I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.
If you are among the lucky readers that get to immerse yourself in The Lord of the Rings regularly, you may have wondered about Sam’s thoughts and reactions in The Shadow of the Past. After Sam’s exchange with Ted Sandyman at The Green Dragon inn at Bywater, we learn that Sam had a good deal to think about (…) He would have a busy day tomorrow (…) But Sam had more on his mind than gardening. After a while he sighed, and got up and went out. When I read this, I used to pause and consider what Sam was thinking about. For some years I thought it was Rose Cotton that was on his mind. But she does not enter the story until the very end. So what is it that bothers Sam so much?
We learn that this is the same time as Gandalf is visiting Frodo. And their exchange about The Ring must be the next morning. When Sam is discovered by Gandalf, eavesdropping outside Frodo’s windows in Bag End, Sam first try to bluff Gandalf, producing his garden shears. Then he quakes and begs mercy and talks like a waterfall. Finally, he shouts of joy, before bursting into tears. Anyone may feel a bit intimidated under Gandalf’s bristling beard and brow, but isn’t this reaction a bit much? Sam is a bit of an emotional type, but shouting of joy, and then crying his eyes out?
We know from A Conspiracy Unmasked that Sam, Merry and Pippin are conspiring against Frodo leaving The Shire alone, and have been for years. Sam is presented as the chief investigator of the group. Here it all comes together. Merry and Pippin has talked Sam into spying on Frodo and Gandalf. It is not strange that he is thinking a lot and planning how to get through with this, even cooking up an alibi of mowing the lawn, and trimming the grass outside exactly the window where Frodo and Gandalf are discussing The Ring. He is even almost caught at one point, where he appears to coincidentally pass along the garden path whistling. Let us repeat that: He actually passes by, whistling innocently. When I read this again, I almost can’t believe Gandalf not seeing through this! When Sam finally is discovered, he actually tricks Frodo and Gandalf into believing that he only coincidentally heard what they were talking about. It is not strange that he first babbles and begs before finally shouts of joy and bursts into tears. He cries in relief of not disclosing the conspiracy. He is not revealed as a spy yet – and luckily, not by Gandalf, or he might actually been turned into a spotted toad.
In Crickhollow, after the conspiracy is finally unmasked, Sam says that Frodo ought to take the Elves advice. Gildor said you should take them as was willing, and you can’t deny it. Frodo’s answer is a bit remarkable unless you have figured out the connection: I’ll never believe you are sleeping again. Here, Frodo is of course pointing to the fact that in Three is a company, while Gildor has a conversation with Frodo, and that while these words fall, Sam sat curled up at Frodo’s feet, where at least he nodded and closed his eyes. But Sam is here still the spy in the group. He only pretends to sleep, and is actually eavesdropping as hard as he can all the time. This is taken up again by Merry in The Palantir: Now Pippin my lad, don’t forget Gildor’s saying – the one Sam used to quote: “Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” Gildor said this to Frodo while Sam was apparently sleeping.
At the end of The Council of Elrond we hear that Sam again is spying and eavesdropping. He suddenly jumps up from the corner where he had been quietly sitting on the floor, and Elrond remarks that the council was secret, and that Sam was not invited.
In Flight to the Ford, Frodo says about Sam that First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior! And Sam answers: I hope not (…) I don’t want to be neither!. But at least his career as a conspiring spy was rather successful.
Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!
With great thanks to The Tolkien Professor and his Exploring the Lord of the Rings project, where the role of Sam has been more than thoroughly discussed