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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 1:29 am 
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Still, Sam sometimes brings Odysseus to my mind. That wily Greek, who longed for his home, his hearth, and his Penelope.


That line made me smile.

It helps me segue into discussion about the thoughts that occurred to me reading these posts, thoughts of Heroes and heroes, and heroism, which is sometimes found in people who are not heroes at all.

Sam is a hero, with a little 'h', while Odysseus was a Hero - a king, a leader of men, but I agree they have those yearnings of the heart in common - home, hearth, Penelope/Rosie.

I think Sam is Tolkien's hero, too. I know Frodo was the hero - or Hero, even - of the tale, but Sam embodied the hopes and hopelessness, the stoicism, of the ordinary, the lesser, the overlooked, the quiet achiever.

There are so many heroes - or Heroes - in the tale; Strider was a hero until he became Aragorn the Hero; and Gandalf, of course, and Faramir (little 'h', I think), and Éomer and Théoden...others, too many to name.

Éowyn was heroic and then became a Hero - her 15 minutes of fame.

What of Merry and Pippin and Treebeard? Heroic but too sensible to be Heroes. The two boys wore their armour home but they laughed rather than holding their noses up high.

And Gollum? Poor Sméagol, the anti-hero, who wore out his heart, wrung out the very last drops for Frodo until there was nothing left of him and the darkness took him.

Sam, though. His common sense - 'common' sense - was stronger than to be taken in by the Ring. He knew his small needs would be met with one small garden.

He's a common hero. His heroism runs so deep we don't see it, it just moves the earth along while we can laugh indulgently at his rustic ways and simple desires. The purest of desires - peace, love, friendship, a warm fire, simple food.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 5:47 pm 
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Impy, your post was such a pleasure to read.

I especially liked:

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I think Sam is Tolkien's hero, too. I know Frodo was the hero - or Hero, even - of the tale, but Sam embodied the hopes and hopelessness, the stoicism, of the ordinary, the lesser, the overlooked, the quiet achiever.


Yes! I think that "capital H, small h" idea captures my thought as well.

and

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The two boys wore their armour home but they laughed rather than holding their noses up high.


So true, bless their young, resilient hearts.

I will be back....I promise. I'm just getting over a slight case of Olympic fever, and need to make my way back to Middle-earth, leaving the rinks and slopes of Vancouver behind with a fond smile of farewell. Ah, the wonders of high definition broadcasting!

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 7:39 pm 
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I hear you, Athrabeth! We put a lot of miles on our new TV.

Back to real life now. :D

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:25 am 
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Been ruminating.
Elephants ruminate, don't they? Well, they should. :scratch:


On second thought though, this be a problem with my retention and this is how it goes. Posts are in laid out in an orderly fashion and like everyone else I read consecutively. And I'm always having these little “aha!” moments when a well-crafted or particularly clever/insightful/profound post goes by. Only, by the time I reach the end of the page there usually are a plethora of different/opposing thoughts swirling around my brain and the first ones that struck get pushed to the back of the line or (more usually) I get trapped in my own verbal babbling rushing heedlessly in several simultaneous directions: I invariably overlook some comment I had considered important and it annoys me!


That being said, here's my excuse .......

<I have cancer: the remote should be mine!/ Give it to me!/I can't shop/cook/watch your show/ visit your family/or do anything I don't want to do/now give the remote to me!>

:D :D :D

.......... I must also point out that these days my* little grey cells are sadly limited in their inability to hold two dissimilar thoughts and have turned into a swirling maelstrom of words just spilling out of me. Sigh. Either I can think of nothing to say or I go all verbose but directionless and despite connections making sense to me, methinks my unstructured thinking seldom translates well to the page.

*Hercule Poirot: Agatha Christie

Soldiering on:

Going down the list:

1.) Mith, why you little nit-picker, you! Lurking somewhere in the back rooms of my brain, I actually knew Eagles had saved Fingolfin's body from desecration. I suppose I ignored the facts of the story because “crushed into dust” appealed more to my visual imagination. Mea Culpa.

:oops:

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Ah, Sassafras: I don't see Sam as upholding the social order in preferring to be himself! After all, we know he went on to become a pretty important hobbit and the progenitor of a gentle family.

What I meant was (about myself as well as Sam) is that Sam likes his world, with the prospect of death, better than he likes the Elven world of eternal life. I think Sam, like me, wonders what on earth they do with their time.

