Young men in America are struggling. Many feel purposeless, lost, and small because it feels like the world is stacked against them. Their so-called “toxic” masculinity is attacked, androgyny is promoted, and at every turn young men are being told by the media, the university system, and corporate H.R. that there is something wrong with them simply because they are men.
In the vacuum that’s been created by this attack on men, many are turning to online influencers like the Muslim Andrew Tate for advice. But Tate’s “solutions” — embrace the grind, demean women, forsake marriage, and stack cash — aren’t real, or godly, solutions at all.
What if there were better examples, older and more virtuous examples of what it looks like to “kill the dragon” and “get the girl” that men could aspire to?
Instead of watching the next Tate YouTube livestream, I think young men should pick up a copy of The Lord of the Rings — and pay close attention a surprising character: Samwise Gamgee.
I’ve loved The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my father read all four of these masterpieces to us out loud — a true labor of love from a father who wanted to instill in his children a love for reading, a sense of wonder, an appreciation for heroism, and clear lines between light and dark, good and evil. Yes, he did voices. Since then, I’ve been hooked.
Recently, on X, I saw a user (who I unfortunately can’t remember) conclude of the final book in the installment, “It’s called The Return of the King because Sam comes home.”
That’s a profound and delightfully subversive sentence. In general, people understand that The Return of the King is titled that way because the protagonist Aragorn assumes his place as the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor and Andor.
King Aragorn is everything we expect to find in a protagonist. He is the last descendant of the ancient kings of Men, specifically the line of Isildur, one of the original ring-bearers. He is a natural leader, a skilled swordsman, tracker, and ranger. He is wise and compassionate. He shows great care for his companions and even his enemies. His journey from a ranger of the North to the King of Gondor and Arnor forms a significant part of the narrative arc in The Lord of the Rings. His crowning as King Elessar signals the return of the true king and the beginning of a new age in Middle-earth.
Sam? Sam is a bumbling, bashful hobbit. In the trilogy, Sam begins as Frodo’s simple friend from the Shire. He’s not a mixed martial artist, he’s a gardener. He’s far more comfortable with pruning shears than a sword. He’s got a crush on a girl but is too scared to talk to her. When the epic quest to destroy the One Ring begins, he’s only included in the adventure because Gandalf catches him eavesdropping outside Frodo’s window and sentences him to accompany Frodo on the journey.
And yet, J.R.R. Tolkien referred to Samwise Gamgee as the “chief hero” of The Lord of the Rings in a letter to Milton Waldman. This letter is often referred to as “Letter 131.” In another letter written in 1956, Tolkien reaffirmed that Sam Gamgee was a “most heroic character” in his story. Tolkien elaborated on the quiet heroism of Sam in these letters: “I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.”
Indeed, in the vast tapestry of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, Samwise Gamgee’s character stands as a testament to the power of friendship, loyalty, and the indomitable spirit of the humble. As you follow Sam’s journey from the quiet gardens of the Shire to the fiery heart of Mount Doom, you witness not only the triumph of good over evil but also the deeply profound transformation of a seemingly ordinary gardener into an extraordinary hero. Sam’s return to the Shire and his pursuit of love, marriage, and the establishment of his family serves as a poignant conclusion to a story that reverberates with timeless truths — ones that we would do well to learn from today.
Sam’s character arc is an odyssey of self-discovery (in a genuine, virtuous fashion) and unwavering devotion. From the outset, Sam embodies the virtues of loyalty and humility, traits that set him apart as more than Frodo’s gardener but as a steadfast companion. His resilience is fiercely tested at more than one point, surprising himself and his friends with the heart of gold and spine of steel that is revealed under pressure.
The purity of his spirit and unflinching commitment to the suicide mission of taking the One Ring to Mount Doom is captured in some of his notable and quotable lines.
As Frodo tries to leave Sam behind at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam wades out into the river after him, even though he can’t swim.
After Frodo pulls him into the boat, Frodo tries to explain why he wanted to leave him:
“‘It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and I could not have borne that.’
‘Not as certain as being left behind,’ said Sam.
‘But I am going to Mordor.’
‘I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.’”
Sam’s commitment, spoken with grim, determined certainty, encapsulates the essence of his character. It is not blind loyalty but a conscious decision to stand by Frodo, embodying the Christian ideals of sacrifice and fellowship that Tolkien weaves into the fabric of his narrative.
Towards the end of their journey, as they stand on the barren, tortured, and fiery side of Mount Doom, Frodo collapses under the weight of the ring and the ever-seeing eye of the Dark Lord Sauron. Sam, faithful Sam, realizes that Frodo can no longer continue under his own strength. Sam holds Frodo in his arms, reminds him of the Shire, their home, and then cries out: “’Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.’”
The journey to destroy the Ring is a metaphorical crucible, forging Sam’s character into something far greater than anyone, including himself, could have imagined. In Frodo’s moments of weakness and despair, Sam becomes the bearer of hope, the flame that refuses to be extinguished. This steadfastness mirrors the Christian virtue of faith, an unwavering belief in the face of adversity, and Sam emerges as a symbol of the enduring power of goodness in a world overshadowed by darkness.
The culmination of Sam’s heroism is not merely in the destruction of the Ring but in his return to the Shire. The Shire, once a haven of peace and simplicity, has been marred by the machinations of Saruman, a once fair wizard who allowed himself to be corrupted by Sauron. Sam’s homecoming becomes a symbol of restoration, a reclamation of the innocence and purity that the Shire represents. His humble origins and unassuming demeanor underscore the idea that heroism is not the exclusive domain of kings and warriors but can emerge from the most unexpected places.
Sam’s desire for a simple life, reflected in his love for gardening, adds a poignant layer to his character. The profound truth embedded in his choice to cultivate life rather than destroy it echoes Christian themes of creation, stewardship, and the redemptive power of love. As Sam marries Rosie Cotton and starts a family, he embodies the cyclical nature of life, a continuation of the natural order that transcends the transient chaos of the Ring’s destruction.
In Tolkien’s Christian worldview, Samwise Gamgee emerges as a subtle yet profound Christ-like figure. His sacrificial love, selflessness, and triumphant return to the Shire parallel the Christian narrative of redemption and resurrection. Sam’s role in the quest goes beyond being Frodo’s loyal companion; he becomes the unsung hero, the embodiment of virtues that echo the teachings of Christianity.
Samwise Gamgee’s journey from the verdant hills of the Shire to the fiery depths of Mount Doom and back home is a testament to the enduring power of hope, love, and unwavering commitment in the face of adversity and even suffering. His character arc, rooted in humility and loyalty, encapsulates the essence of Tolkien’s Christian themes. Once the overlooked gardener, Sam stands tall at the end of the trilogy as the true hero of The Lord of the Rings. The king had returned — not as crowned warrior, but a faithful hobbit, a beacon of light in a world overshadowed by darkness, proving that even the smallest and simplest among us can achieve greatness through the power found in courage and love.
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