Well, we can just cut straight to the chase here–the answer is an emphatic YES, and since Stephen Colbert agrees with me, I’m right.
Seriously, we could just end it here because that is why Sam’s the best, but I’m going to try to break it down into something more coherent than just my usual shouting.
WHERE IS THE LIE
Okay, okay, okay. When we meet Sam, he’s just Frodo’s gardener and friend. He lives a quiet life. He’s got a mega crush on Rosie Cotton. The craziest thing he’s ever done is been chased through Farmer Maggot’s crops, which is almost always Pippin & Merry’s fault, even before the events of FOTR. In Fellowship, he literally marks the place where it’s the farthest he’s ever gone from the Shire, and it’s not even that far away. Samwise Gamgee is a simple hobbit, and just wants to live a long and soft life, but when the world is falling apart and no one is capable of stepping up to save it, Sam does just that.
Does Sam drop eaves? You betcha. There’s a 0% chance he was trimming Frodo’s window box when Gandalf pulls him out of the garden and asks him what’s he heard. But why is Sam eavesdropping that night? Because he cares so deeply about Frodo that when he sees Gandalf being all doom and gloom, he wants to make sure that Frodo’s okay. He’s scared of wizards, that much is clear when he begs Gandalf not to hurt him, but he’s willing to face, at the time, one of his greatest fears to make sure that his friend is okay. And later, when Gandalf makes him promise not to lose Frodo, he takes that promise very seriously. He has a job, and he intends to put every ounce of effort into that job.
Truly, Sam is the most loyal character in the entire trilogy. When Frodo is chosen to carry the ring, Sam runs out from his eavesdropping hiding place again to proclaim he’s going to. When Frodo tries to run away with the ring by himself, Sam runs into the river, despite not knowing how to swim, to ensure Frodo has someone by his side. When they’re in enemy territory and Frodo screams at Sam to go home, Sam lets Frodo have his tantrum, takes some time to cool off himself, and then goes after Frodo. He fights off Shelob and orcs by himself to save Frodo. And when all hope is lost, when Frodo can’t continue climbing, and later, can’t bring himself to throw the ring into the fire, Sam is there to carry him. Literally.
DON’T EVEN SPEAK TO ME ABOUT THIS SCENE
“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”
This isn’t just enemy territory. This is the heart of all evil. They’re literally on Mount Doom, where Sauron’s power is greatest, in the midst of a MASSIVE army of orcs, with Gollum about to try to kill them again. Frodo is exhausted. He’s carried the ring this far, and each step he takes closer to its destruction, its weight, physically and mentally, becomes impossible to hold. It’s destroying Frodo from the inside out, and when he collapses on the mountain, Sam doesn’t know what to do. He can’t carry the ring. He’s tried that already, and it took hold of him almost immediately. He understands now that Frodo has to be the one to carry it into Mount Doom and destroy it himself. So if Sam can’t carry it and Frodo can’t go on, what’s left?
Well, Sam reasons that the only thing left is to pick up Frodo and carry him (and the ring) into the mountain. He can do this, Sam knows. He can continue to be loyal and brave because that’s what’s needed.
Switching gears for a second because, all things aside, Sam is also great because he’s food-driven. Look, I want you to name FIVE books that involve characters actively eating food, and you can’t choose Harry Potter as one. And not just, like, one meal that’s actually a fancy feast that’s put on in their honor. The way normal, everyday people think about food. Because, you know, we need it to survive. That’s right, you can’t think of five, because characters doing things they have to in order to survive–eat, sleep, go to the bathroom–are NEVER included in books, and this is one of my biggest pet peeves ever, so the fact that Sam is consistently thinking about food makes me so happy.
They’re on their way to Mordor, and ya boy is thinking that maybe they’ll have a roast chicken one night. And while this might not seem like something that should be a reason for why Sam’s the greatest character in all of literature (you heard it here first), consider this: he’s thinking that maybe they’ll have a roast chicken one night on their way to Mordor.
The sheer level of optimism in that is just astonishing. If I was in their situation, I guarantee I’d be miserable, and yet, here’s Sam, carrying around “special” salt from the Shire just in case something good comes their way. He’s literally ready to be uplifting at a moment’s notice. No hope? No problem, Samwise Gamgee has got you covered. And not only will he keep you fed, he’ll make sure you have hope for the return journey even when it seems absolutely impossible. He’ll give up part of his own rations to keep you going. He’ll sacrifice everything to make sure that you’ll get through okay.
Here’s the thing. All Sam really wants in life is Rosie Cotton, a sweet family, a nice hole in the ground, and peace. He wants to remain Frodo’s gardener, and he wants to drink beer on the weekends, and he wants to just have a good, slow life. But when the world is turning upside down, when evil promises to descend over everything, when Frodo is the only one to step up and volunteer to destroy the ring, Sam is the only one that goes all the way to the end with him.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Aragorn. I love Legolas. I love Gimli. I love Boromir. I love so many other LOTR characters outside of the Fellowship. But I don’t think a single one of them would have been able to destroy the ring. And not just that, they wouldn’t have been able to stick with Frodo until the very end in Mount Doom. All of them would have faltered and failed. But here’s Sam, sitting with Frodo on a rock surrounded by an exploding volcanic mountain, and thinking about strawberries and Rosie Cotton and home. When all is burning down around him, Sam still has hope. He still has courage. For Frodo, yes, but also:
He’s so selfless that he thinks Frodo is making fun of him. But even Frodo knows. Samwise the Brave, he calls him, and it’s not a lie. Sam is, by far, the bravest character. And you can list all his incredible deeds:
- defends Frodo with a candelabra against Strider
- stands tall against Ringwraiths
- chases Frodo into a river despite not being able to swim
- saves Frodo countless times from Gollum’s treachery
- climbs Shelob’s stairs by himself & without a guide
- singlehandedly kills Shelob
- scares off several orcs to save Frodo
- camouflages himself to just waltz through Mordor out in the open
- literally carries Frodo up the mountain
- fights off Gollum
- marries Rosie Cotton
But what it all really comes down to is that Samwise the Brave had hope. He was loyal. He cared. Sam isn’t the best because he was king of Gondor or took down an oliphant by himself or took three arrows to the chest and kept fighting or overcame centuries of distrust and racism–he’s the best because he’s a light in the dark when all other lights go out.
Also, the amount of nonsense Sam puts up with dealing with Gollum is just absurd, and he deserves a medal for that alone.
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