He’s one of the best supporting characters in literature. He bumbles right into the story, seemingly by accident and becomes one of the hero’s greatest allies.
I am, of course, talking about none other than Samwise Gamgee.
My husband and I have been rewatching our LotR movies in preparation for The Hobbit (no, before you think it, let me assure you we’re not the people who dress up in weird costumes to see a movie.) I think the sign of a great movie/story is that every time I watch it, something new strikes me.
I’ve always been a fan of Samwise. Mellow and down-to-earth and loyal above all else, he really is the heart of the entire story. Sure, the other characters are incredible and each bring something specific to the story (Merry & Pippin provide much-needed comic relief, Aragorn is the reluctant savior, Gandalf the wise guide, etc.). But Sam is the soul, the wholly devoted friend we know will protect Frodo at all cost.
He didn’t ask for this journey. He didn’t see Frodo setting out and demand the opportunity to join him. Nope, he was roped into this treacherous journey by Gandalf after accidentally overhearing “a good deal about a ring, and a Dark Lord, and something about the end of the world…”
No one would’ve blamed him if he had run off, if he had said “Look, I’ve got a good life here and a girl I love and I deserve the right to marry her. It’s not fair to her if I just wander off on some great adventure and get killed.”
We wouldn’t have thought a thing if he’d said that.
But he didn’t. He made a solemn oath that he kept no matter what. There’s one particular scene I think captures his dedication beautifully.
Frustrated by the pain his mission is causing others, Frodo determines to go to Mordor on his own. It’s his mission, after all, and no one else should have to suffer. So he climbs into a boat and sets out. But Sam isn’t so easily shaken. Seeing that Frodo is leaving, he plunges into the water after him.
Except he can’t swim.
But he doesn’t stop. He keeps pushing toward Frodo until he loses his footing and sinks. (As we all know, Sam lives. Frodo grabs him.) In the middle of this, as Sam is refusing to take no for an answer, he utters a beautiful line:
“I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
Sometimes the heart of a story isn’t the hero and it isn’t his quest. Sometimes it’s the steadfast sidekick who refuses to give in. We all have a little bit of Sam in us. We all have the capacity to become loyal adventurers, wholehearted supporters. We have the potential to be the heart of our stories.
Unless we never leave the Shire.