Love it, like it, or not, it’s pretty safe to say no one’s indifferent to Lord of the Rings, and people are pretty precious about their favorite characters. Remember the uproar when Tom Bombadil was left out of the movies? It’s still a slightly touchy subject because there are LOTR fans who are that committed.
Me, I like all the characters. Well, not the orcs or Shelob, but no one likes them anyway. At least, I don’t think anyone does. Except for Sauron and Saruman, of course.
However, I do have a favorite among the wide, wide world that is Middle Earth. Longtime readers might think it’s Legolas because I had a major crush on Orlando Bloom for a while, but they would be mostly wrong.
My favorite LOTR character is Samwise Gamgee.
I think of all the characters, even Frodo, Sam is the most dynamic. He starts out being basically afraid of his own shadow. He won’t talk to Rosie at the Green Dragon even though she obviously likes him–all he can do is smile shyly. If it wasn’t for Frodo throwing them together now and then, Sam would probably be afraid to get within three feet of Rosie. Sam is content to be Frodo’s gardener and friend, but that’s all.
Sam has never been farther from home than Farmer Maggot’s fields, but when he and Frodo get thrust into their quest to return the One Ring, he has do more than he ever thought possible. Gandalf charges Sam with looking after Frodo, and Sam does, doggedly so, even when Frodo tries to shake the group and go off on his own.
Sam is a man of all work. He carries the pots and pans, plus everything else, he cooks the meals when there’s food (he even has a little container full of salt), and he makes sure Frodo gets as much sleep as he can. I have to say, the rabbit stew Sam makes in The Two Towers looks delectable. I always regretted that Frodo didn’t seem to have time to eat it in the movie. He does in the book, but not in the movie. Poor Frodo.
Sam is also extremely unimpressed with Gollum, who, as we all know, is a slimy sort of individual with a divided mind, pretending to be hard-up and put upon. Unlike Frodo, Sam is not taken in by Gollum’s dramatics.
Because of his physical and emotional distance from the Ring, Sam is able to commit more fully to the quest than Frodo is, and when Frodo falters, Sam pushes him, even to the point of carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom.
Yep, Sam is full of surprises. When and if he returns to the Shire, his fellow hobbits may need to stand back. No, I’m not saying any more than that, seeing as some may read this who have yet to journey to Middle Earth.
Tolkien’s inspirations for Sam were widespread, starting in his own childhood, when his family moved to Sarehole, a small town out in the country after his father’s death. It was quite a culture shock, not only because the family was uprooted, but because Sarehole had a distinctive regional dialect. Long story short, a “gamgee” was cotton wool, named after a type of surgical dressing invented in 1880 by a local doctor, Joseph Gamgee. It’s still in use today and produced by the 3M Company.
According to It’s A Dangerous Business, Frodo, when Tolkien’s own children were small, his family took a vacation to Lamorna Cove, where they encountered an older gentlemen who liked to go around kibitzing. Tolkien nicknamed him, “Gaffer Gamgee” and it became a family joke.
Sam also has his roots in the British Army, which, up until the Second World War, traditionally had privates who were known as “batmen.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t type that without getting the Batman theme song in my head. You’re welcome.
However, these batmen weren’t of the cape-and-cowl variety. An army batman was a servant assigned to an officer, a holdover from English manor life. These men, who were generally privates, were go-fers, they would cook, and they would do everything a servant or an Oxford scout would do. Tolkien himself had a batman when he was in the Army during the First World War and held him and the other batmen in high regard.
Tolkien always meant for Sam to be what he called the “chief hero,” but even he couldn’t have predicted the existence of a real Sam Gamgee, who sent Tolkien a letter in the late fifties. Tolkien biographer Humphery Carpenter wrote that while the real Sam hadn’t read Tolkien’s books, he had heard his name was in them.
Tolkien got a huge kick out of this little coincidence and sent Gamgee signed copies of his trilogy. Carpenter whimiscally adds that Tolkien always dreaded the idea of getting a letter from someone named Gollum, which, fortunately, never happened.
Sam may look like a supporting character at the outset, but he’s really the dark horse of the LOTR trilogy. As Frodo fondly told him, “Frodo wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam.”
To get in on the Tolkien Blog Party, please see Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice. Thanks for hosting this great event, Hamlette–let’s do it again next year! Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow (a little sunshine is on the horizon)…
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