He has gardens to plant, trees to nuture, the cycle of life to experience.

Elves seem purposeless to me. I think they did to Sam, even as he admired their beauty.



This seemed important at the time I read it. :shrug:

2.)Right you are vison, I did misunderstand you. Totally, in fact. It has never occurred to me that Sam might wonder what Elves do with their time. Nor have I ever considered he might find them purposeless. That's most likely due to a fundamental difference in the way you and I see Elves.

See, because I don't think of Elves as living purposeless lives, I don't see how Sam could either. If any brief-lived species could think I bet we'd look damn close to immortal to them. I mean just because, in comparison to Elves, human lives are short and because immortality can only be an intellectual concept and only an imagined emotional one (like infinity) it doesn't mean that a life-span reaching into the hundreds of thousands (more?) of years is without purpose.

Legolas stirred in his boat.” Nay, time does not tarry ever,' he said “ but change and growth is not in all things and places alike. For the Elves the world moves, and it moves both very swift and very slow. Swift, because they themselves change little, and all else fleets by: it is a grief to them. Slow, because they do not count the running years, not for themselves. The passing seasons are but ripples ever repeated in the long long stream. Yet beneath the Sun all things must wear to an end at last.”

And that, I expect, is the best explanation we are going to get. Je suis satisfait. :D

However, If you put me on the spot and ask me exactly what is their purpose? I'd be hard put to come up with any answer other than Tolkien romanced and admired them and they fulfilled his depressing predilection for gloomy epic tragedy and they were needed as a sort of cosmic foil to balance the fall of man.

Fascinating how different our interpretations and suppositions are about this book and yet we all find life-altering profundity in it.

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For me, Tolkien succeeds as an "author" when he is grounded with Sam in Middle Earth. When there are no hobbits or men, he loses me. When I read The Silmarillion, the Elves do not seem remote and ethereal, but seem like aristocratic men/warriors given, as aristocratic warriors ever were, to conflict, to swearing insane oaths, and to disobeying their gods. Doing those things, they are as "real" as Hector and Paris and Achilles: which is to say, they are like Hector, and Paris, and Achilles. Or maybe like some Norseman storming off into the night to die fighting a monster, or entering The Paths of the Dead.


I haven't thought this through but it strikes me that I'm in (at least partial) agreement . Which is why Fellowship is my favourite of all three volumes of LotR. Not because of more exciting adventures or because of greater moral value, imo it's because the writing is better. I'm flung back and forth now between Minis Tirith and Rohan and Théoden is beginning to irritate me with some his highfaluting speech, Oh I don't know, they just don't fit, at least not in the same way that Denethor's speeches do. I expect Denthor to give himself airs (after all, he really believes that he can match wits with Sauron!) and one expects the expressions of his Númenórean ego to be filled to the brim with lofty exclamations. But, sigh, even Aragorn appears to have caught the disease and now HE goes striding about grimmer and more fey, (looks taller, too and has more illusionary single white stars circling his aristocratic brow) peppering his speech with declamations. Half of the time, in these chapters, the characters cease to be wholly real and sadly morph into mythological archetypes .......... and suffer for it by turning one-dimensional. Mercifully Tolkien is too talented and much High language does fit. See Éowyn and the Witch King or the heartbreaking exchange between Denthor and Faramir)


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and Faramir (little 'h', I think)


Yes. Love this observation, Imp. This strikes me true. Although perhaps his 'h' is a little taller and a little bolder than Sam's?

Can't sign off without a hearty W00t!!! for Evan Lysacek! the Canadian Hockey team and the singing of O Canada! by jubilant Canadian gold medalists. Made me teary-eyed, it did. :D

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Ever mindful of the maxim that brevity is the soul of wit, axordil sums up the Sil:


"Too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams."

Yes.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:36 am 
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Thanks, Sassafras. :hug:

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 6:11 am 
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Elf and Man met death openly, although it could be argued that both died needlessly. Fingolfin need not have given in to his fearful rage and Théoden need not have ridden onto the field of battle. These two were both engaged in what seemed a hopeless war, their forces outnumbered, they must stare into the face of merciless evil and yet neither blanch or ever consider retreat for both Elf and Man are great-hearted and they know they will die.


