It’s almost comical how little play the action of The Lord of the Rings gets in the text of The Silmarillion. Everyone comes to the latter text after reading the former and, knowing it to be something of a history or legendarium, looks forward to seeing the exploits of their favorite hobbits written down in the high-style of the elves.
And then, there are only a few sentences about the War, and about the entire quest of Frodo and Sam, we get only this:
For Frodo the Halfling, it is said, at the bidding of Mithrandir took on himself the burden, and alone with his servant he passed through peril and darkness and came at last in Sauron’s despite even to Mount Doom; and there into the Fire where it was wrought he cast the Great Ring of Power, and so at last it was unmade and its evil consumed.
This comes 377 pages into my edition. This casts the rest of the Silmarillion in a proper epic light. If the entire action of the Lord of the Rings can be summed up in under a page, then the rest of the history of Arda and Middle Earth stretches on into the horizon of the past seemingly endlessly. Tolkien deliberately used these kinds of devices to create depth. Names of heroes and long-lost places and epic tales are dropped into the text, as if the reader knew what they referred to. It creates the illusion of distance. Of course, often it wasn’t illusory. Tolkien as we know developed his world to astonishing levels of detail.
One thing Cory Olsen mentions is how “Sam fans” might dislike this passage for the short shrift it gives to Frodo’s “servant.” After all, it’s Sam who saves Frodo’s life time and again, and Sam who carries Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom. He doesn’t even rank getting named? He’s just some servant? He’s Sam! He’s important!
This brings up another thing that makes some people bristle: the very fact that Sam is Frodo’s servant. This makes many modern people uncomfortable, especially Americans. [The film versions only vaguely reference Sam’s social status, casting him more as the somewhat more rustic version of Frodo. In the books it is explicit: Sam is from a lower social class and he “works for Frodo,” who is the hobbit equivalent of a landed gentleman.]
My Tolkien-loving fellow American friend told me he really dislikes how subservient Sam is. But Cory Olsen points out why this is so. The LOTR is a story about humility (among many other things, of course). Only Frodo is humble enough to carry the ring and only Sam is humble enough to carry the carrier of the ring. Gandalf does not ride into Mordor on the back of Shadowfax, staff blazing with light. Aragorn does not lead a mighty army of Gondor up to Mount Doom. It is the smallest, the least-likely and the most humble that must journey the hardest road, and who have the only chance of succeeding, and who in the end do succeed. Sauron’s might is unequaled; and yet Sam’s humility is mightier.
Modern propaganda tells us there is no such thing as happy humility. Modern brainwashing tells us that the poor are miserable. Anyone with lower status than anyone else is by definition unhappy and unfortunate. It is impossible to live a fulfilled life as a humble, poor person. Etc.
The idea of the virtuous poor used to be a noble and respected trope in European society.
Now it is considered impossible. Anyone who is poor, virtuous, humble and happy … must be a fool. Marxist ideology teaches that any poor person who claims to be happy is being fooled. He is brainwashed by the economy’s superstructure (or whatever). He is so unhappy that he doesn’t even know it! It is the job of all educated, enlightened and right-thinking people to remove the ignorance of this person … to destroy his illusions and remove his false happiness.
So that he can have gadgets, cable television, air conditioning, an iPhone. His way of life must be destroyed. If he protests that he is happy — he must be browbeaten until convinced how wrong he is.
In fact, while Marxism claims to fight for the poor, it works tirelessly to stamp out any happiness the poor have.
So Samwise Gamgee sticks in the craw of the modern. [And what is the average modern but a Marxist of one kind or another? We are, on average, well-trained in the arts of resentment, destruction, and hate … all in the name of progress, equality, and abstract love.] My friend loves Sam, but then cringes when he’s reminded that Sam is a servant.
My friend might assume that it’s just a reflection of Tolkien’s place and time. That Sam’s lower status is not essential, but merely incidental. But this would be to suggest that Jesus could have been born at the Four Seasons… that whole manger business was incidental.
Incorrect assumption. It’s the very point of the whole story! So all this makes me like Sam even more. He’s still stabbing Sauron in the eye — rubbing our Marxist sensibilities the wrong way, being a defiant example of how true happiness springs from the heart and not the ballot box or the balance book spouting rustic colloquialisms — long after the departure of the elves and deep into our modern Age of Men.
I can remember in my teens being very annoyed by this hierarchical aspect of Tolkien, and the quote where he says it is good for you to doff your cap to the squire (while being bad for the squire – who should presumably be doffing *his* cap to the Duke – and so on until the monarch does the same to God).
Of course the fault was in me, not Tolkien – but of course it never crossed my mind that someone whom I revered as a genius might possibly be right and I wrong where we two disagreed.
