In class Monday, I was particularly moved by a question someone raised near the end of our conversation about Sam: Why must he be a formal servant, rather than merely a friend who serves? I think the best way to answer this is to return to and expand upon a point raised during our discussion of choice and the power of the Ring. That day, we mentioned that perhaps Sam (like Bombadil) is able to resist the temptation of the Ring because he does not desire domination, and that drive to achieve power over others is what allows the Ring to take hold of a bearer’s mind. Sam does not need to be master of anything or anyone, as he already has a master himself. Based on this, Sam must truly be an actual servant because he is the one character most firmly set in opposition to Sauron himself. In class, we drew connections between many of the characters listed on the board (eg. Gollum and Sam), but I think we missed one of the most striking oppositional pairs. Sauron is the ultimate depiction of master or lord, and Sam is the ultimate embodiment of the servant.
First, consider Sam’s situation. It is interesting that while one of the “messages” of Lord of the Rings is often described in terms of seemingly insignificant people being able to have great influence on the world, people tend to assume this is intended in reference to Frodo. Though, admittedly, Frodo is the “common man,” he is not an entirely unlikely hero; as we discovered while forming our list in class today, he actually fits many of the typical fantasy hero descriptors. Still less than Frodo though is his servant -- one who holds one of the lowest positions in life’s hierarchy (and not coincidentally, the same role Christ is often described as having). Moreover, Sam never committed himself to the quest and epic adventure for its own sake, or for the sake of duty or worthwhile goals, or any other such explanation that may explain the involvement of the other eight members of the Fellowship. His commitment was not to the adventure but to Frodo: his master.
Sam does not desire greatness for himself, nor does he wish for domination with the Ring. While in Mordor, he even realizes (in Book Six, Chapter One) that with the power of the Ring he could rule over a whole realm of gardens. Yet he quickly resists the temptation, recognizing that all he really needs or desires is “the one small garden of a free gardener.” In this moment of temptation, “it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm.” Sam does not desire domination, because he has found greater love in servitude.
Meanwhile, there is Sauron: the Lord of the Rings, the nemesis of the free world for the sole reason that he desires most of all to be its master and dominator. Rather than being fuelled by love and humility (notable Christian values) as Sam is, the development of Sauron’s desire to control comes as his “lust and pride increased, until he knew no bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle Earth” (Silmarillion p. 289). Through his sins (both lust and pride, and also the greatest evil: the will to control the wills of others), Sauron encompasses the notions of power and the ideal master. His character and motivations are the direct opposites of Sam’s.
Given Tolkien’s focus on the notion of subcreation, we should also compare the greatest act of creation that Sauron and Sam each individually commit. Sauron, of course, creates the Ring: a source of power, and also an act of creation that embodies a willful desire to deceive and control others. The Ring is all the sin and evil associated with Sauron’s status as master made physical in the form of an object. Sam’s greatest creation, meanwhile, comes in repairing the Shire when he sows trees and plants (including the mallorn). Although this almost seems to contradict Sam’s previously stated desire to not have a large garden, it is essential to see that this is not HIS garden. Sam does not plant these trees for himself, or as a way to manipulate or dominate anyone. If we are to classify the act as anything, I would consider it a service: a service to his fellow hobbits, and to the homeland and ideals which Sam loves. Again, then, we see Sam acting out of service and love, while Sauron only desires domination and greed. Sam is the perfect example of a subcreator, while Sauron’s act seems to disrupt all creation, perhaps trying to usurp creation rather than add to it in his own way.
Overall, I believe it’s important to establish Sam as a character who does not merely practice service to others, but who is in every sense a formal and actual servant who embodies the proper ideals of servitude: love and humility. With Sauron set as the primary force of evil within the Lord of the Rings trilogy (with his status as master serving as the title, even), Sam establishes a source of inherent opposition to him that the other characters cannot. It is often said that Frodo never would have made it to Mount Doom without Sam, and it is true: the ultimate servant was needed to overcome the ultimate master.