Perhaps their actions were not strictly necessary but it is such things that make it a Long Defeat and not a short defeat followed by lots of horrid things. One could say that Sam's actions were needless initially; he need not have followed Frodo, not on the quest, certainly not to Mordor. But he did and that's what made all the difference. "Relentless hopelessness" doesn't seem to me to fit. That sounds so terrible and dreary but Tolkien's work and the struggle of the Elves, and of Frodo and Sam is full of a terrible beauty and a quiet glory. That spirit of fighting regardless of the odds, simply fighting the long defeat because it's the only thing that one can do, almost seems to transcend hope. I can't find a word for it but I know that it is, if anything, relentlessly hopeful simply by continuing on. Sam says that he loses all hope, but if that were really true they would have given up and lain down together to die. But they don't. It's that. I suppose Tolkien would call it the "northern spirit." It's having hope even though you shouldn't.

I would also disagree with the statement that Sam found Elves "purposeless". If Sam is anything, he's down to earth and not the sort to hold with purposeless things or people, but he most definitely holds with Elves. Not knowing their purpose is vastly different from not thinking they had a purpose at all. Otherwise, I don't think he would have been as exhilarated by them or as grieved by their passing. It wasn't the thrill of the unknown that struck him about them, I think, because he didn't simply admire them. It's that sense of beauty and history and maybe even Middle-earth that they embody.

I started this post ages ago so I've probably cross-posted with about five people, but there you have it.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 7:00 am 
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Mossy, your whole post was wonderful, but this part moved me:

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"Relentless hopelessness" doesn't seem to me to fit. That sounds so terrible and dreary but Tolkien's work and the struggle of the Elves, and of Frodo and Sam is full of a terrible beauty and a quiet glory. That spirit of fighting regardless of the odds, simply fighting the long defeat because it's the only thing that one can do, almost seems to transcend hope. I can't find a word for it but I know that it is, if anything, relentlessly hopeful simply by continuing on. Sam says that he loses all hope, but if that were really true they would have given up and lain down together to die. But they don't. It's that. I suppose Tolkien would call it the "northern spirit." It's having hope even though you shouldn't.


Yes. This is what made me love LotR; this is what I learned from reading LotR over and over, absorbed through my skin before I had ways to think it through. From watching my mother, when I was a little girl, reading it over and over again while she was fighting cancer. Life is just hard sometimes. LotR taught me a way to live while it's like that. Not full of fake hope, or manufactured inspiration; just . . . getting through. Getting as far as you can. Getting it done.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 7:07 am 
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The existence of elves makes the world more meaningful: it adds depth and light to the forest, for instance. It makes everyone's songs better.

Having elves in your world, if you live in Middle Earth, is a little (I think) like having books in your world, if you, like all of us, live here.

Story deepens things. Elves are like walking stories.

Anyway, to continue in the spirit of well-intentioned derailment of this thread, I wanted to mention that I screened La jetée and Twelve Monkeys for my class today, and at the end of Twelve Monkeys, a film I know pretty well, I was crying, which is embarrassing when you're the teacher.

There is definitely something Sam-ish about the main character of that film: his vision of the world is limited in certain ways, and he does make mistakes, but when he loves something or someone, he loves them completely. And he does end up doing his best to do the right thing. I'm not going to do any spoiling here, but the woman's look around, followed by that incredible smile, at the end, just breaks my heart, because it's so loving and so human. We all just muddle through and do the best we can, but that in itself is an incredible testament to the Light.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 4:16 pm 
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Oh Sassy, I'm so very glad to see you again...I just wish it were under different circumstances. I've been doing a reread of LotR as well. What a beautiful and eloquent post. :hug:


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 6:09 pm 
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It's not so much "relentless hopelessness" as it is "hope despite hopelessness." It is muddling through, as Teremia says, not optimism that victory is possible.

That's what makes the victory -- which was far from what either Frodo or Sam would have considered full victory -- so achingly beautiful. It's the eucatastrophe, the turn of despair into unexpected joy. But the scars remain.

Sam's dogged determination to do what must be done, with hope or without it, was the deciding factor.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 7:30 pm 
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[quick osgiliation from the land of great greenness]
Teremia wrote:
The existence of elves makes the world more meaningful: it adds depth and light to the forest, for instance. It makes everyone's songs better.


