In class, we touched on the different forms of love that are present in The Lord of the Rings. We talked somewhat extensively about the (perhaps misplaced) love that Eowyn has for Aragorn, as well as the romantic love between Aragorn and Arwen. The love between Frodo and Sam, however, is a different beast altogether. I think this relationship is much more complex than a simple love a servant may have for his master and is best analyzed in two different lights: that of the ‘brotherly love’ of philia and the unconditional love of agape.
It is easiest to understand what is meant by philia through some examples, particularly those relevant to the relationship between Frodo and Sam. Talking about philia in Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says “But there is another kind of friendship, viz. that which involves an inequality between the parties, e. g. that of father to son and in general of elder to younger, that of man to wife and in general that of ruler to subject,” (Ethics 1158b11). This immediately seems applicable to Frodo and Sam, and is largely the sense of love that we discussed in class (the comparison to a World War I captain and his porter comes to mind). Frodo and Sam’s relationship at the beginning of the journey is inherently asymmetric: Sam begins (and remains) Frodo’s servant and gardener. This does not imply, of course, that the extent of their relationship is that of a master-servant relationship. Indeed, as Aristotle says, such a relationship easily develops into the friendship of philia which results in different types of fulfillment for both parties involved. Aristotle also provides a few examples of such type of love, notably stating that “men address as friends their fellow voyagers and fellow soldiers,” (Ethics 1159b27). Again, given the context of the story, this seems extremely applicable to Frodo and Sam.
Viewing the Hobbits’ relationship through the framework set up by Aristotle, as seems reasonable, we can gain a few insights into its significance. Such a love between two unequal people, according to Aristotle, has a sort of uplifting effect on the ‘inferior’ of the relationship – “It is in this way more than any other that even unequals can be friends; they can be equalized,” (Ethics 1159b1). By this, Aristotle means that each member of such a relationship gets out of the relationship fulfillment in proportion to their own qualities. Sam, through his love and service to Frodo, is elevated to something above what he was at the beginning. We clearly see this through the course of their journey: Sam starts as essentially an archetypal Hobbit (not very adventurous or ‘simple’), and by the end he has become a hero in his own right. His character development is largely motivated (although, it should be noted, not exclusively) by his desire to serve Frodo, and that desire itself arises out of Sam’s love for him. Frodo, too, is uplifted by his love for Sam over the course of their travels. Frodo frequently is pushed onward and encouraged and even carried by Sam, and would not have reached Mt. Doom without him. This type of relationship is quite succinctly summarized by Aristotle thusly: “friendship asks a man to do what he can, not what is proportional to the merits of the case … but the man who serves [his friend] to the utmost of his powers is thought to be a good man,” (Ethics 1163b17). Frodo and Sam serve each other as they can, and each is uplifted because of this.
This “brotherly love” seems to accurately describe the type of relationship described in class. While it is no doubt applicable, I argue that the notion of agape sheds a different light on the relationship between Frodo and Sam. Agape is exemplified by the divine love that God has for humans, but also that love that humans have for God. When directed towards other humans, this type of love has its root in a love of God. In a sense, we direct this love of the divine towards other humans on earth. The notion of Frodo as a Christ figure was briefly mentioned in class, but I think such an idea is very relevant here. If Frodo had Christ-like qualities (even unintentionally so, as he admittedly hated allegory), then Sam’s love for him naturally may reflect some of the qualities of this love of God. Further, agape is frequently described as unconditional – it is the love that Christians are called to have for all people, even their enemies. While Frodo is of course no enemy to Sam, I think it is still fair to characterize his love as unconditional, especially considering the great trials he goes through for it.
This distinction becomes meaningful when we consider the aspects in which agape differs from philia. There is a sacrificial aspect to agape, as evidence in the Gospel of John – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16). Here love is meant in the sense of agape. It is a love that drives one to sacrifice greatly for the object of the love. Sam is, of course, the perfect example of such a sacrifice. He is willing to give up those things he holds most dear – the Shire, Rosie, gardening, etc – to follow and serve Frodo in Mordor. Furthermore, he does so with no true expectation of reciprocity. To be sure, he enjoys Frodo’s companionship and friendship, yet his love for Frodo persists even after he may no longer reasonable expect to enjoy such things. The episode in Cirith Ungol perfectly exemplifies this: Sam takes the Ring, but through his love for Frodo he can overcome both its temptation and the despair of having ‘lost’ his master long enough to discover that he had not truly lost him at all. In these instances, Sam fully loves Frodo with “all of [his] heart, all of [his] soul, and all of [his] spirit,” (Matthew 22:37). The lack of reciprocity is the main distinguishing factor between this love and that of philia, and likely the most important in its implications. Sam loves Frodo unconditionally with no expectation of receiving such love in return. If Frodo is really Christ figure, then Sam is truly a model ‘Christian’.
Such notions of love were likely known to Tolkien, even if he did not explicitly incorporate them in his work. It is likely that Frodo and Sam's relationship cannot be easily placed into either framework, but rather that each highlights different yet important aspects of their love. Being as devout a Catholic as he was, it isn’t unreasonable that Christ’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” was on his mind. In this context, it does seem that Sam’s love is an attempt to represent how a man may express such a divine love. Tolkien himself states that, while he did not write The Lord of the Rings with a theme in mind, “it is only in reading the work myself (with criticisms in mind), that I become aware of the dominance of the theme of Death,” (Letters 267). Much of his work deals with how mortal creatures live their lives in the face of an eventual death. What role do these types of love play in such a life? There is likely no definitive conclusion reached by Tolkien, but C.S. Lewis offers an apt summary in his essay The Four Loves: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Aristotle. Introduction to Aristotle. "Nicomachean Ethics" Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1947. Print. Modern Library College Editions.
The Bible (New American Bible Revised Edition)
Tolkien, J. R. R., Humphrey Carpenter, and Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.