Analysis of Sam as the Hero in “Lord of the Rings” (An Essay)

20 April 2014

Samwise Gamgee: The True Hero of Lord of the Rings

Literature has a special power which shows the reader something noble that could potentially be found within himself because ?what people believe they can become, for better or worse, is directly based on the models readily available to them? (Sullivan and Venter 472). The hero is not always the most obvious character and sometimes it can be unclear as to who the true hero is. This is certainly the case in Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The trilogy has many characters and a narrative that splits to follow the separate parts of a single journey, making the identity of the main protagonist or focal character a bit ambiguous at times. Tolkien offers a fellowship of nine members with varying characteristics and qualities, even of different races, on the mission to destroy the ring. All of these characters could lay claim to being a hero in his own right but it seems as though there is one race that is more in tune with heroism than the others which is found in Tolkien?s representation of the surprisingly heroic nature of hobbits. He seems to be saying something particular about the courage that can be found in the least likely of people when the situation calls for it. Out of all the characters, hobbits are the unexpected heroic race, and of that race, Samwise Gamgee proves to be the true hero of the entire adventure. Close analysis of the text and films, along with research of outside sources will ultimately explain why hobbits were selected to propel the plot forward and to act as ring-bearers. It will also be determined that Sam is not only the finest hobbit in Lord of the Rings but that he is the best example of a heroic character out of all other contenders for the title.

What is a Hero?

Heroes are typically thought of as larger-than-life figures in some grand poetic epic. However, the idea and function of the hero has evolved over time and can be found in characters of much simpler means. Basically, a hero can be defined as ?a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities? (?Hero?). There are countless hero types that can be fulfilled in a work of literature, defined by traits found within the individual. One could say that a hero?s function is to keep the story moving forward and to be a focal point in the action of the novel. Another main purpose the hero serves is to relate to the reader and present him with respectable qualities (Zimbardo 404). Tolkien managed to include most hero types in his characters, sometimes making many of these appear in one individual, all of which lead to the further development of the story. It is the culmination of all these heroes working together that allowed the fellowship to succeed.

Heroes Found in Lord of the Rings

According to Jessica Yates, writer for the Tolkien Society webpage, ?Tolkien has been criticised for flat characterization? although it is necessary in literature for readers to be able to relate to the characters they are reading about. Yates asserts that this is done by creating heroes out of ?an ordinary individual facing extraordinary pressures.? Tolkien seems to have mastered the fine balance between having characters of nobility who rise to the occasion but also gives them humility and makes them relatable to the reader.

Most of the main characters in Middle-Earth could be considered epic heroes, since they are involved in a situation where the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. The epic hero qualities are highly evident in the book versions of the human characters of Aragorn and Boromir, but the film adaptations of the series presents an Aragorn with more doubt and self-angst that categorizes him as a Romantic hero while Boromir?s greed for the power of the ring makes him a tragic hero, which results in his downfall. The Hobbit implies that dwarves are also tragic heroes, but Gimli, the lone dwarf character of Lord of the Rings, manages to redeem his race from this and becomes somewhat of a sidekick hero who provides assistance and accepts being more of a follower (?Types of Heroes?). Another sidekick-esque hero exists in Legolas. He mostly serves as the elf representative amongst the members of the fellowship and to bridge the animosity that exists between dwarves and elves.

The main type of hero in Tolkien?s trilogy, however, seems to be the quest hero, originating in the quest story which, according to poet and critic W.H. Auden, ?is one of the oldest, hardiest, and most popular of all literary genres? (91). Characteristics of a quest story include the existence of some desired article, a journey, a hero character, ?a test or series of tests,? guardians of the article, and helpers to aid the hero in his quest (Auden 92). The Lord of the Rings easily fits in the quest category and the quest heroes are evident in hobbits; this is because hobbits serve as the beings most similar to Tolkien?s audience. There is something to be said about these small creatures that seem quite separate from the world they live in and when thrust into unknown parts of their world they manage to overcome the greatest of odds. In essence, Tolkien was trying ?to bring the heroic world close to the modern reader through the eyes of the hobbits? (Yates).