That is the best definition of Fairy-stories and why they are important that I have ever seen, Teremia. There doesn't even need to be any Elves (or Fairies) in the story per se, just so long as the story takes place in a world where they exist.
[/quick osgiliation from the land of great greenness]

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:02 pm 
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Oh Sassafras! What can one say in such circumstances? You have a road to travel before you that we all must take but you see it clearer than we. Take courage when you can and where you can.
Thank you for you stunning posts and their insights. You said:
Quote:
a way of separating the sacred from the profane and the sublime from the mundane

and that is what your posts have done and thank you for bringing Sam before us. He well deserves our attention. Bear in mind he is not perfect and as always Tolkien is the most perceptive critic, identifying that self=pride in his limited horizons.
Nevertheless it has long been a belief of mine that Tolkien either knew depression within himself or observed it at close quarters and pondered on it. For me LOTR is an analysis of the deceits of despair and the virtue of hope.
And Sam is at two hinges of the story both in a psychological sense and a mythological one.
I pass over the exercise of mercy on Orodruin, essential though that is and also I pass over the more neglected point when he wishes to pursue Gollum back into Shelob's lair then checks himself to return his attention to Frodo. That too is important.
At two crucial points Sam's action changes the mood and the consequences. The one is on the climb to Shelob's lair when his harsh words removes Sméagol's only chance of repentance and maybe redemption. The consequences of that is the near destruction of the Quest. One might say that is the mythological consequence.

The other which to my mind is the hinge of the entire story is in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. He has no reserve of energy left. Everything that could go wrong has done so despite his superhuman resolve. He is alone in the dark trapped at the furthest point within a Mordor stronghold; 'feeling finally defeated' and 'at the vain end of his long journey and his grief'
Then, 'moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell' he began to sing. Childish tunes and snatches of Bilbo's rhymes. His songs give him strength and finally we see his defiant affirmation of hope beyond despair.

'Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.'

It was many years before I looked at the timeline. This was the moment when the Witch King stood before the broken gates of Minas Tirith, the moment when Denethor embraced despair and suicide. it is my belief that Sam's rejection of despair with song was rewarded with the change of wind that dispelled the Murk of Mordor that brought speed to the boats of Umbar and the music of the horns of Rohan to the beleagured city.
That's my take on Sam within the story and that is what I tried to convey in my adaptation.
Take heart Sassafras as Sam took heart!

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 4:16 am 
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I like that thought, Tosh -- one humble person's rejection of despair being enough to change the nature of the wind, and the wind going on to change everything, in a subtle sort of way.

:)

I was out on a sunny green hill by the sea at the end of this day (walking the dog), and I thought of hobbits when the wind blew. It was a very good wind, just right for kites and full of hope.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 12:35 am 
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Ath: I think it was in Teremia’s book thread over at TORC that it first dawned on me that we spend more time “in Sam’s head” than any other character.

As readers I think we know Sam the best of any of the characters. We spend a lot of time with him, and he remains close to human experience even as his circumstances become more extreme. But even as his circumstances become remote -- who of us will ever walk into a place like Mordor? -- he does not become remote. Frodo is removed from our experience by his saintliness, made so by the metaphysical burden he carries. Gandalf and Aragorn are powerful and noble, and removed by heroic stature. Gollum is wretched and evil, removed by his ruined soul. It's easier to imagine being Sam. And also harder to describe what is essential about him, unless it is to say that he is devoted to Frodo. But there is more.

I do not think Sam is particularly wise. I have argued about this in the past. He is wise concerning Frodo, I suppose. No one knows Frodo better. Sam does not understand Gollum at all, though he does clearly see that Gollum is Wicked and petty and not to be trusted. And all that is true, and yet not the whole truth. Frodo understands Gollum far better, and it is well that Frodo was making the decisions for the duo ( and trio ) up until the encounter with Shelob. Frodo is the best hobbit in the Shire. But Sam might well be the second best. By the end, he might even be the best, though maybe only because Frodo no longer can live in the Shire.

In another failure of wisdom Sam is wrong about Strider when he first meets him. But then, isn't caution right? It's hard and harsh to say Sam isn't all that wise, when his competition is Gandalf and Frodo and Faramir and Aragorn. Why do I make the point? Because I think to call Sam wise misreads his strengths, and diminishes his character by not appreciating what he is. You don't have to be wise to be heroic. You don't have to be wise, at least in the way Gandalf is wise, but you can't be a fool. And Sam is no fool. He's very level-headed, except when he isn't, such as when he begins to climb blindly down the cliff at the edge of the Emyn Muil. Why did he do that? Because Frodo had decided they would climb down, and there was nothing to do but go forward and do it. Or go backward and do it, as it turned out. When Sam does something that seems crazy and foolish, it is only because abandoning Frodo would seem even crazier to him. That is why Sam, utterly not the fool, will go on the fool's quest with only a fool's hope.

