Samwise the Strong
I saw a very interesting little documentary I had TiVo'd from pay-per-view last night.
Ringers: Lord of the Fans
It's a fun little amalgam of history, biography, interviews (both stars and fans) regarding the range of fandom and it's myriad little manifestations all over the world throughout the last half-century since the publication of The Lord of the Rings.
It really made me think through my experience with the Lord of the Rings, as literature and as cinema.
Now, let me say right off the bat that I am a serious fan, so if you're looking for a little pseudo-intellectual pan of this magnificent fairy-tale, well, go off to Google, type in "Gandalf Sucks" and click "I'm Feeling Lucky." The rest of you read on.
At the outset I found that I truly love this story. I would give up reading nearly every other thing I ever read just to hold on to this one. I love it, not in the way I love East of Eden, The Old Man and the Sea, or The Sound and the Fury. Those I love for their richness and quality, for the way I feel like I'm viewing a gorgeous work of art at a museum, for the same sort of visceral reaction I have to viewing Van Gogh, Picasso, Da Vinci, or Rodin, in which the beauty, the skill, the craft are all overwhelming and sometimes beyond words.
No, I love it for the way it makes me feel about me, about life, about people, about hope, faith, love, friendship, and death. What many people miss is that Tolkien, regardless of his sometimes uneven craft, was eminently skillful at reaching into the hearts of his readers to that deep, heroic, place inside of us where mythology lives. He wove a story where faith, love, and friendship were the most powerful weapons of war, and were sufficient to win the battle. He made you feel that Middle Earth was a place, a place with history, love, sadness, bitterness, regret, melancholy, happiness, and joy. He made it feel real. His characters took you into your own heart and you smiled, laughed, and wept with them as they experienced victory, friendship, and loss. He gave you the sense that once you passed a place, you can never go back. That death happened once, but it was not the worst that could happen. What bittersweet joy resides at the docks of the Grey Havens!
Most who have read and loved the story have felt these things. But I think most readers miss the true heart of the story. They miss why they identify with it as they do, why it touches the ordinary, non-heroic, everyday Joe and Jane, you and me.
I'll tell you a secret. It's because of who is at the heart of the story.
The heart of the story is not Frodo. It's not Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel, the elves, the dwarves, or the men. No, the true heart of the story is Samwise Gamgee. It is because of Samwise, and him representative of all the hobbits, the ordinary, workaday hobbits, that Frodo goes on the quest. He endures so much for the sake of those he loves, yet, in the end, he would have failed were it not for Samwise. The quest was Frodo's, but it was Samwise who rescued him from Shelob, and from Cirith Ungol. It was Samwise who carried him up the slopes of Mount Doom. It was Samwise who was there all along, with Frodo, even at the end of all things.
Samwise represents you and me. Without Samwise there is no need for a quest, yet without him, no quest can succeed. Samwise is not the quester, the hero of the age. Samwise is the one who labored long and hard to give the hero the chance he needed to win the day, regardless of the personal cost.
See this: Frodo failed. He failed. The temptation of the ring was too much. But Samwise never did. He tarried on beyond hope. When he'd made a terrible mistake, he did not turn away from it, but he strode into Cirith Ungol to undo it, knowing he would not survive, yet willing to face his mistake and give his all to right it.
Sam chastised himself for his silly fantasies about being Samwise the Strong. What he didn't know was that the ring wasn't trying to deceive him by calling him Samwise the Strong, but had seen the truth in the young hobbit's heart and tried to twist it to its own ends.
Sam truly was Samwise the Strong. Had he not been, all would have been lost.
Yes, I love this story. I love it because I may never be a hero, but I always hope to be Samwise to the heroes around me so that perhaps other great works might someday be done.