I’m doing my semi-annual re-reading of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and as it happened to fall over Tolkien Reading Day (or Ring Destruction Day, if you like), I thought I would share a little observation I had about Sam Gamgee this time around.
If you are familiar with the story at all, you will know that Sam plays a quiet but important role in it. Indeed it can be argued that by the end of the story Sam is nearly the main character. He becomes Ring-bearer for a time, is the only one of the three Hobbits to give up the Ring unaided, and without Sam’s faithfulness and courage the quest never would have finished.
And yet. How does this all-important figure become part of the journey? He is eavesdropping, partly out of curiosity. Sam has a longing to see the elves, and a strong interest in all of Bilbo’s stories; when Gandalf relates to Frodo the history of the Ring, Sam cannot help but listen. Gandalf “punishes” Sam’s eavesdropping by declaring he shall go with Frodo, but this is not much of a punishment to Sam: “‘Me to go see Elves and all! Hurray’ he shouted” (63).
Sometimes, a journey begins with a longing. One so strong you might find yourself eavesdropping just to learn more about it. And perhaps you will find your longing fulfilled. Sam does not have to wait long to see Elves. Before they even leave the Shire, they fall in with a company of them. And yet, as it turns out, Sam’s desire was just the beginning of something bigger, a fact Sam himself seems to recognize. Frodo asks Sam if he still wants to leave the Shire now that he’s seen Elves, and Sam’s response is the first sign that he’s more than a simple, eager garden boy:
I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know that 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 that I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. (85)
Sometimes, the thing you long for is only the beginning. Notice how Sam recognizes that he still wants to go, though he doesn’t know why: “I have something to do before the end,” is all he can say. How many of us, on achieving that thing we’ve dreamed about for years, stop? Say, I’ve seen the Elves, I don’t need anything more. Imagine how differently the quest would be if Sam had said, “yes, I think I’ll go home now.”
I think we forget sometimes that life is a journey with no destination. You’re not “done” when you get that relationship, or job, or degree, or promotion; that’s just phase one. It prepares you for the next step in the journey.
In fact, seeing the Elves so soon into the journey, before it gets difficult or dangerous or even uncomfortable, is a good thing for Sam. He shifts his focus from an experience, a bucket list item, to something higher – a purpose, a vocation, even. He’s no longer a tourist, but an actor in this journey. I would imagine that, as things get darker and stretch him even farther out of his comfort zone, knowing that he has a purpose makes it easier for Sam to endure the challenges, and keep going on the journey.
I challenge you, as I challenge myself: have you cut your journey short? Or is it a series of bucket list items, things to check off? Or are you journeying towards a “something to do,” and letting each step along the way prepare you for that?