Sam often seems provincial, rustic, limited in experience and perspective. But only in comparison to the company he keeps during the adventure! Sam is the very model of the open-minded and cosmopolitan hobbit during his early conversation at the Green Dragon pub with other hobbits. A provincial hobbit would not wish to meet elves! But his soul remains rooted in the Shire. I think the Scouring hurts Sam more than any of the other hobbits. He would never have pledged fealty to Gondor or Rohan as Merry and Pippin did. He has already pledged it, to Frodo, and to the Shire. One of the worst moments Sam faces comes when he has to choose between the Shire and Frodo after Galadriel's mirror. And Galadriel's gift to Sam also reveals his soul, given after she has tested him. She knows his character.

It is remarkable that Sam and Frodo quarrel so little on their journey. They are great friends, but even more, Frodo is clearly in charge. This is how Sam wants it. Sam keeps his own thoughts and beliefs, particularly about Gollum, but he obeys Frodo's decisions.

And then, after Sam has carried the ring, and Frodo is rescued, then Sam is in charge! And Sam is clearly capable of it. He becomes more a master than Frodo ever was, not a master of a servant, but of something else, an invalid, perhaps. I can think of no good word to describe it. Frodo remains the ringbearer, but that is all he can be as his focus and life narrows down to the single wheel of fire. Sam becomes the questbearer. Sam must plan for them both, and hope for them both, and eventually walk for them both. He does for Frodo, more than he ever thought he would do, I would imagine. I think this is at the heart of the appeal Sam has to readers. He does what he can do.

Prim: One foot in front of the other, head down. And that's what saves him, and thus Frodo, and thus (incidentally to Sam) Middle-earth.

And why incidentally? Because he doesn't care about Middle-earth? That doesn't seem right. Or because there is only so much he can do? He will save what he can of Middle-earth, given his ability and power in the world. Well, he can save Frodo, or try, and he might be able to save a corner of the Shire, if he was there.

Tosh: it is my belief that Sam's rejection of despair with song was rewarded with the change of wind that dispelled the Murk of Mordor that brought speed to the boats of Umbar and the music of the horns of Rohan to the beleagured city.

And maybe, if everyone does what they can, then Middle-Earth might be saved. I am sure that Sam understood this, even if it is not the sort of thing he would put into words.

Sass: Enter Sam. Steadfast, solid Sam. Always grounded, forever real

Sam must have given up the ring easier than it was ever given up when he returned it to Frodo. He knew the temptations offered by the ring were not real. Sam is grounded and does not desire lofty things. Neither did Sméagol desire lofty things, but he was petty and covetous, where Sam is kind, a gardener. So, Sam is this solid, practical guy, kind of dull, maybe, steadfast, a plodder? No, there is something missing. There is more to Sam than just being grounded and steadfast, which is true as far as it goes. But how grounded is it to love the elves, and elvish works?

vison: Elves seem purposeless to me. I think they did to Sam, even as he admired their beauty.

Yes, the elves' beauty, and the beauty they created, and nurtured, and preserved. Here you might find the great balance of the purpose of elves. Sam loved the songs of the elves, and made up his own songs, drawn from his own experience and the kind of folk stories he knew. ( Do hobbits tell folk stories about trolls? ) He loved the gardens of the elves ( if you can call Lothlórien a garden ) and created and maintained the kinds of gardens his skill allowed. Not all beauty is lofty. Sam admired lofty beauty, but I think, for the most part, he only desired to surround himself with the more grounded kinds of beauty. But he did lament the passing of the elves, and their lofty beauty from the world.

Sass: I have for the moment left Sam slumped to the hard cold ground outside the tower door. Sad Gollum’s treachery has been endured and Frodo is taken. Sam is forced to assume a burden beyond his capabilities because he must and because he loves --- and yet somehow despite the hopelessness which gnaws and promises nothing but pain and no ending but bleak he can still refuse to capitulate to despair. Where does he find the courage to go on?