But reading your reflections made me recognize how vitally important it is for Leftism to have an objective measure of happiness, a measure which does not depend on anybody’s expressed views, nor even on their choices. (e.g. that being a servant just is objectively miserable).
Without this the Leftis would not be able to intervene and rearrange the world according to his own notions.
But, having this objective scale of underlying happiness (true happiness behind what people actuallly say and do – which is merely ‘false consciousness’), the Leftist can do what Leftists do – and they can also propagandize 24/7 that when people may *think* they are happy some state of affairs, they are not; when people *think* they are unhappy about another state of affairs, they are not.
And the Left do not even see this as propaganda – they see it as revealing the underlying truth.
(Of course it is insane; because the Left do not believe in truth. But the insanity of the Left is surely now running very close to the surface. I cannot begin to make sense of Western government policy at present – foreign policy, economic policy etc. Indeed, even making the mental effort to make sense of it, I can feel my mind starting to become un-hinged. It all makes as much sense as the negativism of a toddler who doesn’t want this, doesn’t want that and stamps around in a fury – punching the wall and scraping their own knuckles, poking sticks at big dogs, breaking their own toys. This is not the corrupt self-seeking of the Communist elites – this is something so corrupt it does not even perceive its own corruption.)
” when people may *think* they are happy some state of affairs, they are not; when people *think* they are unhappy about another state of affairs, they are not.”
Yes, that’s the other side of it, isn’t it? Not only do they want to ruin real happiness, but they insist that real unhappiness is nothing of the sort. When people have a natural, instinctual reaction to ugliness or perversion, the Leftist argues that people only *think* they are disgusted. They merely need to be enlightened (i.e. reprogrammed).
We’ve all been reprogrammed by modernity to be inhuman (some more than others, obviously). It’s a little torturous at times to realize how deep this goes in one’s own culture, in one’s own soul! Sometimes I wish I could just go along, call the ugly building “innovative” (or whatever), and say that 2+2=5.
But actually there’s also a great relief that comes from saying 2+2=4. Of course there would be! It actually feels really good.
“When people have a natural, instinctual reaction to ugliness or perversion, the Leftist argues that people only *think* they are disgusted. They merely need to be enlightened (i.e. reprogrammed).”
Whoops! Did I say that out loud? 😉
“It’s a little torturous at times to realize how deep this goes in one’s own culture”
Ugh! Tell me about it! It’s something I used to struggle with all the time, still do every now and then. Some things you just take for granted, and when you see what they truly are…it just gets painful.
“Sometimes I wish I could just go along, call the ugly building “innovative” (or whatever), and say that 2+2=5. ”
“But actually there’s also a great relief that comes from saying 2+2=4. Of course there would be! It actually feels really good.”
Yes there is! Contrary to modern ‘wisdom’, there is a great joy in authentic goodness, even when that said Goodness requires one to be so humble. The Truth really is better than lies. Good really IS Good, wonderfully so.
P.S Love it when you tie Tolkien/LOTR stuff to your posts…obviously I’m a fan, hence my name 😀
P.P.S Is it just me, or does this leftist idea of ‘reprogramming’ seem to be much older than just Marxism. To me the idea seems to be inseperable from the whole ‘liberal order’ itself. Down to it’s very concept. People needed to be freed from their Kings, classes, and traditions, ect, even if they were happy with them. They needed to be ‘enlightened’, because no one was really happy with any of these things, they only *thought* they were.
Well that is just my thoughts anyway
I don’t know how much secondary literature about Tolkien you read – but Tolkien said in a latter that he regarded Sam as the main hero, rather than Frodo.
Certainly Sam is seen as a full personality in a way that Frodo isn’t – because he marries and has a family, which is an important signal in Tolkien (Frodo’s failure to do this, or to be able to do it, was a sign of the damage to his personality and his peculiarity).
If you peruse the Appendices, the choice of sterility is nearly always a sign of decadence or some other defect. For Tolkien, there is a correlation between a population’s fertility and their wholesomeness and general vitality.
I think he must be right about this, as about so much else.
“Is it just me, or does this leftist idea of ‘reprogramming’ seem to be much older than just Marxism. To me the idea seems to be inseperable from the whole ‘liberal order’ itself.”
Yes. The Devil was the first Whig, no?
“Yes. The Devil was the first Whig, no?”
Ha! He just might have been 😉
It never did occur to me until reading this post that anybody could resent Sam’s character. For one thing, it’s abundantly clear that the hobbits in the Shire aren’t moderns! Sam doesn’t judge himself or his life by the standards of the BBC or even of Fox News; it’s crazy to think he would. What he does judge himself by is whether he’s done his duty and whether he has even a vague chance of living his life, given his duty. With a world-destroying monster trying to devour all of Middle Earth, those priorities make a lot more sense than some critic of Tolkien from the Beeb.