The Heroism of Hobbits

Tolkien chooses hobbits as the focal point of his series for a reason. They are considered equivalent to Victorian-era English people, so Tolkien?s audience can relate to the events of Middle-Earth. In his book about the races of hobbits, wizards, and elves, Michael Stanton quotes Tolkien as saying, ?Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imaginations ? not the small reach of their courage? (7).

The reason that hobbits have limited imaginations could be because they are so distant from the rest of their world. They are ?content to ignore and be ignored? (The Fellowship of the Ring) by all other inhabitants of Middle-Earth. The Shire exists in a small corner of the Tolkien universe and is rarely, if ever, disturbed by the rest of Middle-Earth. Therefore, hobbits do not know much about the rest of Middle-Earth. This is evident enough in the way Sam says ?if I take one more step, it?ll be the farthest away from home I?ve ever been? in the Fellowship of the Ring film, and why he is so amazed at the sight of an elephant, which has always been just a rumor referred to as an ?oliphaunt? in a poem (?Oliphaunts?). Readers must be aware that while hobbits have limited information about their world, they are not limited in curiosity when it comes time to explore that world nor are they limited in the ability to summon bravery to accomplish tasks when needed. Stanton goes on to make the claim that ?a Hobbit is a clod with a hero asleep inside him? (125), implying that when hobbits are in their natural environment, they are satisfied with the normalcy of daily life but when faced with extraordinary circumstances, they rise to the occasion.

At the Council of Elrond, the High Elf comments on the important role hobbits have been playing behind the scenes and now it is time for them to step forth, determining that ?This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great? (Tolkien 174). The One Ring seems to have a mind of its own and for some reason it chose a hobbit years prior when it landed in Bilbo?s possession. Frodo inherited the ring by providence and it is up to him to see the story to its end. Stanton sees the decision to have hobbits destroy the ring as a stroke of brilliance in the mind of Tolkien. ?A Hobbit is far from an obvious choice to undertake this momentous errand, but to send a Hobbit to Mordor makes sense strategically,? according to Stanton (39). The strategy lies in the fact that enemies would not be expecting a hobbit since they are ?Small, insignificant, unlikely;? plus the hobbits have already proved themselves worthy since they managed to make it to Rivendell without falling completely to pieces (Stanton 39).

The Hobbit introduced readers to Bilbo Baggins. In The Lord of the Rings, four more hobbits are brought into the limelight: Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam. All four hobbits have their shining moments and become dear to the hearts of readers for their own individual purposes. At first glance, onlookers might assume that Bilbo?s relative, Frodo, is the hero of the story; after all, he was the chief ring-bearer and was brave enough to take on the task of carrying the ring to Mordor to destroy it in the heart of Mount Doom. Frodo is one of the many protagonists in Tolkien?s story and he does play a crucial role. However, even Tolkien says in one of his letters compiled by Humphrey Carpenter that ?Frodo indeed ?failed? as a hero? since the ring overpowered him and ?he did not endure to the end? (Carpenter 346). In the end, it is ultimately Sam who appears to be the true main character and hero because he is the most consistent in his heroism.

Why Sam?

Tolkien?s trilogy can be thought of as ?a character-driven story,? as stated by Cliff Broadway when writing a character analysis for Broadway continues by explaining that in this type of story, the true hero is determined by answering the following question: ?Who is transformed the most between the opening and the closing page, taking the reader through his transformation?? Of all the characters that grace the pages of Tolkien?s books, readers see a direct and drastic change take place within Sam. Mostly, it is him becoming more himself because the hero was always there, just below the surface. The journey allows Sam?s heroism to make itself known. Readers first see Sam as the gardener and friend of Frodo who daydreams about elves, faeries, and other grand things. This makes him relatable, because who among readers has not dreamt of going off on a great adventure and seeing magical sights? As the story progresses, Sam realizes that there is more to a story than just the fantastical parts of it, and he sees that he is wound up in a legend of his own and that maybe one day ?songs will mention it? (Tolkien The Two Towers 433). Samwise transforms from the quiet and meek companion to a brave and mighty hero.

