I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard—or a warrior!1
Foreshadowing—it’s part of what makes stories worth re-reading. While you may not always catch it the first time through, additional readings can highlight the hints that the author left to key you into what was coming. In Frodo’s quip above, we have an example of foreshadowing at work. Sam indeed does become a warrior by the end of the journey, but not before he’s wrestled with temptation. As we consider this part of Sam’s story, we can learn the importance of sacrificial love for others, at the very least.
Before I start to spoil the ending for you though, we should jump back to the story. While Sam is always willing to defend Frodo, the warrior motif is highlighted again right after his battle with Shelob. If that fight wasn’t enough to remind us that Sam might turn out a warrior, the orcs who see the aftermath of the battle confirm it. “By all the signs, Captain Shagrat, I’d say there’s a large warrior loose, Elf most likely, with an elf-sword anyway, and an axe as well maybe…”2 As the story unfolds, though, we find that being a warrior does not insure that one will end up always doing what is right. Sam, believing Frodo to be dead takes the Ring, only to learn that Frodo has merely been stunned. While pursuing the orc band into Mordor, Sam faces his own temptation to misuse power. At this point, Tolkien describes the scene much better than I could:
He felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds fooled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.3
We’ve seen this type of temptation from the Ring before. Boromir looked for a means to defend Gondor, Galadriel for the opportunity to be the queen of Middle Earth, and Gandalf to do good. While there is a latent lesson here about the importance of means as well as ends, at this point we want to focus on the anatomy of the temptation. Specifically, notice how Sam isn’t tempted to start a giant garden. He is tempted to exercise power, with the giant garden serving as an incentive. Sam’s resistance is strengthened through his focus on others:
In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.4
Another way of summing up Sam’s thoughts would be that he is protected by his awareness of responsibility. This is reflected in both concrete and abstract ways. Concretely, Sam always keeps his relationship with Frodo in focus. Both his love for Frodo and the duties he owes him serve to direct Sam’s course throughout this juncture. More abstractly, Sam also recognizes his responsibilities in the broad scheme of the world. Tempering the temptation to become someone great is the recognition that this is not his role. In his own words, Sam is “not large enough to bear such a burden.” It is at just this point that Sam truly lives up to Frodo’s prophetic aside. That this is what Tolkien has in mind is confirmed by Sam’s challenge as he enters the orc stronghold: “Tell Captain Shagrat that the great Elf-warrior has called, with his elf-sword too!”5 Rejecting the false warrior vision enables Sam to truly become a warrior—both in his mastery of himself and in his charge to rescue Frodo. Where Samwise the Strong would have failed, Sam the Faithful is victorious.
There is a lesson here for us. Resisting the allure of power and prestige is easier when we keep our responsibility in focus. Like Sam, this focus will have dual dimensions—abstract and concrete; thought out and lived out. As we work through our responsibilities, we will need to keep in mind the roles that we play. Brother, church member, friend, citizen . . . these are some of the roles that are part of my life. The list will be different for each one of us. Each of these roles will have specific duties that need to be thought out. At this point, we should move from thought to action. In the end, there will be a double effect from our taking care of our current duties. Not only will there be an antidote for our pride, but we also will end up doing more for Christ than we realize. Faithful service in the everyday parts of life is how we will effectively advance Christ’s kingdom.
What roles are you currently filling in your life?
How do you determine whether you are spending too much time filling one of those roles?
2. Ibid, 767
3. Ibid, 935.
4. Ibid, 935.
5. Ibid, 937.
Photo courtesy of Harman Wardani