Samwise “Sam” Gamgee /ˈsæmˌwaɪz ˈɡæmˌdʒiː/ (later known as Samwise Gardner) is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendarium. Samwise is one of the main characters of The Lord of the Rings, in which he fills an archetypal role as the sidekick of the primary protagonist, Frodo Baggins. Sam is a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, which also includes Frodo Baggins, Merry Brandybuck, Pippin Took, Legolas Greenleaf, Gimli son of Gloin, Boromir, Aragorn son of Arathorn, and Gandalf.
At the beginning of the story, Sam is Frodo’s gardener, and is drawn into Frodo’s adventure by Gandalf while eavesdropping on a private conversation. Throughout the story, Sam is Frodo’s steadfast companion and servant, portrayed as both physically and emotionally strong, often pushing Frodo through difficult parts of the journey, and at times physically carrying him when Frodo was too weak to go on. Sam even serves as Ring-bearer for a short time when Frodo is captured; Sam’s emotional strength is again on display as he willingly gives the ring up when Frodo is capable of carrying it again, the only character besides Bilbo Baggins and Tom Bombadil known to resist its pull. Following the War of the Ring Sam returned to the Shire, and returned to his role as gardener, helping to replant the trees which had been destroyed during The Scouring of the Shire. He was elected Mayor of the Shire for seven consecutive terms, and in his old age was one of the last denizens of Middle-earth to be permitted to enter The Undying Lands, an honour accorded to him as one of the Ring-bearers.
Samwise Gamgee is first introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring. Sam is Frodo Baggins’ gardener, having inherited the position as Baggins’ gardener from his father, Hamfast “Gaffer” Gamgee. At the time of the War of the Ring, Sam was living in Number 3, Bagshot Row with his father.
As “punishment” for eavesdropping on Gandalf’s conversation with Frodo regarding the One Ring, Sam was made Frodo’s first companion on his journey to Rivendell. They were joined by Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, Frodo’s cousins, and journeyed together to Rivendell, where the Council of Elrond took place and Sam joined the Fellowship of the Ring.
When the Fellowship was split up at the Falls of Rauros, Sam insisted on accompanying Frodo. Sam protected and cared for Frodo, who was growing weaker under the Ring’s influence, as they moved through the dangerous lands toward Mordor. Sam distrusted Gollum, who became their guide into Mordor. His suspicions were proven right when Gollum betrayed them to the giant spider Shelob. After Shelob apparently killed Frodo, Sam drove her off. When a band of orcs approached, Sam was forced to leave the apparently dead Frodo and take the Ring himself, and briefly became a Ring-bearer. He was momentarily tempted by its promise of power, but did not succumb to it, subsequently rescuing Frodo (who had only been paralysed) from the Orcs who held him captive. Sam also returned the Ring to Frodo, making him the only Ring-bearer to freely give up the Ring without intervention. The two then journeyed alone through Mordor and into the heart of Mount Doom, where Gollum attacked Frodo and reclaimed the Ring, only to inadvertently destroy both it and himself by falling into the mountain’s lava.
After the hobbits’ return home and the Battle of Bywater, Sam travelled the length and breadth of the Shire replanting trees that had been cut down during Saruman’s brief reign. He used the gift of earth given to him by the Lady Galadriel, which caused the saplings he planted to grow at an accelerated rate. The small amount remaining he took to the Three-Farthing Stone (roughly the centre of the Shire) and cast into the air, prompting the bountiful period of growth starting in the spring of the year 1420 (Shire Reckoning). The greatest wonder was a young mallorn tree sprouting in the Party Field: “the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea” (grown from a nut included as part of Galadriel’s gift).
After the War of the Ring, Sam married Rose “Rosie” Cotton and moved to Bag End with Frodo. Sam and Rosie had 13 children: Elanor the Fair, Frodo, Rose, Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks, Hamfast, Daisy, Primrose, Bilbo, Ruby, Robin, and Tolman (Tom). Sam was elected Mayor of the Shire for seven consecutive seven-year terms and came to be known as Samwise Gardner.
After Sam and Rose’s first child was born, Frodo told Sam he would leave Middle-earth, along with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and most of the remaining High Elves, for the Undying Lands. Before Frodo left, he gave the estate of Bag End to Sam, as well as the Red Book of Westmarch for Sam to continue, hinting that Sam might also be allowed to travel into the West eventually.
After the death of his wife in the year 62 of the Fourth Age (Shire Reckoning 1482), Sam entrusted the Red Book to Elanor and left the Shire at the age of 102. He was not seen again in Middle-earth, but Elanor and her descendants preserved the tradition that he went to the Grey Havens and sailed into the West. As the last of the Ring-bearers, he was entitled to sail across the Sea and be reunited with Frodo in the Undying Lands.
At the start of The Lord of the Rings Sam, typically for a hobbit, had never before ventured far from the immediate area where he lived. Unusually for a hobbit, however, since childhood Sam was fond of legends and other fantastical stories. Sam was particularly interested in the Elves, and always hoped to one day see one. Sam was literate, having been taught by Bilbo and Frodo, which was unusual for most hobbits given their rustic culture. Sam often showed a talent for poetry; after Gandalf’s apparent death, Sam added to the poem that Frodo had written about him.
Tolkien called Sam the “chief hero” of the saga in one of his letters: he places special emphasis on Sam’s “rustic love” for Rosie, a union that serves to establish a family in which allusions to Elvish wonders (embodied in Sam’s daughter Elanor) are combined with the best qualities of traditional Shire-life. Sam and his descendants also became the keepers of the history of the War of the Ring (in the form of the Red Book of Westmarch) and upheld the memory of events that most ‘ordinary’ hobbits took little interest in.
Relationship with Frodo
During the journey to destroy the Ring, Sam’s relationship with Frodo exemplifies that of a military servant or batman to his assigned officer in the British Army, in particular in the First World War in which Tolkien had served as an officer, typically with his own batmen at different times. As John Garth has written:
“The relationship between Frodo and Sam closely reflects the hierarchy of an officer and his servant [in the First World War]. Officers had a university education and a middle-class background. Working-class men stayed at the rank of private or at best sergeant. A social gulf divides the literate, leisured Frodo from his former gardener, now responsible for wake-up calls, cooking and packing… Tolkien maps the gradual breakdown of restraint [through prolonged peril] until Sam can take Frodo in his arms and call him “Mr Frodo, my dear.” ”
Tolkien wrote in a private letter:
“My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself”.
“Sam was cocksure, and deep down a little conceited; but his conceit had been transformed by his devotion to Frodo. He did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable – except in his service and loyalty to his master.” (letter to Mrs. Eileen Elgar in September 1963)
Names and titles
In the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien says the “true” or Westron form of Sam’s name is Banazîr Galbasi (also spelt Galpsi). As with “Samwise”, 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”. In his role as “translator” of the Red Book of Westmarch, Tolkien devised a strict English translation, Samwís Gamwich, which develops into Samwise Gammidgy and eventually comes to Samwise Gamgee in modern English.
Frodo affectionately dubbed him “Samwise the stouthearted”. The appendix of The Return of the King says that in F.A. 7 (S.R. 1427), Sam was elected Mayor of the Shire for the first of seven consecutive seven-year terms.