“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'”[1]Just as it was not good for Adam to be alone, it is not good for any of us to be alone. Community, belonging, and companionship are not just luxuries; they are foundational human needs that have been part of humanity from the beginning and continue to this day. Of course, this passage refers to the very special relationship between men and women joined in the covenant of Biblical marriage, but friendships are also important relationships that help keep men from being alone.

Perhaps that is why the relationship between Frodo and Sam has become, for many, one of the most meaningful portions of The Lord of The Rings. It shows us something that we all intuitively want, someone that will go with us through whatever comes and stay by our side no matter how dark the day becomes. These friendships do not always come immediately though, and watching the development of their friendship as the story progresses brings the reader to a point where he or she desires what they have. As Tolkien wrote in his essay “On Fairy Stories,”

The keener and clearer is the reason, the better Fantasy it will make. If men were ever in the state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured.[2]

In much the same way, watching a friendship grow in Middle-earth helps to increase our desire for such friendships here in our world. We see the imperfect yet still beautiful fulfillment of one of our desires in fantasy, and it whets our appetites to experience this kind of friendship all the more.

Consider how the companionship of Frodo and Sam began. Gandalf and Frodo had been having a conversation about how perilous the Ring is and how imperative it is that Frodo takes the Ring out of the Shire. They intended it to be a private conversation, but Sam was eavesdropping outside the window (even though, as he notes once he is caught, Frodo’s home, Bag End, has no eaves). Gandalf asks him if he heard that Frodo was going away. Sam responds, “I did, sir. And that’s why I choked: which you heard seemingly. I tried not to, sir, but it burst out of me: I was so upset.”[3] Earlier in the chapter, the narrator provides a list of Frodo’s best friends; Sam is not included in this list.[4] To this point in the story, Sam is the hired man who faithfully cares for the gardens outside of Frodo’s house. He essentially says as much when he is debating the departure of the Elves with Ted Sandyman, the miller’s son. When Frodo comes up in the conversation, Sam refers to him as, “Mr. Baggins . . . that I work for.”[5] At this point in the story, they clearly have a working relationship, but it is not what would typically be described as a friendship. They work together well, and Sam is either very attached to his boss or very nervous about his imminent punishment, but there is also a degree of distance between the two.

By the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, it is clear that their journey has brought them closer together. Frodo, sensing the tension that his, or moreso the Ring’s, presence is having on the Fellowship, decides that he is going to depart on his own. Sam, recognizing Frodo’s plan just a bit too late, runs down and sees Frodo beginning to take a boat and make his escape of sorts. He charges into the river to give chase, but the only problem is that he is unable to swim. Frodo hauls him out of the river, unwilling to let his friend drown, and Sam scolds him, “’Oh, Mr. Frodo, that’s hard!’ said Sam shivering. ‘That’s hard, trying to go without me and all. If I hadn’t a guessed right, where would you be now?’”[6] Frodo protests, feels that he must go alone, but ultimately gives in and admits, “’So all my plan is spoilt!’ said Frodo. ‘It is no good trying to escape you. But I’m glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we were meant to go together.’”[7] As a result of their journey to this point, their friendship has developed to the point where there is a level of commitment. Even though Frodo’s journey is going to bring him into the heart of Middle-earth’s darkness, he is determined to follow Frodo. In fact, Frodo conveys a sense of the inevitability of their partnership. He speaks of the fact that they are “meant” to go together. They are clearly not together for the sake of convenience anymore, but they are bound together by friendship to see their journey through to the end.

The journey becomes even more difficult from this point forward for Frodo and Sam. They add the untrustworthy Gollum to their company, a move that is consistently frowned upon by Sam, but he does successfully lead them to Cirith Ungol, a way that turns out to be treacherous yet is also much safer than Frodo’s intended plan of entering the Black Gate of Mordor directly. Gollum led the hobbits this way to ensure their murder by the giant spider Shelob, and the monster did seemingly kill Frodo. This apparent death causes Sam to take on the burden of the Ring right on the border of Mordor. The companion, the supporter, and the encourager needs to rise up. Sam recalls the charge the Fellowship was given in Rivendell:

“What? Me, alone, go to the Crack of Doom and all?” He quailed still, but the resolve grew. “What? Me take the Ring from him? The Council gave it to him.” But the answer came at once: “And the Council gave him companions, so that the errand should not fail. And you are the last of all the Company. The errand must not fail.”[8]

