Sam Gamgee

Samwise Gamgee (T.A. 2983-F.A. 62; S.R. 1383-1482), a fictional character featured in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world Middle-earth, is Frodo Baggins' servant who proves to be the most loyal of the Fellowship of the Ring. A gardener by trade, who also knows a bit about rope making, Sam seems to be a simple Hobbit of plain speech. However, his love for Elves, his gift for poetry, nurtured by his tutor Bilbo Baggins, and his belief that the world contains greater wonders than most hobbits are aware of 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 Sam'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.



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As "punishment" for eavesdropping on Gandalf's conversation with Frodo regarding the dangers of the One Ring, Sam was made Frodo's first companion on his journey to Rivendell in the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Sam saved Frodo's life more than once during the quest to destroy the Ring, and he accompanied him all the way to Mount Doom.

After Shelob attacked and seemingly killed Frodo, Sam took the Ring intending to complete the quest. Because he held the Ring for a time, he is considered one of the Ring Bearers and addressed as a 'prince of the West', together with Frodo on the Field of Kormallen. The Ring tempted him to use it by giving him a vision of Mordor as a flourishing garden, but he was too level-headed to be taken in.

Sam then discovered that Frodo was alive in the orcs' Tower of Cirith Ungol and rescued him.

After the War of the Ring, he married Rose "Rosie" Cotton back in the Shire. They had thirteen children: Elanor the Fair, Frodo, Rose, Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks, Hamfast, Daisy, Primrose, Bilbo, Ruby, Robin, and Tolman. After Will Whitfoot resigned his post as Mayor of Michel Delving (the largest town in the Shire and the "unofficial capital"), in F.A. 7 or S.R. 1427, Sam was elected Mayor of the Shire for seven consecutive 7-year terms.

After his wife died in the year 62 of the Fourth Age (Shire Reckoning 1482), Sam entrusted the Red Book to Elanor and left Middle-earth to sail across the Sea and be reunited with Frodo in the Undying Lands, where he may also have seen Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel again, though they would eventually die a mortal death.


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."
(in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter)

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."
(in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter)

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."
(Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter)

In the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, pages 1109 and 1111, 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.


In the 1981 BBC radio serial of The Lord of the Rings, Sam is played by William Nighy.

In the movies The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), 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.

Roddy McDowall voiced the character of Samwise Gamgee in the 1980 animated short of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, made directly for television. In the more popular animated version, entitled "The Lord of the Rings", originally released in 1978, Michael Scholes voiced the character of Sam. Both animated versions are available on DVD, and are worth checking out for their interesting takes on the plot.


By many people's interpretation, Sam Gamgee was the "true hero" of Tolkien's story. 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 only the second Ringbearer in the whole history of the Ring strong enough to surrender it voluntarily.

The relationship between Frodo and Sam is, in many respects, at the centre of The Lord of the Rings. To the modern reader, it seems very archaic - it is clearly extremely class-oriented (Sam's humbleness and "plain speaking" is frequently emphasised in contrast to Frodo's "gentility", and he often calls Frodo his "Master"). 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. There has been much speculation over the years about the nature of the relationship, with many suggesting a possible homoerotic element.

Some fans have taken this interpretation to its logical end and have produced some fairly explicit (and 100% unauthorised) slash fiction depicting a gay relationship between Frodo and Sam.

Mainstream Tolkienologists, however, point to a different interpretation: Sam is 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, ed. Humphrey Carpenter).

Compare to the relation between Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza, and the gradual "Quixotization" of Sancho.

Both interpretations highlight different aspects of the unique relationship that Tolkien portrayed. While the 'batman' approach illuminates a contemporary context that Tolkien drew on, it is clear that Sam acts out of love for Frodo as an individual, as much as duty and loyalty to his master, while Frodo in turn invites his friend to live with him in Bag End after the end of the quest. Interpreting their relationship as 'gay' may impose an anachronistic category, foreign to the world of Middle-earth, but can draw on the many gestures of affection and intimacy between the hobbits. The description of their friendship can also be related to the bonds between knights and warriors in medieval epics that are equally fraught with intense emotion and often involve a life-and-death commitment. Overall, the coexistence of these very different readings points to the complexity and depth of Tolkien's portrayal.

Links and URLs

es:Samsagaz Gamyi fr:Samsagace Gamegie it:Samvise Gamgee ja:サムワイズ・ギャムジー pl:Samwise Gamgee sv:Sam Gamgi


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