Sam as Mother: The Return of the King

I haven’t been posting regularly about the BBC book list, but I finally got to The Return of the King (1955) by J. R. R. Tolkien.  The Lord of the Rings series is number 2 on the BBC list.  And as many of you know, at least those of you who have followed my blog for a while, I don’t really enjoy the LOTR trilogy.  I didn’t like the movies much when they came out, but I suffered through them for my husband’s sake, and I didn’t have any interest in reading the books.  However, because I would like to read all of the books on the BBC book list, I read them anyway.

LOTR cover

This book was probably my favorite of the three.  Obviously, it has a resolution, which is always nice, but I found myself proud of Sam.  I see him as the “real” hero of these narratives.  We tend to focus on Frodo, who is great too, but Sam is sort of an underdog in the hero department, yet he shows uncommon strength and loyalty in this book.

In some of the passages describing his support of Frodo, Sam is described in motherly terms.  He cradles Frodo in his arms and nurses him through some injuries.  He is the unseen force for good behind Frodo’s heroic deed of getting rid of the ring.  Because of this imagery of a mother and child, I can see echoes of the sacrifices that ordinary mothers make for their children all of the time.  Sam, although male and a Hobbit, may be a metaphor for motherly love and sacrifice.

I also liked this book because of the fuller picture we get of The Shire in the end.  Yes, there are problems there, but I always regretted Frodo’s leaving The Shire with the others in the first place because I wanted to spend more time there as a reader.  It seems like such a nice little place, and it was wish fulfillment for me to hear more about it, even if the narrative was still conflicted.  The fact that The Shire suffered after Frodo’s absence reminded me of how certain people make home feel like home.


My husband is gone all of the time right now.  He’s a certified public accountant, and that means that he spends some 80 hours a week doing taxes.  We see him for breakfast, and then he leaves again, not to return until the rest of us are sleeping.  A few days ago, my little Daphne began crying, and then explained, “I miss my Daddy!”  We called him and that cheered her up, but home doesn’t feel like home without him around.

Anyway, the LOTR series is not my favorite, and I won’t be reading these books again, but I feel as though I’ve accomplished something by having done so.  Now I can say that I read them!

30 thoughts on “Sam as Mother: The Return of the King

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  1. Tolkien himself was quoted as saying that Sam is the real hero of the books.

    I like that the books don’t have everything returning to nice and normal – they may have had victory over darkness – but there was a cost. Darkness and evil leaves a stain. You don’t get that so much in books these days.

  2. I must confess I have doubts about “lists”of books — even by supposedly reliable folks like those at BBC. But it’s a good way to organize one’s reading. Another is to find a reputable author and read everything he or she wrote — though reading all of Balzac’s 92 novels or Trollope’s 74 would be a chore!! I made it through most of Trollope’s novels, but don’t plan to make it through Balzac’s “Human Comedy,” though I have read quite a few. But it’s a way to go — especially if you have already decided you don’t like a particular author whose books are on your list! I’m not a big fan of Tolkien, either.

    1. Yeah, I am starting to tire of this list! And I discovered a while back that it is mostly folkloric that this is somehow condoned by the BBC. Oh well. It is still fun.

  3. Sam was indeed Frodo’s strength. Without Sam, I don’t think Frodo would have succeeded. Gollum had already taken advantage of Frodo, considering him to be the weaker of the two, due to Frodo’s pity. Even when Frodo himself was corrupted by the Ring, Sam did not relent. And that monstrosity, Shelob, it was Sam that saved Frodo from it. It saddened me too that The Shire, such a paradise, was destroyed by Saruman. Saruman was malevolent; he enslaved the hobbits and ruled over them with a flinty heart. However, his fate, in the end, chilled me; it was the most unsettling ending for a book I’ve ever encountered. Low, abased, wretched, begging, shamefully divested of his powers as well, he was a true picture of Satan fallen from Glory of Heaven, especially considering his previous stature as Saruman the White. He now languished in his own hideous Hell, pitiable, miserable, yet unrepentant and hardhearted still, until he was killed by that creepy monster, Grima Wormtongue. I always thought Tolkien may have borrowed Saruman’s character from that of Satan in Paradise Lost. Their destinies are similar, with Gandalf representing the Saviour of mankind, resurrected in supreme glory and vested with more powers and wisdom. But those are just my thoughts, being a fan of Milton, Tolkien, and, of course, the Bible.

