I don’t travel in a lot of Lord of the Rings circles, so let me start by asking that you cut me some slack if it sounds like I am beating a dead Oliphant. As I sat around pondering Lord of the Rings, I had a completely unoriginal thought, but one that I think deserves to at least be visited on this site – Samwise Gamgee is the true hero of Lord of the Rings. I realize that all members of the fellowship are necessary, but Sam really stands out to me.
No one ever wants to be Samwise. We want to be Aragorn, the warrior king who roams the land as an anonymous ranger before reclaiming his throne; we want to be Gandalf, the wise wizard who stands against tyranny, the defeater of the Balrog of Moria; or we want to be Legolas, or to a lesser extent, Gimli, but I don’t know of many who immediately wish to be Sam.
In a series that is chock full of mighty men and women, he stands head and shoulders above the rest (metaphorically, not physically). The problem is Sam does not fit into our typical heroic archetype. We do not expect him to slay orcs, drink mead, and bed maiden’s a la Conan the Austrian Barbarian. We don’t expect him to lead armies, or give rousing speeches. He is oafish and dimwitted, but he is also loyal and courageous. We discover his loyalty early on, but his courage is brought to the forefront in the later part of the Two Towers, and continues through until the end.
What we find with Mr. Gamgee is a different kind of hero. He is not brave, but he is courageous. He immediately and unquestionably joins Frodo in his quest despite not being asked, and if it weren’t for him we would all be speaking Mordorian (Orcish?) now. What makes him heroic is his absolute devotion to Frodo and his desire to see the quest through to the end in order to keep his word and to return home.
Probably the most poignant example of Sam’s courage is his encounter with Shelob. In case you have forgotten, Shelob is the man-eating, enormous spider that ensnares Frodo in web and saves him for later like a half-eaten bag of Combos (and you KNOW they are pepperoni pizza flavored, cause Shelob is classy). What does a hobbit do when he sees his best friend webbed and dying, and is faced with a behemoth of a spider? A better question might be what would you do? I am not terribly afraid of spiders, but a spider bigger than me? That’s Starship Troopers territory and I want no part of that. Fortunately for Frodo, Sam apparently had some pent up aggression from their journey, decided that the shit meter was full, and stabbed Shelob right in its thorax… or something, I am not currently up on my spider anatomy. The point is he faced impossible odds in order to save his friend.
I get that the ring took a toll on Frodo. He was carrying around a powerful relic that seeped into the mind, and I am sure that is a huge burden to bear. But Sam had to deal with almost losing his best friend, mentally and physically. Frodo was a bit of a bastard there for a while. He began to side with Gollum, complained constantly, and became extremely selfish. Yes this was because of the ring, but Sam didn’t have to be there. He could’ve stayed in the Shire, gotten married and lived a quiet, content life until the end of the world.
Near the end of the story Frodo is nearly delirious, dehydrated, weak, and has lost the will to go on. Sam, who is also exhausted by their quest, looks at his friend who he has sacrificed so much for, and tells him, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” He then throws Frodo over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes (he LOVES potatoes) and carries him up the side of the mountain. That’s a true friend.
At the end of the day he doesn’t use his acts of heroism to promote himself. No, he returns to the Shire and grows old with his wife. There are some pretty strong arguments out there that even consider Sam the primary protagonist of the story, while I think that is a bit of a stretch, I definitely think that he is one of the more heroic characters though.
Samwise is not the bravest warrior. He is not skilled in blade and battle. Nor is he skilled in magic or marksmanship. His greatest attributes are his courage, loyalty, and stubbornness. It’s true that the ring would not have been destroyed had it not been for the entire fellowship (should I have said spoiler alert? I mean it has been out a looong time), but Samwise, to me anyways, played the greatest role and deserves the credit he earned on his way to and from Mordor.