WHAT HOBBITS TEACH US, PART 3
by Anne Marie Gazzolo
In a tale strewn with heroes, Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin all discover they are braver than they ever thought they could be, as they do what they need to out of love. They learn as we have that evil is alive and well in the world but that such powers “cannot conquer for ever” as Frodo boldly proclaims at the Cross-roads (LotR VI:7, 687). These tales show that “evil labours with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in” (Tolkien, Letters 76). Out of the darkness and because of the darkness, many heroic acts of love, faith, humility, and self-sacrifice abound.
Of all these heroes, Sam is the greatest. This humble gardener shines as a bright light in the Ring-bearer’s darkening world and in our own. Sam’s selfless devotion is an example par excellence of what a loyal friend is. This “jewel among the hobbits” (Tolkien, Letters 88) voluntarily endures torment and terror on the Quest “only for the sake of one he loves beyond everything else” (Bradley 124). He turns aside his own desires, faces down his fears, and repeatedly risks his life, so he can remain at his master’s side. “Wherever you go, I will go” (Ruth 1:17). He gives up much of his share of food, water, and sleep in order to give Frodo more. Such love approaches “religious devotion” (Bradley 121) by the time the Ring-bearers’ near the Fire. Through Sam and the friendship the hobbits share, which Ralph C. Wood calls “a thing of exquisite beauty, even holiness” (Gospel According to Tolkien 135), we learn much of love, loyalty, endurance, perseverance, faith, goodness, and hope. Sam’s sterling qualities strengthen Frodo’s in the bitter battle against the Ring.
Sam’s natural hobbit cheerfulness allows him to make light of times of terrible crisis. After he announces his presence at the secret Council of Elrond, all he says of the horrible danger that the Quest will involve, is that it is “[a] nice pickle” (LotR II:2, 264). He provides several opportunities for Frodo to laugh, which is a great blessing for a Ring-bearer increasingly beleaguered by despair. The gardener jokes about ringing the front door at the Tower of Cirith Ungol. He presses on through that dread, horror-filled place and throughout the Quest because his love for Frodo feeds his courage. It also feeds his forgiveness, which comes so naturally Sam does not need to give it conscious thought after Frodo begs for it in the Tower.
Gandalf aptly names Sam Hope Unquenchable (Sauron Defeated 62). The hobbit’s enduring hope destroys any attempt to draw him into despair. The eyes of his heart see far more than his physical eyes do. He sees beyond what seem disasters to the possibility that they are not. As Orcs come straight toward him and Frodo and capture and discovery seem inevitable, he remains open to the possibility that it is not as bad as it appears. Even as Mount Doom explodes around them, Sam refuses to give up all hope. In our culture of death and despair, it is so easy only to see the darkness and to think things can only get worse. Sam teaches us there is a different way to look at things and to see beyond what our physical eyes do. What need we have today to fashion our hearts to model his!
As we struggle through life with addiction to our own Ring, if we are fortunate, we will have a Sam with us to support us, for this struggle is not one we can win alone. It must be won if we are not to be totally lost. Or perhaps our part in the Music is to be a Sam to someone and to love our dear one as fiercely and unconditionally as Sam loved his Frodo; to stand by them through every hardship; to hold them against their fears, the night that threatens to overwhelm them, the ghosts that walk in their nightmares, and the horrors that haunt them during the day; to be light to their darkness, strength to their weakness, peace to their turbulence, hope to their despair, healing to their open wounds, solace to their grief, warmth to their coldness, sweetness to their bitterness, even to be ready and willing to die with them or for them. Imagine what the world would be like if more people loved and were loved as deeply and purely as Sam loved his Frodo! It would be beautiful.
The glowing example of Sam and Rosie’s love, faithfulness, and devotion is another lesson we sorely need to learn in our era of broken promises and betrayal of friends and spouses. These two hobbits are open to the gift of life, and, surrounded by their many children, they celebrate their golden anniversary and beyond. They show where there is great and true love, many miracles happen.
May Sam’s example inspire and strengthen us to give “perfect satisfaction” in all our relationships, as Frodo assured the Gaffer Sam had done (LotR VI:8, 991). Sam would not have considered himself anyone special, but everyone else, especially Frodo, does. Both hobbits give us examples of perseverance, loyalty, and dedication to completing difficult tasks that seem impossible to even survive. May the light of these heroes, whose stories Tolkien retold “in this very nick of time,” (LotR II:2, 236) serve as a beacon on our own journeys to Mordor or in confrontation with the Shadow in other ways and places.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer. “Men, Halflings, and Hero Worship.” Ed. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo. Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968: 109-127.
The Jerusalem Bible Reader’s Edition. Gen. ed. Alexander Jones. Garden City, NY: Doubleday,
1966, 1967, 1968.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton
———. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965-66.
———. Sauron Defeated: The History of “The Lord of the Rings,” Part 4, edited by Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Wood, Ralph C. The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth. Louisville, KY: Knox, 2003.
Anne Marie Gazzolo is the author of Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings (WestBow Press, 2012), where some of this essay comes from. To order the book, please visit http://www.ow.ly/ez2dT. Sign up for her mailing list at http://www.annemariegazzolo.com/ and get a free copy of the ebook, Pathways Through Middle-earth: A Guide for the Heart, which contains more lessons on how to apply to your life what Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, Men, and Dwarves teach. Find her also at http://www.facebook.com/annemariegazzolo and http://www.pinterest.com/authorannemarie.