Chapter 5 of The Fellowship of the Ring
In A Conspiracy Unmasked Tolkien reveals that Frodo's friends have been watching his strange doings with the wizard Gandalf. Merry, Pippin, Fredgar and Samwise, realizing that Frodo is burdened with a dangerous task, have decided that he will not face it alone. As Merry tells Frodo:
'You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin -- to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours --closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid -- but we are coming with you: or following you like hounds.'Here lies the emotional core of the first book of the trilogy, if not the entire trilogy itself: the forging of a fellowship in bonds of trust and mutual help. The first book is well named; as a reader, I care more about this fellowship than I do about any individual member of it. Frodo, Sam (and eventually Gandalf or Aragorn) are all sympathetic, but none of them are as important as the relationship that binds them. The fellowship holds a promise to both characters and readers alike: the notion that friendships can last, that even the worst troubles are best shared, and that we don't need to face the dark alone.
The tragedy, of course, revealed to any reader who bothers to scan the table of contents, is that the last chapter in this book is called The Breaking of the Fellowship. This bond of friendship will snap, and it will do so in ways precisely foretold in Chapter 5. Just as Frodo is depressed now at the thought of deceiving his friends and escaping the Shire alone, at the end of the book, he will make the gloomy decision that he must slip away by himself, as the rest of the fellowship founders around him. The remainder of the trilogy is as much a story about the ultimate reunion of the four hobbit friends as it is about the destruction of the One Ring. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Before leaving Chapter 5, I'd like to take a closer look at the odd man out in the fellowship of hobbit friends: Samwise Gamgee. Many commentators on The Lord of the Rings, including Tolkien himself, suggest that Sam will become the central character in the trilogy -- the character who best exemplifies Tolkien's recurrent theme:
The place in 'world-politics' of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil)... without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless. (Letter #131 to Milton Waldman, 1951)And of course Sam's loyalty to Frodo is the one fragment of the fellowship that will remain intact throughout the whole War of the Ring. But at this point in the story, it's important to understand Sam's status. He is not Frodo's friend -- he is Frodo's servant.
Sam and his father "tend garden" for Frodo, and we're told that when Frodo pretended to move to Crickhollow, the pretense was that Sam was going too so that he could "do for Mr. Frodo and look after his bit of garden". It's easy to view Sam as naturally humble, long-suffering and faithful -- but it's important to realize that these traits are not unique to Sam. They are the typical qualities expected of a servant in the heyday of the English class system.
|Samwise by Citadel Miniatures|
Understanding this fact throws a new light on Sam. In the early stages of the hobbits' voyage, Sam's voice is heard only in its absence. This silence is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. Whereas Pippin or Merry are happy to complain, tease and chat with Frodo, Sam is usually silent. He doesn't sing in the bath, or scrap over another serving of mushrooms. If he does speak, he prefaces it with "begging your pardon". But this diffidence isn't inherent to Sam; after all, we know his speech changes entirely when speaking to men of his own class (like Sandyman and co. at The Green Dragon) where Sam is opinionated and voluble.
All of this is to say, as the story progresses, we'll have to watch how Sam grows out of being more than a servant. What does he become?