The answer is in the experience. The experience of reading the books and knowing Sam. It seems right, when it comes to that point in the story, that he does have the courage to go on, even as reasons for it are elusive, or seem facile when stated in plain language. There is a reason, but it's really complicated, and best expressed through the story that has been told. This seems like a tautalogical answer, saying that it is because it is. But maybe the answer is more interconnected than that: it is because of all the rest that is. In other words, the written Sam is a living character, and that is what he would do. I have said some of what I know about him, but some of it is probably wrong, because it is so easy to identify with Sam, and confuse his desires and motives with one's own desires and motives. He is so human.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 12:55 am 
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Faramond says: "Sam is a living character, and that is what he would do.'

Exactly. :bow:

What a great post, Faramond. :love:

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:53 am 
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:bow: Wonderful post, Faramond. Thank you so much!

To reply to your comment on my post: It's not at all that Sam didn't care about Middle-earth, I think; it's more that he does the task that's in front of him, which is his duty to Frodo (even going on after Frodo "dies" is carrying out his duty to Frodo). I don't think Sam would ever think, "I must do this to save Middle-earth," or even "to save the Shire." He'd never be so grandiose, other than in that one moment with the Ring. No, he did his duty (or carried out his loving task), and part of the result was that Middle-earth was saved (and the Shire redeemed).

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 3:31 am 
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What a wonderful post, Faramond. Quite lovely. And yours too, Tosh. :love:

Thank you.

I read your post, Faramond, and decide that I shan't post the one I've been working on all afternoon after all ..... but that's silly. I came back for this.


*********************

What Tolkien thought about Sam.

I feel that we all pretty much seem to agree on the importance of Sam to the story and to ourselves and our basic understanding of what it means to go on in the face of hopelessness. So it occurred to me to find out what the author himself has to say about this 'bravest of Hobbits.

Like most of you I have read Letters. All of them. Only not for a couple of years and I think you'll agree that they are so stuffed with insight and information that unless one happens to be blessed with a photographic memory (eidetic memory) absolute recall is not likely. Still, I was positive that I remembered comments about Sam being the 'true hero' (I was right on that score) and loads of implications concerning his general worthiness. But, memory played me false. I took what I wanted to take and I heard what I wanted to hear and I, apparently, discarded what was actually written.

This one was quite an eye-opener.


Sam is meant to be lovable and laughable. Some readers he irritates or infuriates. I can well understand it …....... Sam can be very 'trying'. He is a more representative hobbit than any others that we shall have to see much of; and he has consequently stronger ingredients of that quality which even some hobbits found at times hard to bear; a vulgarity --- by which I do not mean a mere 'down-to-earthiness' --- a mental myopia which is proud of itself, a smugness (in varying degrees) and a cocksuredness, and a readiness to measure and sum up all things from a limited experience, largely enshrined in sententious traditional 'wisdom'.

:shock:

Here I am, in post after post , extolling Sam's virtues, believing to the depths of my secret soul that what I write is an heart-echo of the author's intent. I believe that I have found a Truth swirling around among the thoughts and actions of a simple hobbit. I have, I tell myself, discerned a profundity half-hidden away in the rustic prose of Sam Gamgee who hero-worships Master Frodo and feels an intuitive longing for Elves. In fact, I am sure of it; Sam is crept into my heart and the riches inside Lord of the Rings increase twofold.

And then I read ….. this:

a mental myopia which is proud of itself, a smugness”


Really!?! Does Tolkien insinuate that Sam's limitations are of a particularly small-minded, insular sort? Does this mean that Tolkien considers Sam to be narrow-minded rather than merely isolated?
And vulgarity!?! Where, when, how is Sam vulgar I ask myself? What do I miss? What myopia covers MY eyes? It must be very opaque because, for the life of me, I cannot fathom how Sam is mentally myopic. I do know that until he left for Rivendell he has lived the sheltered life of small town occupant. He is not cosmopolitan, no. Uneducated? well, yes, aside from Bilbo's sporadic lecturing on the old tales. Provincial? Oh yes. Limited? Perhaps. *If what is meant by limited means not being exposed to people, events outside of Hobbiton.

* Faramond reminds me that Sam is not very wise about Strider. And says he is right to be cautious. And so he is. Once again his initial caution is intrinsically connected to his concern for Frodo's safety. You will have to prove yourself before Sam will let down his guard. I do call that a sort of wisdom.

Smug?