Even in what he incorrectly perceives as Frodo’s death, Sam refuses to abandon that which is important to Frodo. A lesser friend could have dropped his charge. He thought Frodo was dead, and if he was, he never would have known the difference. Sam could have run away in terror. The enormity of the task laid at his feet could have overwhelmed him. No one was forcing it upon him, but he put it upon himself because of his dedication to Frodo and the mission that he had committed to. Sam expresses sentiments much like Frodo at the beginning of his quest, “But you haven’t put yourself forward; you’ve been put forward. And as for not being the right and proper person, why, Mr. Frodo wasn’t, as you might say, nor Mr. Bilbo. They didn’t choose themselves.”[9] All of us want a friend who will remain loyal to us and what is important to us, even if we are not in a position to evaluate their loyalty. We want them to remain dedicated to us even when we are not in the room. Integrity matters in friendships. Sam’s friendship is of a special quality.

Of course, that friendship shines through most memorably and clearly as Frodo and Sam begin to climb Mount Doom, yet Frodo is exhausted and cannot go on by himself. Sam recites one of his most famous lines:

Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. “I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,” he muttered, “and I will!” “Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”[10]

Sam admits shortly after he has no idea where they are even going, but it is not a matter of whether or not their end result is successful. Even if Sam collapsed halfway up the mountain and passed away, the evidence of their friendship shines through at this moment. They have evolved from simply a business connection, an employer and employee, to companions who are literally willing to bear one another’s burdens. In this scene, it may appear that it is a very one-sided friendship, Sam carrying Frodo. However, Frodo is carrying the weight of Middle-earth around his neck. Not only is he carrying the fate of Sam, but he is bearing the burden of all that is good against the greatest forces of evil that can be conjured against him. This picture of one friend helping another in the most hopeless of times is beautiful. For those of us who are goal-oriented, we may admire Sam helping Frodo towards his objective, but the objective is largely irrelevant. The evidence of their friendship is in the effort they both put forward for the good of the other.

Of course, even after the destruction of the Ring, the friendship of Frodo and Sam does not end nor does it weaken. Frodo, weakened by his efforts, finds himself in a position where he needs to leave Middle-earth, but before he goes he explains to Sam what his entire purpose in destroying the Ring was. He says:

I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you.[11]

This is extraordinarily consistent with what Frodo said when Gandalf first presented him with the dangerous situation that he found himself in the middle of. He explained:

I should like to save the Shire, if I could – though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them. But I don’t feel like that now. I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.[12]

His desire to make life better for others is beautiful, and in the final scene, while he still expresses a desire to save his hometown, his chief concern is for his best friend and his loyal companion. Frodo took on a mission that did not literally kill him but cost him a good portion of his life and peace of mind, but because he did it, Sam had the opportunity to live his life to the fullest. For those who wonder about the perceived imbalance in Frodo and Sam’s friendship where Sam appears to sacrifice much more often for Frodo, this passage provides the counterbalance. A true friendship involves mutual sacrifice when necessary. True friends are those who want what is best for the other even if there is a cost associated with it. Frodo and Sam demonstrate that over and over again, and even as Frodo is preparing to leave Middle-earth, something that will bring them both pain, his self-sacrificial love of his home and the people in it summarizes this friendship particularly well.

Frodo and Sam’s friendship reminds us of this very human desire for companionship. This is nothing new. It has been in our hearts since the Garden of Eden. It is not good for man to be alone. God reconciled Adam’s problem by creating Eve. She was a companion suitable for him, but in so many of our lives, we struggle to find companions. Despite the fact that we have difficulties finding people to connect with, we still find this human desire. We might feel like this is going to be an appetite that we cannot fulfill. However, Tolkien’s fantasy is very real and reasonable. If friendship is possible in his world, then because of the reason built into Middle-earth, it makes sense to us that this degree of friendship very well might be possible in our world as well. We need to open ourselves up and embrace our desire for companionship. It is not good for man to be alone, but, praise be to God for His creation; we do not have to be alone.


Citation Information

Zak Schmoll, “The Beauty of a Growing Friendship,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 1. (Spring 2020), 63-74.

Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/the-beauty-of-a-growing-friendship/


Endnotes

[1] Genesis 2:18, NIV.

[2] “J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories,” Heritage Podcast, accessed January 19, 2020, http://heritagepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/Tolkien-On-Fairy-Stories-subcreation.pdf.

[3] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002), 64.

[4] Ibid., 42.

[5] Ibid., 45.

[6] Ibid., 406.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 732.

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid., 940-941.

[11] Ibid., 1029.

[12] Ibid., 62.

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