Second, if you actually bother to read what Tolkien wrote, it’s clear that there’s enough upward mobility even in the Shire to make any successor of Thomas Jefferson happy. Sam ends up running the Shire by the end of the book, for crying out loud!
As for the gibes against all moderns whatsoever:
“…gadgets, cable television, air conditioning, an iPhone.”
Love those things, hate them, or have a more nuanced view … but please don’t credit the Marxists with them. Every one of those things was made by American capitalists and technophiles, for better or for worse — not by worshipers of the false god Marx.
“And what is the average modern but a Marxist of one kind or another?”
I have no idea who is supposed to be the “average” modern, but I attest that it is possible to be strongly pro-capitalism, pro-America, pro-technology … and still love Tolkien’s works, reread them every few years, and see Sam as the hero. If that sounds philosophically impossible, too bad. I don’t run my emotional life to satisfy either technophobic Christians or whiny Marxists.
Thanks, Erich. You make a very important distinction here, which is missing from my original post.
There are really two major strands of Marxist resentment. One overtly wants to destroy capitalism, the second (more sinister) wants to destroy societies. We might break them down, for ease of discussion, into  the economic school of Marxism, and  the cultural school of Marxism. Ultimately, both aim at the same end-state: totally undifferentiated meat-corpses with no loyalties whatsoever, except to themselves and to the State. But they have real distinctions that it’s worth noticing.
I personally own a “smart phone” and, obviously, a computer (two, actually). I’m constantly impressed by the power these gadgets give me. Both for good and for evil. On the temporal plane, the improvement of human lives is a good thing. I don’t want to give up my smart-phone any more than I want to give up public sanitation or penicillin or air travel or any of the other miracles of the modern world. As an American (and as a Seattleite… neighbor and brethren to some of the most innovative people on Earth) I am very proud of what we have accomplished, and I look forward to more glorious innovations.
But it’s not hard to see how gadgets and, yes, even air travel, make people shells of themselves. Gadgets for gadgets sake is a poor way to make a noble man. I’m sure you agree.
So the question then becomes, what shall we do with our gadgets? This is where *cultural* Marxism steps in. Feminism, multi-culturalism, radical egalitarianism… all the tropes of modern Leftist thought are also products of a kind of Marxism. The vast majority of these people don’t think of themselves as explicit Marxists, of course. But they act for Marxist ends nonetheless.
The point of economic Marxism is to level all differences. The point of cultural Marxism is the same: to level all differences.
So the gadgets end up being used to help atomize people and erase differences. The more atomization, the more leveling, the better. This is where Marxism and libertarianism agree. I don’t hate capitalism as much as I hate socialism… but yes, I hate capitalism if it means we all end up staring at our iPhones. Men are intended for more glory than that. One can always protest that men are *free* to not stare at their iPhones… but tell me… is that what they actually do? Do they get iPhones and then toss them aside and go find God and Love and Harmony?
No. They play Angry Birds.
You could even say that the entire Silmarillion is about the rebellion against humility. If humility partly consists in recognizing that you have certain duties in virtue of your particular station in life, then almost every significant event in the Silmarillion is due to the lack of humility. Melkor begins by refusing to recognize his natural place in the music of the Ainur. He then sows discord among the Eldar, eventually causing Feanor to abandon Aman and sunder the Elves’ relationship with the Valar. This relates to your point about being told that humble happiness is an illusion. The Eldar are living in the Land of the Blessed, learning at the feet of the Valar while they inhabit the glorious city of Tirion, and, somehow, they convince themselves that they are living in thraldom! Only Satanic power could bring this about.
The same is true of the Numenoreans. They are granted their own land, made to endure for centuries, and attain a power only a little less than the Noldor in their noontide. Nevertheless, Sauron foments resentment within their hearts, coaxing them to seek what is above their natural station, and this even after they have been given gifts no other men have received.
What remains central, though, are two themes. First, the “class” conflict sown by Morgoth and Sauron are always cynical ploys to increase their own power. Morgoth takes the Silmarils for himself and murders Finwe while Feanor is blaming Manwe for his troubles. Sauron laughs while Ar-Pharazon wages his meaningless revolution. Second, and more important, these designs are, from the first, doomed to failure:
“Then Illuvatar spoke, and he said: “Might are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor, but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Illuvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the divising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined” (Ainulindale).
Sam, like Finrod Felagund, Beren, Beleg, Tuor, Earendil, Elendil, Frodo and many others is a humble soul whose humility allows God to work through him in order to bring about things than no evil mind could possibly imagine.
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Samwise gamgee is a whiny fat bitch