Quote:
Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself or with one's situation; self-righteously complacent


Ah, well, now here perhaps I am on safer ground: perhaps there are instances of smug behaviour.
(*tries furiously to think of examples*) (*fails*) Not in FotR in any event. Sam's attitude and actions are nothing short of stellar:

“Yes. Sir. I don't know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way, I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can't turn back. It isn't to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains that I want --- I don't rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through sire, if you understand me.”
A Short Cut to Mushrooms.


Is he more likely to be smug, or mentally myopic, in his treatment of Gollum? Sam's dislike of Gollum is palpable. He does not, for one single instant, ever even approach trust and never, ever relaxes his guard, nor does he ever forgive Gollum: only close to the very end do Pity and Mercy enter Sam's emotional 'Gollum lexicon.' (I'll touch on the missed opportunity later) I share in the distaste and the distrust, it is my opinion but Sam is both right and correct in those feelings. Gollum is not trustworthy. Not under any circumstance, and pragmatic Sam has a sworn duty and an innermost need to protect Frodo from any perceived harm. Sam cannot afford the luxury of forgiveness (that is in Frodo's province …. mercy is left to Frodo, who need not worry about the daily trivialities of survival because Sam has taken on that particular burden ) Sam cannot afford to forgive because to forgive Gollum entails risk. An enormous risk to the quest (not for the personal growth of the forgiver) The path of the quest is a straight and narrow one. It has to be. “Stray but a little” …................ They must plod their weary way to Mordor one foot in front of the other without the emotional deviation required of Sam to forgive Gollum. Deviation is perilous. I do believe that the rigid mistrust Sam holds is a defensive armour; it is expedient, it is proper for it allows them the best chance of completing the task.
If Sam should relax his vigilance by contemplating 'pity' or 'mercy', or especially by following through, the awful risk of murder is increased, it becomes likely.

In any case, here's a hypothetical: say that Sam does repent earlier of his harsh treatment and even harsher thoughts, and say Gollum, in guise as Sméagol, drinks in the kindness like one dying of thirst, it's my unwavering (almost) belief the opportunity for redemption passed him by a long, long time ago. Long before he began tracking the hobbits in the wastes of Emyn Muil. By the time they meet and he is 'tamed', he is so inextricably entwined in the Ring that separation is impossible. Where does the Ring's evil end and where does Sméagol's lost soul begin? It is no more a complete entity. Instead it has been absorbed into the fabric of the Ring; swallowed whole, if you will.

Very like the Nazgûl. One senses that Gollum will soon become invisible and live only at the whim of Sauron's Ring.

Shudder.

Which leads me back straight into Sam's pragmatic, hard hobbity head: He refused to consider redemption for Gollum.

“he fails to notice the complete change in Gollum's tone and aspect …......... Shelob's lair became inevitable.”

He could not notice! It might lead to a chink in the armour and Frodo must be protected by all means, at all costs, to whatever end ….. even if one of the ends was Shelob's lair.

Perhaps and even so, unless there is another one of those famous “deux ex machina” rescue moments (and this time it will need to be an internal rescue, a direct intervention, rather than an external 'The Eagles are Coming” moment) any change of heart felt by Gollum would be short-lived and temporary. He wanted the Ring more than he wanted salvation! The Ring IS his rescue and his salvation. I fear that Gollum is too far gone to accept, or act upon, the changes that spiritual redemption might bring because ….... according to the internal moral law of Arda, free will is the one constant and the Valar, acting on Eru's behalf, may not insist that redemption stick. On the other hand, Sauron feels no such moral compunction, and he might make very sure that his damnation does stick!

I just cannot find it within myself to place blame on Sam for either his failure to notice a softening of Gollum or his failure to feel pity. When he does finally reach that place within himself, it is supposed to be 'too little, too late' the opportunity having been passed by. Indeed. And what do we say of Gollum's refusal? Sam has offered from his heart and has been rejected. Is the argument one that says Gollum has been cheated (by Sam) of his one and only fleeting chance? Is it not more likely that there were several moments along the way; there were many times Frodo showed great patience and great empathy, did he not?
Why must Sam be weighted down with blame when really all Sam is guilty of is a willingness to protect and serve and save Mr. Frodo, to guide him as best he can with all of his heart, and all of his soul and all of his body? Saddling Sam with that responsibility is unfair, and I think, unwise. Place blame where it belongs …... on the emaciated shoulders of one malignant, bitter hobbit.

Whew.
Went off on a tangent there, didn't I?

