I’ve been listening to the Lord of the Rings audio book, as narrated by Rob Inglis, for the last month. It has been an interesting journey. Listening to the tale has allowed me to enter into the story as never before both intellectually and emotionally.
For instance, for myself I’ve never felt the draw of Samwise Gamgee as a potent force, or experienced the true emotional power of the scene at Cirith Ungol. In some ways, as I’ve stated before, Sam is too normal, too like us, the reader, to really evoke the same reaction as the other heroes in the War of the Ring. Yes this makes him all the more relateable, and endearing, but at least for myself, he has never been as memorable as Gandalf, or Treebeard or Theoden. Even among the Hobbits, I’ve often found him upstaged by others in my mind. I can’t really explain it. Though if I wanted to psychoanalyze it, I’d say it has something to do with the fact that being ordinary and most like us, it is harder to see Samwise as a hero, just as heroes in our lives are not always seen or acknowledged, except when the act is of truly “heroic” proportions.
And yet Sam, as so many in this world, is heroic in the simple everyday way he treats others and approaches life. He takes simple virtues to extraordinary lengths.
This saves him as a Bearer of the Ring.
Hearing this chapter, “The Choices of Master Samwise,” I felt the raw pain, saddness, confusion and anger of Sam for the first time. And I realized something. Sam takes the Ring, first out of duty and self sacrifice, and secondly to serve love and save Frodo.
From the early drafts, and still lingering in the published work, the acts tied to the beginning of one’s possession of the Ring bear great weight. This is born out by the murder of Deagol by Smeagol and the limited hold of the Ring on Bilbo as he began his ownership by having mercy on Gollum.
Sam begins bearing the Ring through sacrifice and love. There is no tie of the heirloom or souvenier to bring sentamental value. All he has ever known of the Ring is its evil. Knowing its corrupting power, and the likelihood of failure, indeed failure in death, Sam resolves to bear the burden of free will. And so he takes the Ring upon himself and continues up the pass only to realize he cannot deny the ties of love, friendship and loyalty to Frodo, even (so he thinks) in death.
This simple hobbit, with no Tookish blood to lend him courage, turns aside from the quest in the service of love. In these two choices Sam largely negates the hold of the Ring on him. He is tempted, yes, but his simple choice to pusue love, even to the final extreme of self sacrifice, renders the Rings temptations meaningless.