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Samwise Gamgee (Third Age April 6, 2983 – Fourth Age 61, Shire Reckoning 1383 – 1482, aged 99 years when he sailed into the West) was Frodo Baggins' servant who proved to be the most loyal of the Fellowship of the Ring.
A gardener by trade, Sam seems to be a simple Hobbit of plain speech. However, his love for Elves, his gift for poetry, and his belief that the world contains greater wonders than most hobbits are aware of (all nurtured by his tutor Bilbo Baggins) set him apart from the beginning. It is Sam who first introduces the theme of the Elves' sailing from Middle-earth, a subtle foreshadowing of Bilbo and Frodo's final journey across the Sea. He lives with his father, Hamfast Gamgee, known as "The Gaffer", on Bagshot Row in the Shire, close to Bag End. Sam's mother is Bell Goodchild; he has five siblings: Hamson, Halfred, Daisy, May, and Marigold.
As "punishment" for eavesdropping on Gandalf's conversation with Frodo regarding the dangers of the One Ring, Sam is made Frodo's first companion on his journey to Rivendell in the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Sam saves Frodo's life more than once during the quest to destroy the Ring, and he accompanies him all the way to Mount Doom.
After the War of the Ring, he marries Rose "Rosie" Cotton back in the Shire. They have thirteen children: Elanor the Fair, Frodo, Rose, Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks, Hamfast, Daisy, Primrose, Bilbo, Ruby, Robin, and Tolman. After Will Whitfoot resigns his post as Mayor of Michel Delving (the largest town in the Shire and the "unofficial capital"), in Fourth Age 7, Sam is elected Mayor of the Shire for seven consecutive 7-year terms.
After his wife dies in Fourth Age 61, Sam entrusts the Red Book to Elanor and leaves Middle-earth to sail across the Sea and be reunited with Frodo in the Undying Lands, though they would eventually die a mortal death.
J.R.R. 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."
- ― The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
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."
- ― The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
He proceeded 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."
- ― J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
In the Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings, it is mentioned that the Westron form of Sam's name is Banazîr Galbasi (also spelled Galpsi). Banazîr comes from elements meaning "halfwise" or "simple". Galbasi comes from the name of the village Galabas. The name Galabas uses the elements galab-, meaning "game", and bas-, corresponding somewhat to "-wich" or "-wick". Tolkien's English translation, Samwís Gamwich, could have come to Samwise Gamgee in modern English.
Portrayal in Adaptations
In Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, released in 1978, Michael Scholes was the voice for Sam. Roddy McDowall voiced the character in the 1980 animated short of Rankin/Bass' The Return of the King.
In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, 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.
Sam Gamgee is by many regarded as the "true hero" of Tolkien's story. Tolkien himself expressed this view in one of his letters: Sam is referred to as the "chief hero", and special emphasis is placed on Sam's "rustic love" for Rosie.1 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 one of two Ringbearers strong enough to surrender the Ring voluntarily.
The relationship between Frodo and Sam is, in many respects, at the center of The Lord of the Rings. To the modern reader, it seems archaic, as it is extremely class-oriented. Sam's humbleness and "plain speaking" is frequently emphasised in contrast to Frodo's "gentility", and he often shows deference to Frodo, calling him "Mister Frodo". At the same time, a strong bond of love and trust grows between them, portrayed most poignantly during the events of Cirith Ungol, where Sam vows to return to his (apparently) dead master, to be reunited with Frodo in death.
Tolkienists regard Sam as 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
- In the long summary-letter sent to Milton Waldman, published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien as #131.
|Members of the Fellowship of the Ring|
|Frodo · Sam · Merry · Pippin · Gandalf · Aragorn · Legolas · Gimli · Boromir|