Sam Gamgee

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Samwise Gamgee (TA 2980-?; SR 1380-?), a character from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world Middle-earth, is Frodo Baggins' servant who proves to be the most loyal of the Fellowship of the Ring. A gardener by trade, Sam is a simple Hobbit of plain speech, who loves Elves and knows a bit about rope making. He lives with his father, known as The Gaffer, on Bagshot Row in the Shire, close to Bag End where Frodo lives.

His father's name is Hamfast, and Sam's mother is Bell Goodchild, and has five siblings: Hamson, Halfred, Daisy, May, and Marigold.

1 Name

2 Character

3 Actors

4 Commentary

Table of contents

Name

Tolkien took the name from Gamgee Tissue, a surgical dressing invented by a 19th century Birmingham surgeon called Joseph Sampson Gamgee. "Gamgee" became the colloquial name in Birmingham for cotton wool; Tolkien described why he had chosen that name for his character:

"The choice of Gamgee was primarily directed by alliteration; but I did not invent it. It was caught out of childhood memory, as a comic word or name. It was in fact the name when I was small (in Birmingham) for 'cotton-wool'. (Hence the association of the Gamgees with the Cottons.) I knew nothing of its origin."
(in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter)
It is possible that Tolkien may have subconsciously recalled Dr. Gamgee (who died in 1886 but is commemorated by a plaque at the Birmingham Medical Institute, only yards from Tolkien's childhood home) but he claimed to be genuinely surprised when, in March 1956, he received a letter from one Sam Gamgee, who had heard that his name was in The Lord of the Rings but had not read the book. Tolkien replied on March 18:

"Dear Mr. Gamgee,

It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort, I hope, that the 'Sam Gamgee' of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps you will not be displeased at the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character of supposedly many centuries ago being the same as yours."

(in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter)

He proceded to send Mr Gamgee a signed copy of all three volumes of the book. However, the incident sparked a nagging worry in Tolkien's mind, as he recorded in his journal:

"For some time I lived in fear of receiving a letter signed 'S. Gollum'. That would have been more difficult to deal with."
(Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter)

Character

As "punishment" for eavesdropping on Gandalf's conversation with Frodo regarding the dangers of the One Ring, Sam was made Frodo's first companion on his journey to Rivendell in the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Sam saved Frodo's life more than once during the quest to destroy the Ring, and he accompanied him all the way to Mount Doom.

After Shelob attacked and seemingly killed Frodo, Sam took the Ring intending to complete the quest. Because he held the Ring for a time, he is considered one of the Ring Bearerss. The Ring tempted him to use it by giving him a vision of Mordor as a flourishing garden, but he was too level-headed to be taken in.

Sam then discovered that Frodo was alive in the orcs' Tower of Cirith Ungol and rescued him.

After the War; he married Rose Cotton. They had thirteen children: Elanor the Fair, Frodo, Rose, Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks, Hamfast, Daisy, Primrose, Bilbo, Ruby, Robin, and Tolman.

After his wife died in the year 61 of the Fourth Age (Shire Reckoning 1482), Sam left Middle-earth and presumably died sometime after that—once he had been healed of the Ring's vestigial influence in the Undying Lands.

Actors

In the 1981 BBC radio serial of The Lord of the Rings, Sam is played by William Nighy.

In the movies (2001), (2002) and (2003), Sam is played by Sean Astin. It is not clear whether Astin had heard Nighy's radio performance, but both actors bring very similar characterisations and accents to the role.

Commentary

By many people's interpretation, Sam Gamgee was the "true hero" of Tolkien's story. The quest to destroy the ring only succeeds because of Sam, who repeatedly saves Frodo from disaster (such as rescuing him at Cirith Ungol and carrying him up Mount Doom). He was only the second Ringbearer in the whole history of the Ring strong enough to surrender it voluntarily.

The relationship between Frodo and Sam is, in many respects, at the centre of The Lord of the Rings. To the modern reader, it seems very archaic - it is clearly extremely class-oriented (Sam's humbleness and "plain speaking" is frequently emphasised in contrast to Frodo's "gentility", and he often calls Frodo his "Master"). There has been much speculation over the years about the nature of the relationship, with many suggesting a possible homoerotic element. As one fan puts it,

"Frodo and Sam have got to be a couple. What other interpretation could there be? Maybe they haven't done anything about this smoldering romantic passion, but, jeez, there's no denying the devotion between them."
(MetaGrrrl)
Some fans have taken this interpretation to its logical end and have produced some fairly explicit (and very unauthorised) slash fiction depicting a gay relationship between Frodo and Sam.

Mainstream Tolkienologists, however, point to a different interpretation: Sam is Frodo's batman. In the British Army, a batman was an orderly who acted as the personal servant of an officer. It was a role with which Tolkien (who served as an Army officer in the First World War) would have been extremely familiar. Sam undertakes all of the typical roles of a batman - he runs errands for Frodo, he cooks, he transports him (or at least carries him) and he carries his luggage. Tolkien confirmed this interpretation when he wrote in a private letter that:

"My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognized as so far superior to myself"
(The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter).