Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hero of the Lord of the Rings

By most reasonable standards, Sam Gamgee should be the recognized hero of the Lord of the Rings.
Think about it:

Where Frodo (and before him Bilbo) were reluctant, Sam was less so. He might have been threatened by Gandalf, but, it did not appear he was really afraid of him.

Sam went with the best of motives, to care for his friend and "master" (in the very English way) Frodo. Frodo repeatedly tried to give the ring away.

Sam never flagged in his courage, though he was wise enough to be cautious.
- He followed Frodo, whose burden the ring was, in the face of the terrifying black riders.

- He tried to protect him from the much larger Strider, who turned out to be Aragorn.

- He tried to protect him from the sneaky and powerful Gollum.

- He protected him from the terrifying Shelob.

- He attacked ferocious orcs for Frodo's sake.

- He tried to follow Frodo into a river out of loyalty though he could not swim.

Despite his demeanor, Sam was wiser than Frodo.

-He understood Gollum's true nature, whereas Frodo was foolhardy.

-Frodo was easily fooled by Gollum and if not for Sam's undying loyalty, would have lost him.

-He understood the ring and what it did to Frodo better than Frodo did.

Sam was at least as compassionate than Frodo.

-Frodo was worried about Gollum and did understand what his sacrifice would mean to the world. But Sam seemed to worry about the whole world too and also understand their decisions would have a tremendous impact on everyone. He did not have the burden lay upon him. But he took it up all the same.

Sam was more useful than Frodo.

-He could cook. Without him Frodo would have died just from hunger.

-He could throw a rock with great accuracy.

-He was an agriculturist who could recognize the herb kingsfoil and helped save Frodo's life.

Sam had more to do with the success of the quest than Frodo. Without him

-Frodo might have died from the Witch King's sword thrust.

-Frodo would have died from hunger.

-Frodo would have died from Shelob or Gollum.

-Frodo would have failed to make it to Mount Doom.

-The orcs would have taken the ring to Sauron.

-And, of course, at the end, Frodo tried to keep the ring. He failed.

Sam was more resistant to the ring than Frodo.

-Other than the magical being, Tom Bombadil,  no one else was as resistant to the ring as Sam.
-He took it and resisted it' power where even Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel knew they were not

  up to it.

Even the ring knew better than to choose Sam.

-The ring had a consciousness of sorts. It chose those it thought weak enough to surrender
 their will to him. It chose the Baggins family, not the Gamgee family. It chose bearers like Isildor,  
 SmeĆ”gol/Gollum and Frodo - upon all of whom it worked its will?

So why is Frodo considered the hero?  For one reason, religious symbolism.  Frodo is a Christ figure (as were others in the story) even if not precisely so.  Frodo also has some mystical connection with the angel like creatures, elves, or actual angels, like Gandalf, who were fading from Middle Earth.  This is why he left Middle Earth too. Another reason is that Frodo and Bilbo before him were gentlemen of a sort and Sam a laborer. While Tolkien extolled Sam's virtues, he still believed in the typical British natural nobility. Frodo had it. Sam did not.

Yes, I know. Frodo had the burden of the ring and its exhausting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Did you read what I wrote? The ring chose Frodo because it had no power over Sam.

Let me change topics.

Tolkien thought the eagles a dangerous creation. Others have noted that it would have been a lot easier if the eagles had just flown the fellowship to Mount Doom and it that didn't happen only because it would have ruined the story. Many have pointed this out.

I don't buy it. While it is not quite definitively established by Tolkien just what these giant eagles are, it seems pretty obvious they are not just birds. After all, they are intelligent and aid men when they see fit, even fighting their battles.

There are lots of reasons the eagles might not have participated other than it would shorten the story. The most obvious reason is that like Gandalf, who was restricted in how he could help men, the eagles had spiritual guidelines. They might be able to turn the tide of a battle, but they could not start them or act so that man could avoid them.   Nor could they solve the ultimate problem that would end one age and start another. Why is that so hard to figure out? It seems the answer to the problem.

A secondary reason is that they didn't care all that much. Think of the eagles as America. Would it have been so hard for Tolkien to think of the Eagle as representing America? I know he was deeply engaged in his medieval mindset, but, on the other hand, he lived through WWI and II. He saw America participate in the first (even if late to the game) and come to the rescue of the old world - his world, in the second. But, the U.S. didn't just jump in when Hitler made a move. We had to wait until we had good enough reason (which, would be Pearl Harbor, of course). That's the way it might be with eagles too. They are interested, but they are not delivery birds and need a good enough reason to join in. Even today, many people throughout the world look to us to save them or solve their problems (well, not me or readers of this blog, but, heroic people). This is a stretch and I doubt that Tolkien really meant that the eagles to represent America (although, of course, the eagle is actually America's symbol). Besides, he said he cordially disliked allegory and that would have been a big one.

My point is that Tolkienistas debate this like they discovered the great red spot on Jupiter and its some insolvable puzzle or wink, wink, we know he couldn't write himself out of this one thingee. Really, it was no big deal at all.

In the end, I hope he didn't lose any sleep over it.



  1. You do need a vacation. Sam as a hero.... BIG DUH. Eagles are a dangerous creation, no shit. Here you are a Tolkien apologist. There is no good reason they could not have flown Frodo to Mt. Doom except that there WOULD HAVE BEEN NO STORY. Tolkien blew that one, and he knew it, which is why he referred to them as dangerous. Like creating Superman, every story is really he used his superpowers and won. No real drama, even kryptonite is a joke. It's like they had to think of something to introduce that would create the illusion of suspense. Sometimes writers, even really good ones, make mistakes. The eagles are a mistake, not because the way they swoop in at the end isn't cool, but because they make the rest of the plot implausible through their very existence.

  2. Your lack of sophistication about literary matters is frightening. I'll leave Sam aside (though ask anyone who the hero is and almost everyone will say Frodo or Aragorn - but noooooo, you think this is duh - I'm not upset. Why would I be upset?) and go back to the eagles. I know the common understanding shared by Tolkien. That's my point. It's wrong. I will try one more time. They weren't a dangerous creation. There are better explanations and that was Tolkien's mistake, after the fact. There had been nothing to worry about. Example one. The U.S. could, if it wanted, end the existence of many bad governments if it chose, like it did with Qaddafi and Saddam. But, for many reasons, it chooses not too. Same with the eagles. Example two. Parents can resolve many of their children's problems. But, the good ones don't always. Better the kids learn for themselves. Same with the eagles and humans. Example three. Probably the best one. Star Trek - the prime directive. Don't interfere (but they do if they have to). Have I reached you?


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .