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Esther J. Recksiek
ENG 375R
January 24, 2006

The Quests of Sam and Gollum for the Happy Life
by Jorge J.E. Gracia

Tolkien stated that one of his purposes in writing The Lord of the Rings was "the elucidation of truth, and the encouragement of good morals in this real world" (Letters, 194). Jorge J.E.Gracia's essay "The Quests of Sam and Gollum for the Happy Life" chooses to explore two characters from the novel that at first seem mismatched and even awkward when placed in a context together. Gracia believes that through Sam and Gollum "we can perhaps learn something important about how to achieve happiness for ourselves" (62). He attempts to illustrate for the reader "the old truth" (71) that:

For humans as well as for hobbits, happiness requires fellowship with others, and it is in love for others that we can maintain our course toward it and achieve it. It is by forgetting ourselves that we earn the good life and it is by giving that we receive (71).

Gracia wants us to be able to identify with the characters Sam and Gollum in our personal life. He wants us to put ourselves into the story and make a personal connection. Gracia suggests that the heroic characters of Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn are too difficult to learn from because they are extraordinary beings. He feels that we find ourselves observing them from a distance and "are too removed from the reality in which they exist to understand fully what they are about, or to empathize with their successes and failures" (61). I would disagree that they are too difficult to learn from, particularly in the case of Frodo, but for the sake of his argument I accede this premise in order to narrow the discussion.

Gracia feels that we can truly learn something from Sam and Gollum because they are "closer to our size" (61). He believes that we can relate to them on a more intimate and personal level. We can accompany their quests, observe their difficulties, desires, and temptations and make a personal connection. Gracia makes a good argument that:

They are good and bad in ordinary senses we can grasp, and their search for a happy life, whether successful or in vain, is also within our limited understanding. They are not wizards, kings, or mighty warriors; they are ordinary beings who succeed and fail, just like us, and who have to make do with ordinary resources (62).

Gracia juxtaposes the quests of Sam and Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Lord of the Rings. Gollum "represents the good gone bad, something which is always intriguing for those of us who are struggling to stay with the first. Sam represents the good that stays good even under temptation. Both Sam and Gollum want the same thing: to be happy. Both work hard at it. But only one of them succeeds: Sam reaches his goal and Gollum ends in disaster"(62).

First, Gracia establishes through Tolkein's text the fact that essentially both Gollum and Sam share the same nature. They are both hobbits and have a similar culture and much in common. Therefore, Gracia concludes, "it makes sense for us to ask how they can be happy and whether we can follow a similar path" (63).

Secondly, Gracia clarifies his assumption that we all want to be happy and so do Sam and Gollum. Gollum wants the Ring of Power, his precious. He wants a possession, an object. He wants it for himself alone. Sam is more complicated. At first he wants adventure and to see elves and exotic creatures like Oliphants. "But more deeply, what he really wants is to be back in the Shire, the place he cares for more than any other" (65) with Rosie and his friends. "Sam's desires involve others. . . There is a social dimension to the happiness of Sam" (65).

The contrast between Sam and Gollum's choices and motivations is well thought out and illustrated. In their pursuit of their goals, Gollum "depends on the destruction of others and his enjoyment of solitude. . . He lives away from his land, time, and kin" (66). Sam, on the other hand, is always giving. He is generous, caring, and protective of Frodo. And in the end of the story he shares his seed box with the whole Shire. "His thought is always for others" (66).

I think this is a very significant point for Gracia's thesis. Sam is not an extrovert like Merry or Pippin. He is not the life of the party and seeks no special attention or recognition. In fact, he is a quiet individual who appears to be merely a side-kick character taking only a supporting role in the novel. Because of this, Sam can illustrate best the idea that service to another, dedication or devotion to another and brotherly love can bring happiness. They are not exclusive to those who are noticeably sociable.

A fellowship or friendship means you have a friend or a select group of friends or loved ones to whom you are devoted, for whom you labor or sacrifice in this life. And the fellowship need never end. Trials and travails may appear to shatter its bonds. But fellowship is a state of an individual's heart and mind. Events may obscure its dimensions, but the fellowship can still hold true-even in The Lord of the Rings. One individual may fail and break faith and turn self-inward, but his choices do not define the fellowship of the others, their heart, their attitude, and their labors. One person may be despitefully used, but he does not need to then respond in like manner.

In The Lord of the Rings the members of the fellowship remained true to their personal commitments to the fellowship even though on the surface it appeared broken. On separate or joined paths their efforts were for the success of the fellowship, and ultimately Middle earth. Aragorn committed himself to the Fellowship and his part in the mission. He remained true even as events seemed to dictate its demise.

"But now Boromir has taken his road, and we must make haste to choose our own (TT, 408). . . now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!(TT, 409) . . .With hope or without hope we will follow the trail of our enemies. And woe to them, if we prove the swifter! We will make such a chase as shall be accounted a marvel among the Three Kindreds: Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Forth the Three Hunters!" Like a deer he sprang away. Through the trees he sped. On and on he led them, tireless and swift, now that his mind was at last made up. (TT, 410)

In the end all who were part of the Fellowship had special ties to one another. As they worked and fought together their affection, respect, and commitment grew for one another. Therefore, at the end of their labors each received special tributes for their part in the Fellowship as written in the appendices.

Brother/sisterhood in the largest sense is the theme of Gracia's article. It is an attitude to life itself. It is the way someone is connected to humanity or to his fellowmen or to even one single fellowman. Gollum's focus is inward, self-directed, and self-absorbed. Sam's focus is outside of himself devoted to the awareness of another's hopes, needs, and well-being.

Probably the most interesting observation of Jorge J. E. Gracia, is that in the pursuit of happiness:

Sam is not unhappy. At times, Sam is troubled, worried, hungry, exhausted, afraid, sad, frustrated, and even in pain. But Tolkien never tells us that he is unhappy or that he is even seriously tempted to turn back from the Quest that brought him into difficulties. Just the contrary. He is single minded and steadfast. And even in the greatest crisis he faces, when he thinks Frodo is dead and he is all alone, rather than considering cutting his losses and running, his main thought is to complete the task he and Frodo had undertaken, to 'see it through' (TT,p.386).

The situation with Gollum is just the reverse. He seems to be in a permanent state of unhappiness. He suffers, like Sam from all sorts of difficulties, but the source of his misery is not these. He is dissatisfied, vulnerable, and unable to find peace and relief in life (RK, p.238). Gandalf describes him to Frodo as 'altogether wretched" . . . it is a life constituted of 'endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment. . .'(H, p. 87) (64-5).

Gracia emphasizes again and again that Sam's goal or attachment is not to an object but to others. Sam's goal is fellowship with family and friends. "He loves Frodo. And this love translates into loyalty" (67). In contrast, Gollum's love for Deagol and Frodo ends in betrayal. It is a distortion of love. The only thing Gollum loves is the Ring. "Gollum's desire for the Ring makes him betray the love he was supposed to have for his friend Deagol, whom he murders in order to steal the Ring. His misunderstanding of love is clear in the encounter in which he repeatedly calls Deagol his love, even while he is strangling him" (68).

As Gracia considers the facts that "Sam ends up happy, and Gollum ends up not just in misery but in destruction" (64), he reviews the consequences to the desires of Gollum and Sam. We picture the dark and slimy body and the enlarged, pale and luminous eyes of Gollum. "He talks to himself and sometimes makes no distinction between himself and his precious Ring" (66). He is confused as to his own identity. We see Sam, on the other hand, transform "from a rather immature and simple hobbit . . . into a resourceful servant, a loyal companion, a fierce guardian, and a loving friend" (67).

Probably the highlight of Gracia's essay is his illustration of the great truth that it is love that makes it possible for an individual to resist temptation.

Sam is tempted by the Ring when Frodo is paralyzed by Shelob, and he takes the ring from Frodo in order to escape from the orcs that teem in the area. All of a sudden he desires the Ring for reasons similar to the ones we saw in Gollum. He sees himself as 'Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call sees a transformation in the world brought about by him, Gorgoroth changed into a garden of flowers. He could do it, just put the Ring on and claim it for his own, and this fantasy would become a reality. How could he resist? Gollum could not. They are both Hobbits and thus endowed with a plain sense of their limitations, but Sam resists and Gollum gives in. What makes the difference? Sam's love of his master, Tolkien tells us. It is the love that Sam has for Frodo that makes it possible for him to resist temptation (70).

Jorge J. E. Gracia makes a compelling point in his juxtaposition of the Quests of Sam and Gollum that what a person sets his heart upon makes all the difference. It affects not just the ultimate end or realization of the Quest, but the Questing itself. The consequences are there during the entire journey. Sam grew personally in inner stature, in self-confidence, and in depth of feeling. He stands as an example to us in his humility, his willingness to be taught, and his singleness of focus to fulfill his commitments and obligations. We do not witness an unhappy Sam. We see him weighed with concern for others and burdened with hardship. But in the saga, the strongest image is Sam's loyalty and love for another. His first thought was for Frodo. He forgot himself and was committed to serve another. That love for another gave him the strength to resist the temptation of the Ring and kept him on the path toward happiness.

In conclusion, Gracia states that:

For ordinary people like you or me, happiness is achievable only in a social context and its key is love. And love expresses itself in loyalty and sharing, not in possession. . .

For humans as well as for hobbits, happiness requires fellowship with others, and it is in love for others that we can maintain our course toward it and achieve it. It is by forgetting ourselves that we earn the good life and it is by giving that we receive (71).

Love and service for another, for a brother, helped Sam achieve happiness. I, too, profoundly believe that love and service for another, for a brother, can help us achieve happiness.


Question #1: How can we make a connection to the name SamWISE?

Question #2: How could we add the idea of captivity versus liberty to this comparison? Add it to unhappy versus happy? Wretchedness, misery versus peace? (quote on page 3)


"The Quests of Sam and Gollum for the Happy Life"
Supplemental Material

He that findeth his life shall lose it;
and he that loseth his life for my sakeshall find it..
Matthew 10:39

"The Tower of Cirith Ungol"

(877) Sam roused himself painfully from the ground. For a moment he wondered where he was, and then all the misery and despair returned to him.

. . . no thought could yet bring any help to Samwise Hamfast's son; he was utterly alone.

(880) Desperate as that road might be, his task was now far worse: not to avoid the gate and escape, but to enter it, alone.

(881) In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm . . .

He crept on . . .

(882) Hardening his will Sam thrust forward once again . . .

(884) Up, up he went. . .

(887) Sam began to climb. . .

'A dead end,' muttered Sam; 'and after all my climb! This can't be the top of the tower. . . .'

He longed only for his master, for one sight of his face or one touch of his hand. At last, weary and feeling finally defeated . . . he felt the darkness cover him like a tide. And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell, Sam began to sing.

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