    1. Yep, I totally see Biblical themes here, and I do appreciate the connection between Gandalf and the Savior. Thanks for reminding me of that. And you sure know your Tolkien! I should’ve had you write me a cliff’s notes version and then the posts! 😉

      1. Tolkien did say that The Lord of the Rings is a Catholic work. He definitely saw Sam as the hero and the “everyman” figure. Frodo, on the other hand, has a vocation, akin to a Catholic priest, according to Tolkien. I noticed that when I read the books a few years ago. Sam quickly becomes the focus in the book as the character with whom the reader identifies. I think Tolkien intended that.

  4. Emily, great observations about Sam. He is the glue who remains loyal to Frodo and makes him better. Also, the observation about making a place better is so true. My wife would say that an old neighborhood was so wonderful, yet I would tell her it was wonderful, in part, because you lived in it. I l don’t think I knew your daughter’s name; it is lovely. Tell her April 15th is coming and will be here soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. BTG

    1. Thanks, BTG. I had this funny dream last night that our families got together for dinner. I wish we lived closer and could meet. Thanks for your great comments about how places are sometimes good because we “bloom where we are planted.” We can’t wait for April 15!

      1. Thanks Emily. That would be fun. I met up with Amaya who writes The Brabble Rabble, one of my favorite blogs, as she lives only two and 1/2 hours away. She and I lament over our state governance together. It is fun to meet people whose words are impactful to me. You would definitely fall into that category. Have a great weekend. By the way, I am so happy to have my taxes done and cant not worry until next year. BTG

  5. Sam is a great hero. He’s the support that makes the leading man shine. I think Sam, more than any other character, is the ‘everyman’ in these books and makes them accessible by reigning in the grand themes to a relatable individual level for readers. I am a huge Tolkien fan and have read all the books many times. Each time I read I find new things to think about and love. I especially liked The Silmarillion, although I admit it was difficult to read. It’s the creation story of Middle Earth and is so lovely. I also liked all the creative names of places and beings. How fun to come up with names for a whole imaginary world! I’m glad you were able to finish these and find likeable aspects in them.

    1. Thanks, Denise. I always love hearing your perspective, especially on these books. I agree that same is a great hero and an everyman. That’s a great way to think of him. He’s certainly the one I admire most.

  6. Do you know where and how the books on the BBC list were selected?
    I enjoyed LOTR, but I am also a fantasy/mythology fan. It still took me several months to read the trilogy due to density of Tolkein’s writing style.
    I do understand your perseverance, for there have been several books I have read just to say I’ve read them, even though I had to push myself and grind through the ending. This includes a few books on the BBC list.
    As for Sam, the Return of the King would be a rather dismal book without him. He is a fantastic character.

    1. They wouldn’t be the same without him! You are absolutely right about that. As to the so-called BBC list, I am not sure. I found it on Facebook and I heard a while back that it was one of those chain letter type things but not really a BBC thing.

  7. I have never read the LOTR series, but my aunt did drag me to see one of the movies when I was in my tween years. I had no idea what was going on, so I think I took a little stigma from that episode and transferred it to the books. When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher gave me the BBC list. I have slowly been crossing off a few books here and there, and like you Emily, I do want to (or I at least hope to!) read all the things on the list. However, like L. Palmer, I’m interested in knowing how the books were selected. There was a recent list that came out of 65 books that folks in their 20s should read, and I came up with the same question in a post. I am also intrigued to know the make-up of those selecting the books, as a heavily dominant man or woman panel can skew the selection.

    1. That is so true. These lists definitely reflect the values of whoever selected them. I think they tend to be apocryphal or folkloric. I don’t think the BBC really compiled this one, but it is mostly British books, so why not attribute it to the BBC? Whatever the origin, I find these lists fun. Especially when I can cross a lot of books off of them and somehow feel good about myself. Ha ha.

  8. I enjoyed the movies more than the book. There was a sensory overload in the books that clouded my head as I read. I must say I love the series as a movie franchise. My partner has hair like Frodo and she’s short lol. I always call her a hobbit, plus she’s a homebody. Thanks for sharing. I am like you and I’m glad I am done reading them.

  9. Even though I am a LOTR rings fan I still appreciate this post. I also noted your comment about family time and your husband being at work so much. Hopefully there will be a buffer of time for your family soon. This challenge seems to beset many of our wonderful families. We are in a so-called ‘developed world’. Evidently, it has some costs for having a full and balanced life. Thank you again for posting, I look forward to the weekly email stash of wordpress bloggers like yourself.

    1. I always want to apologize profusely for not being a fan of these, because I know how much they mean to people, but I just can’t change my affinity (or lack of it) for them. Thank you for the kind words. I am a big fan of work-life balance. I hope the future will be brighter for everybody in this regard. Thank you for reading my blog!

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