The Hero’s Sidekick

Samwise2Everyone needs a good sidekick—the person who stands by you through everything and helps you out when you are at your lowest. This certainly holds true for Heroes.

In archetypal terms the Sidekick is the faithful and loyal companion to the Hero. What would a classic Hero be without his Sidekick? In fact, there are some Heroes who wouldn’t make it through their adventure without the help of their loyal Sidekick! They’d run out of food or get captured or even simply lose hope. Even when a Hero has a group of companions around him (think Frodo and the Fellowship or Luke Skywalker and the Rebels or Harry Potter with his friends in Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix), he often leaves that larger group of companions and sets off with just his Sidekick.

Of course, when it comes to fighting the Ultimate Bad Guy, the Hero even has to leave his Sidekick behind. However, without the faithful and loyal Sidekick, the Hero would never make it to the Ultimate Bad Guy at all and we wouldn’t have much of a story.

Today I want to talk about the character I think is the best Sidekick…Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings.

Some people see Sam as the Hero, and he certainly does heroic things over the course of the story, but in terms of archetypes and in the language of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Sam is not a Hero. Everything Sam does that is heroic he does because of Frodo. If not for Frodo, Sam would not be on the journey. Frodo is given the task, Sam follows. Frodo is the Ring-Bearer; Sam helps him bear the burden. I will talk about Frodo in another post, because he is a complicated Hero.

Sam and Frodo leave The Shire.
Sam and Frodo leave The Shire.

In The Lord of the Rings Sam Gamgee is Frodo’s gardener, his friend, and his most faithful companion. Sam is the best example of a Sidekick. Sam is a provincial and unadventurous Hobbit who has never traveled outside of The Shire, but he accompanies Frodo on his journey because Frodo needs someone to look out for him. Sam helps Frodo even though the road is dangerous. When Frodo decides that he must go to Mordor alone because he knows the Ring will work it’s destruction on the Fellowship, Sam goes with him even though they don’t know how to get there and it will be terribly dangerous. The faithful Sidekick follows the Hero no matter what:

“Oh, Mr. Frodo, that’s hard!” said Sam shivering. “That’s hard, trying to go without me and all. If I hadn’t a guessed right, where would you be now?”
“Safely on my way.”
“Safely!” said Sam. “All alone and without me to help you? I couldn’t have borne it, it’d have been the death of me.”

Once Sam gathers up all of his gear and some extra rations Frodo says,
“It is no good trying to escape you…It is plain that we were meant to go together.”

Frodo makes the right decision taking Sam along. Sam is the one who takes over the watch while Frodo sleeps, ensuring that Gollum won’t kill Frodo in his sleep in order to recover the Ring. When Frodo is betrayed by Gollum and captured by the giant spider Shelob, it is Sam who comes to the rescue. He fights and defeats Shelob and saves Frodo from becoming her dinner. When the Mordor Orcs find Frodo’s body, it is Sam’s quick thinking that keeps them from discovering the Ring on Frodo. Sam had taken it. Sam then rescues Frodo from the Orcs.

Sam fights the giant spider Shelob.
Sam fights the giant spider Shelob.

It is also important to note that Sam wore the Ring, had his vision of what his life would be like if he kept it, but he willingly gives it up to Frodo when the time comes. Only one other person had worn the Ring and given it up willingly and that was Bilbo. Sam is also one of the few people who could resist the Ring at all (Gandalf, Galadriel, and Aragorn are the others). If Sam had not had this strength of character to give the Ring back to Frodo, then the quest would have ended right then in the tower at Cirith Ungol.

Finally, when Frodo and Sam are on the plains of Gorgoroth (in the darkest depths of Mordor), Sam helps Frodo physically—he literally helps Frodo march when they are mistaken as runaway Orcs, and he gives Frodo the last of the food and water. He also helps Frodo emotionally and spiritually (this happens from the time they leave the Fellowship). When all hope seems lost Sam tells Frodo a story:

“But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs…I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them…But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t…I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

"I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?"
“I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

It is the Sidekick’s job to keep the Hero going and moving forward despite all odds against him. The most important aspect of Sam’s character, and it is what kept him and Frodo going, is that he never lost HOPE. Not once. It’s a crucial theme in Tolkien’s work—hope. The evil characters try to eradicate it from the world, and the good characters work hard to maintain hope, because they know that without it they will fall into despair.

Amidst the ruin and desolation of Mordor, when Frodo cannot even remember what The Shire looks like or what a gentle breeze feels like on his skin (he is close to becoming consumed by the Ring), Sam remains hopeful,
“But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.”

It is not long after this change that Sam decides that if all else fails he will CARRY Frodo up the mountain to destroy the Ring. When it does come time to carry Frodo, Sam does it with ease. The clarity of his resolve and the hope remaining in his soul, make it so that the burden of Frodo is light on Sam’s shoulders. This is the ultimate sacrifice of the Sidekick. He must carry the load of the Hero to the very doorway of the evil they are trying to destroy.

Sam carries Frodo up Mt. Doom.
Sam carries Frodo up Mt. Doom.

Sam remains loyal to Frodo on the return journey and for years afterward (even naming his son after Frodo). The story even ends with Sam. Frodo, damaged beyond repair by the evil of the Ring, departs for the Grey Havens with the Elves and leaves Sam behind in The Shire. Ever the loyal companion, Sam carries on finishing the book that Frodo started.

What do you think about Sam as a Sidekick? Do you have a favorite Sidekick?

5 thoughts on “The Hero’s Sidekick”

    1. kimberlysbarton

      I think a case can be made for that. I’m thinking more from an archetype point of view. In that respect, he’s a sidekick. Frodo and Aragorn are the heros. Frodo because he carries the Ring. Aragorn because he is the returning king.

  1. One of the things I love so much about the LOTR trilogy is that it is an unrepentant celebration of the little people, the sidekicks, those who fall between the cracks. In other words, the rest of us. Very few of us can be the larger than life Aragorn, but we can all be Sam: loyal, kind, and just in all of the small yet most important ways. I leave those books and movies fantasizing about being Gandalf, but actually trying to be Sam. That is an achievable goal, and perhaps more noble because of that. In the midst of orcs and magic and enchanted weapons, Sam’s “power” is real. We can bring it from the book into our world. A quiet life of love and gardening and writing: I think I could be content with that, and I think the world would be better because I had done that.

    1. kimberlysbarton

      So beautifully put Ben! I agree. I, too, love the books because of the attention on the little people. I think Gandalf says it all in The Hobbit, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Indeed.

  2. Pingback: Fixing the geek archetype chart | Kimberly S Barton

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