Samwise, the Brave

Sam was successful as a hero and as the main character in major ways. First the reader sees his bravery, against all odds. Sam remains optimistic and perseveres through all the obstacles the fellowship comes across. Next, Sam?s actions critically impact the success of the entire journey and he contributes to Frodo?s ability to destroy the ring. Finally, Sam is seen as the hero from Tolkien?s own perspective, based solely on his character and what he represents to the story and the reader alike.

Bilbo Baggins has been considered ?the genuine hobbit? and Sam has been referenced as being a successor to Bilbo (Carpenter 121), not just in that title but also in the ability to find his courage and awaken a warrior within. From the very beginning, Sam seemed to know the dangers they would surely face. He realized right away that it was no longer about seeing new sights or even just about the adventure. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam tries explaining this to Frodo by saying, ?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?I have something to do before the end? (Tolkien 58). It appears as though Sam could tell there was something bigger going on and that he had a role to play in this grand scheme of things. It is a quiet, noble sort of courage that Sam holds in foreseeing danger and choosing to go on the journey anyway because of his dedication to Frodo and knowing what is on the line for all of Middle-Earth. Throughout the rest of the quest, no matter how tough or bleak things become, Sam remains positive and pushes others to continue on. In fact, ?when what seems to be the only way into Mordor is barred against him and Frodo, despair covers Sam like a shroud? but then ?Sam and Frodo go on? (Stanton 164). There is something to be said about the fact that Sam and Frodo manage to take the ring further than anyone ever has before, which is all they agreed to do. Even when they feel as though they cannot go any further, and when no one would blame them for not being able to continue, the two hobbits pick themselves up and somehow keep going.

In a book about Tolkien, George Clark evaluated heroes of the fellowship and asserted ?Tolkien sought a true hero motivated by a heroic ideal consistent with his own religious and moral ideals? (39). Based on that criterion, the theory that Sam is Tolkien?s true hero becomes even more plausible, evidenced by Sam?s valiant actions which directly impact the outcome of the journey. It is only with Sam?s help, after all, that Frodo is able to accomplish the task of destroying the ring. At times, Sam acted when no other would. When entering the Mines of Moria, Frodo was grabbed by the Watcher in the Water. The fellowship ?spun round and saw the waters of the lake seething? while Sam was ?slashing at it with a knife? and when Frodo was released ?Sam pulled him away? (Tolkien 197). After the fellowship had split up and Shelob, the great spider, attacked Frodo, Sam thought his companion had been killed. Sam bravely and selflessly took up the ring with the intention of finishing the journey on his own. The ring tempted Sam, as it had tempted everyone who came in contact with it, but he never succumbed to its power because of his great humility (?Samwise Gamgee?). When he and Frodo were reunited, Sam gave the ring back and continued on the journey with Frodo by his side again. This makes Sam, in addition to Bilbo, one of only two ring-bearers to give the ring up of his own free will; while Bilbo struggled to give up the ring, it was easy for Sam (?Samwise Gamgee?).

Tolkien does not give Sam much credit in his nomenclature, since ?Samwise? is the modernized version of ?Banazr? from Tolkien?s language of Westron and roughly translates to ?half-wit? or ?simple? (?Samwise Gamgee?). George Clark claims that ?the unexpected hero?called a fool until called to great actions by great needs, proves to be Samwise Gamgee? (45). Sam therefore goes against his very namesake to become something mighty and heroic. A real-life Sam Gamgee wrote to Tolkien, asking the author about his inspiration for the name. Tolkien replied by promising the man that it was an honor to share the name with the character since ?the ?Sam Gamgee? of my story is a most heroic character?even though his origins are rustic? (Carpenter 261). In another letter, Tolkien explains that the character of Sam was inspired by the men he knew in WWI who fulfilled the role of ?batman? which meant being a supporting aid to other soldiers; Tolkien saw them as ?far superior to myself? (Carpenter 89). Carpenter cites Tolkien as referring to Sam as ?the chief hero? and explaining how ?the simple ?rustic? love? Sam has for Rosie is so important to Sam?s character as well as ?the theme of the relation of ordinary life? (Carpenter 178). This emphasizes the role Sam plays as a relatable character for readers, someone who overcomes great odds in the effort to return to his life back home.