Meanwhile; Returning to Letters:


“Sam was cocksure and deep down a little conceited; but his conceit had been transformed by his devotion to Frodo. He did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable – except in his service and his loyalty to his master. That had an ingredient (probably inevitable) of pride and possessiveness: it is difficult to exclude it from the devotion of those who perform such service. In any case it prevented him from fully understanding the master that he loved and from following him in his gradual perception to the nobility of service to the unlovable and of perception of damaged goods in the corrupt” ….................

Um. Tolkien is the author and he wrote Sam. I suppose, because he says so here, that Sam is conceited, but I can't for the life of me find any real evidence of Sam's conceit. Unless I utterly misunderstand Tolkien's definition of 'conceit' but I admit, I'm puzzled. He does not think of himself as heroic. Yes, and that is true modesty: an admirable characteristic. Yet here, it is implied that Sam does not grow along with Frodo in the perception of nobility of service to the unlovable. I wonder. Sam's self-sacrifice is of a different sort than Frodo's, but is it no less worthy of admiration. Sam is not a saint. Never was. Never will be. Never could be. He is not 'transparent' or 'transformed' like Frodo and I don't suppose that his air was ever 'Elvish', but to my mind, his value is in the wonder of him representing Everyman. He represents Us, he is US with all of our struggles and in striving to do the right thing he lays bare the heart and shows what is best in us.


Continuing on:

“He plainly did not understand Frodo's motives or his distress in the incident of the Forbidden Pool.
If he had understood better what was going on between Frodo and Gollum, things might have turned out differently in the end.”


Well, he wouldn't understand the dynamic between Frodo and Gollum, now would he? He wasn't (yet) a ring-bearer and without that synergy his only concern would be Frodo's safety. Yes, all right. Sam thinks of murder but he does not give voice to his thoughts. Maybe I'm just dense but given Sam's intense dislike of Stinker and intense distrust of Slinker, I fail to see what could have been said or done differently. Sam is never going to do an about face and suddenly accept Gollum as misbegotten, woebegone or unfortunate. From what Sam knows Gollum brought all of his misery upon himself and Sam does not see one single redeeming spark within the miserable creature. He doesn't see one, because there isn't one! Sam only sees what is there. He doesn't speculate and he doesn't elaborate, there is no mystery inside of Gollum for Sam to see. His soul is black (what's left of it)and decency is an alien concept. Do we castigate Sam because he is so literal? I, for one, love his capacity for the concrete and the solidity of his grasp on the 'what is'. Gollum threatens Frodo's safety; that is what Sam reacts to.
You can't have it both ways. You can't admire him for his grasp of reality and then turn about and admonish his inability to grasp a speculative future. Any possible redemption to be had by Gollum is in the future. Sam doesn't care about Gollum's future. He only cares about getting Frodo safely from one place to the next ….. .

Suppose Sam did stop to ponder or to contemplate the metaphysical possibilities inherent within the journey …... would they even arrive at Mount Doom?

I think not.


edit: To add a title: because I think it's needed and because I want to. :D

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Ever mindful of the maxim that brevity is the soul of wit, axordil sums up the Sil:


"Too many Fingolfins, not enough Sams."

Yes.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 5:14 am 
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Sassy wrote:
And vulgarity!?! Where, when, how is Sam vulgar I ask myself? What do I miss? What myopia covers MY eyes?


IMO, it is dangerous to take the author's words too seriously in these sorts of matters: what the artist intends, expects, or desires to create isn't always what they actually create. If I think I drew a horse but everyone sees a cow then I drew a cow.

If Tolkien thought he was writing a smug and cocksure character in Sam, he failed rather spectacularly, IMO. Thankfully. I don't want my future husband to be smug and cocksure. ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 5:28 am 
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"vulgar" could mean "lacking refinement" -- it doesn't have to mean "boorish."

But also -- what yov said, word for word, except for the "my future husband" part. ;)


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 5:54 am 
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I think Tolkien had something in mind when he wrote about Sam - after he had written Sam.

I also think that Sassafras is right. :hug:

I always find, actually, that the minute the word "redemption" pops up in the same sentence or paragraph as the name Gollum . . . I start to feel queasy. After all, if Gollum hadn't been what he was, there would have been no tale. He may have been pitiable, I guess he was pitiable, but I don't pity him. I might have, once, but not any more.

Tolkien seemed to think - in my very humble and unlearned opinion - that he had to justify or explain a lot that he would have been wiser to leave be.

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