I’m the luckiest nerd alive: my school offers an undergraduate course that is focused on two Nerd Bibles: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter series. I know. I’m dreaming. I’m also the worst nerd alive, because until I started taking this class I hadn’t read any of Tolkien’s books or seen any of the movies, mostly because I wasn’t much of a fantasy reader in high school and I didn’t want to sit through a six-year-long movie. So my first read-through of The Fellowship of the Ring was required. I opened the cover with secret glee, aware that I was holding the first volume of what some consider a perfect story.
And… I didn’t like it. I didn’t see what the big deal was about. I had a hard time reading Tolkien’s language. I didn’t care about the Ring. As an auditory learner, I hated that it took me several tries to mentally pronounce words of Middle-Earth. But when I went to class, the students said the same thing that my friends have been telling me for years: this is a literary masterpiece, et cetera, et cetera. I just didn’t get it. My love for playing devil’s advocate served me well that day; otherwise, that class would’ve just been seventy-five minutes of excited boys and girls gushing over this book. They didn’t mention anything that I found overly exciting. Rich backstory of Middle-Earth? Pass. Vivid descriptions? Not something I look for in literature. Legends, Elves, and magic? Nope.
I spent a few weeks in disappointment and put off reading The Two Towers as long as I could. I wasn’t ready to have my heart broken again by a book that many consider sacred text. So I spent my time reading some of the critiques that we were required to read and analyze for the class. At that point, it sounded better than stumbling through Two Towers – and I’m very, very grateful that I did. One of those essays changed my perspective on The Lord of the Rings completely, because I found something I can love: the relationships between the main characters. I read through Fellowship again, and pressed forward into Two Towers with a brand-new perspective. I didn’t let myself get bogged down by expectation or language or anything else. Instead, I focused on the group dynamics within the members of the fellowship. I love these books now. I love watching the fellowship operate like a big family, where Gandalf is the father figure, Pippin is the little brother, and Aragorn is the big brother and role model.
But my absolute favorite thing in Lord of the Rings is the relationship between Sam and Frodo. As a writer, I read a lot, and friendship – friendship, non-romantic relationships with another creature – isn’t a focus in young adult or adult fiction, at least not that I can tell. We’re obsessed with the idea of romance. So to see two people dedicated to one another, helping one another accomplish a task and caring for one another like brothers, is refreshing.
While I’m thinking about it, I’d like to send an online kick-in-the-groin to anyone who claims that Sam and Frodo are gay. That’s a huge flaw in our society: we can’t deal with a male/male friendship without calling it gay because it’s emotional. Yes, Sam and Frodo are emotional creatures. All of Tolkien’s characters are. People are so obsessed with and subscribed to the idea of romantic relationships in books that they can’t read a text without a love affair!
I’m most in love with Samwise Gamgee. I love his loyalty. I love that he calls Frodo “Mr. Frodo” through all three books with the exception of one time. I love that Sam follows Frodo to destroy the ring when nobody else will. When I grow up, I want to be someone’s Sam Gamgee. End of story. I just hope that I can find someone, male or female, that I can love, serve and protect like Sam had in Frodo – not romantically, but with a deeper kind of love that’s harder to explain.
In class today, when we were discussing the article that changed everything for me, my teacher said that she was bothered by Sam’s subservient attitude. Sam spends his life as Frodo’s gardener; he was brought up as a servant. He was trained to call Frodo “Mr. Frodo”, and he’s happy to do so. It comforts him. My professor said that she thinks Tolkien wrote too conservatively by making poor men like Sam so happy to serve the wealthy like Frodo. I disagree with that. I think that service, especially to the extent that Sam takes it, transcends class. Loyalty of that kind – sacrificing life, limb and sanity – requires more than a servant’s mentality whether he’s happy or not. Sam is just an extremely good friend. He keeps and protects Frodo in ways that the master doesn’t even know.
I try not to get too emotionally involved in required reading because I’m trying to study my craft. But some scenes in the Lord of the Rings books broke down the analyst inside me and brought out my soul. There’s a passage in Two Towers that I’d like to frame and put up above my desk:
“Gollum disappeared. He was away for some time, and Frodo after a few mouthfuls of lembas settled deep into the brown fern and went to sleep. Sam looked at him. The early daylight was only just creeping down into the shadows under the trees, but he saw his master’s face very clearly, and his hands, too, lying at rest on the ground beside him. He was reminded suddenly of Frodo as he had lain, asleep in the house of Elrond, after his deadly wound. Then as he had kept watch Sam had noticed that at times a light seemed to be shining faintly within; but now the light was clearer and stronger. Frodo’s face was peaceful, the marks of fear and care had left it; but it looked old, old and beautiful, as if the chiseling of the shaping years was now revealed in many fine lines that had before been hidden, though the identity of the face was not changed. Not that Sam Gamgee put it that way to himself. He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured: ‘I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.’”(Tolkien, 274)
This is my new favorite passage of writing. It’s so sacred that I won’t even describe why. I’m not qualified to.
The Lord of the Rings is a human saga with few human characters. I’m glad that I gave it a second chance. Not only have I learned mechanics and storytelling from a great writer, I’ve found a cast of characters that can serve as a guide in both my writing and my life.
Word Count: 951
1. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. Chantham: W & J Mackay Limited, 1979. Book.