom” (ibid.). She could easily have extended this to Frodo and Sam and strengthened their endurance during the increasing torment of their journey and serve as well as another cause for Sam’s hope. It is certainly possible she played an instrumental role in Frodo’s healing in the West in consoling him in his grief and guiding his sorrow into wisdom, so he could understand his true role in the Quest and that he had not failed.
We can all be grateful that the Powers took such active and loving roles in the lives of two of the littlest and greatest of the Children of Ilúvatar. Eglerio!
Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. Revised and expanded ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965-66.
———. The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. Illustrated by Ted Nasmith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
By Anne Marie Gazzolo
(Originally published in Amon Hen, the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society)
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