Based on the background Tolkien considered when building the character and his ultimate portrayal of Sam, the reader can relate to the gentle but strong hobbit. This is because words have the ability to ?spark the ?heroic imagination? within each of us? (Zimbardo 404). Readers can put themselves in his shoes and feel as if they might be able to achieve some great feat if needed, even though they do not necessarily have the experience or the knowledge. Sam came from humble beginnings and that allowed him to become even greater because he did not replace humility with pride or courage. Instead, he added the other qualities to his already modest spirit. Phillip Zimbardo explains that ?heroes come in many forms, young and old, male and female, who are mostly ordinary, everyday people whose acts of heroism qualify as extra-ordinary? (405). Zimbardo has a ?formula for heroism? which combines a heroic imagination and ethical nerve resulting in the readiness and faculty to make a stand against the many faces of evil (406).Therefore, one does need to be of noble lineage like the kingly Aragorn or have magic powers like the wizard Gandalf in order to be a hero. That may add to the heroic qualities of those characters but it is not the only path to heroism. Simply put, a hero is derived from the inner capacity to become a hero. There lies a hero within each individual, if he only finds a way to summon that quality when needed.

The true beauty of Tolkien?s work is that it shows the diversity of heroes. Tolkien provides the world with a handful of heroes fighting the good fight for as long as they are able and who work together to reach their end goal. Sam is not the lone hero, just the most human example and the type of hero that all people have the potential of becoming. In this writer?s opinion, Sam is quite possibly the best hero because he seems to be the most selfless. He is the one who grows the most throughout the story. His sole motivation for the journey is not because he is forced into it or because he hopes to gain something, but rather because of his desire to help his friend succeed. In closing, one needs only to look at the end of Tolkien?s trilogy to truly understand the importance of Samwise Gamgee. The story does not end when the ring is destroyed or when Frodo leaves for the Grey Havens but instead, it ends with Sam?s return home (Broadway). For such a hero as Sam, there is no better ending nor better proof that he was the one Tolkien truly wanted readers to focus on. The reader is left with the image and consolation of Sam receiving the ?happily ever after? that he has earned.

Works Cited

?Hero.? Merriam-Webster?s Collegiate Dictionary. N.p.: Merriam-Webster, 2012.Credo Reference. 7 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

?Samwise Gamgee.? One Wiki to Rule Them All. Wikia. Web. 4 Apr 2014. <>.

?Types of Heroes.? Heroes Wiki. Wikia. Web. 16 Mar 2014. <>.

Auden, Wystan Hugh. ?The quest hero.? Texas Quarterly 4.4 (1961): 81?93. <’s%20concept%20of%20the%20Quest%20Hero/auden.pdf>

Broadway, Cliff. ?All About Sam ? Why the Main Character of ?The Lord of the Rings? is Really Samwise Gamgee.? N.p., 16 May 2013. Web. 16 Mar 2014. <>.

Carpenter, Humphrey, Ed. The letters of JRR Tolkien. Vol. 144. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. <>

Clark, George. ?JRR Tolkien and the True Hero.? Contributions to the study of science fiction and fantasy 89 (2000): 44?45. <>

?Oliphaunts.? Wiki. Tolkien Gateway. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Stanton, Michael N. Hobbits, Elves and Wizards. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. <,_Elves,_and_Wizards._Exploring_the_Wonders_and_Worlds_of_J_R_R_Tolkien%60s_%22The_lord_of_the….pdf>

Sullivan, Michael P., and Anre Venter. ?Defining Heroes Through Deductive And Inductive Investigations.? Journal Of Social Psychology 150.5 (2010): 471?484. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2001. DVD.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. 58, 174, 197. Web. <>.

Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. New York: Ballantine Books, 1954?1974. 433. Print.

Yates, Jessica. ?Tolkien as a writer for young adults.? . The Tolkien Society. Web. 27 Jan 2014. <>.

Zimbardo, Philip. ?Why The World Needs Heroes.? Europe?s Journal of Psychology 7.3 (2011): 402?407. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.


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