The Simple Rustic Love of Sam and His Rosie

The story of the Downfall of Numenor was one that Tolkien believed to be as essential to the understanding of Lord of the Rings as the Silmarillion stories of the First Age. This foundation, which he wished to have published all at the same time, would give the reader a greater appreciation for the ending of the story – especially the bits about Aragorn.

At least, that’s basically the way it’s often explained. That’s how I wanted to explain it myself. My hope was to continue on with Tolkien’s 1951 letter to publisher Milton Waldman in which he gives a long synopsis of the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings three years before it was actually published.

Not liking to read too far ahead (after all, I’m doing this project to discover things as I go), I simply assumed that Tolkien would delve into the importance of Aragorn being of noble birth, descended from the line of Numenorean kings. I was then going to share all of the instances where Tolkien talks about Numenor and Aragorn prior to the 1954 publication of Fellowship of the Ring.

The only problem was that Aragorn was only mentioned once over that time frame and his roll in the story was greatly downplayed. To me, that’s even more interesting, so let’s take a gander.

After describing the Silmarillion and the Second Age to Mr. Waldman, Tolkien gave a synopsis of Lord of the Rings (which wasn’t printed in The Letters of JRR Tolkien). In it, he left quite a bit out, including the Ents.

He then brought up love stories, which were “wholly absent from The Hobbit.” Even what he called “the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond’s daughter is only alluded to as a known thing.” In 1951, he still wasn’t sure how he was going to handle many of the things that wound up in Appendix A. But what he said next really made me smile.

“I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.”

Let’s take a look at this. The “chief hero” is, I believe, Frodo. That just makes sense (Tolkien was flying fast and free with pronouns). Frodo’s quest wasn’t just to destroy the Ring and thus take out Sauron, it was to save the way of ordinary life. It was, when it comes down to it, to preserve a place where people like Sam and Rosie can fall in love, marry and have children.

It wasn’t for Aragorn to become king and marry Arwen (something he couldn’t do unless he was king, according to Elrond). A king, even in the most wretched of times, can marry pretty well anyone he wants. But if Frodo had failed and Sauron would have taken over, ordinary, non-kings like Sam and Rosie didn’t stand a chance.

With that very much in mind, I thought it would be fun to turn away from Aragorn and look at Sam. Though Sam came into the tale only a little while before Aragorn, Tolkien wrote much more in his letters about the hobbit. From what’s published of his correspondence,

Sam came into the story in the “Third Phase” of writing when Strider was still named Trotter and was actually not Aragorn at all. He wasn’t even a man, but a hobbit. It wasn’t until later, perhaps a matter of months – toward the end of 1939 – that he wrote: ‘Trotter’s true name – as a Man: Aragorn.” He was to be a “man of Elrond’s race descendant of the ancient men of the North, and one of Elrond’s household.” Aragorn didn’t become a Numenorean descendent until around August of 1940.

Anyway, the character of Samwise Gamgee is about a year older than Aaragorn son of Arathorn. It’s strange that though Aragorn was invented in 1940, Tolkien didn’t talk about him in his (published) letters until 1951. He “first” wrote about Sam in 1944, in a letter to his son Christopher. It’s clear that he had discussed the character with him prior to that.

That same year (1944) in another letter to Christopher, Tolkien wrote: “Certainly Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting, because he has to be highminded, and has (as it were) a vocation. The book will probably end up with Sam. Frodo will naturally become too ennobled and rarefied by the achievement of the great Quest and will pass West with all the great figures; but Sam will settle down to the Shire and gardens and inns.”

The Beren and Luthien story, upon which Aragorn and Arwen’s story was based, was clearly dear to Tolkien. And despite that, he saw Sam and Rosie as being an “absolutely essential” part of understanding Frodo’s journey and the story itself.

A Few Notes
Don’t worry, I’ll get back to Aragorn, I promise.

In 1944, Tolkien had not yet come upon the ending of Lord of the Rings, which explains why he doesn’t seem to know what it is (though he clearly has something in mind).

Camera: Holga 120N Film: Kodak Porta 400

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: Kodak Porta 400

About the Photo
I suppose it Samwise Gamgee could drive, this would be his sweet ride.


  • Day 104
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 515
  • 405 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,263 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Still walking along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Fourth night out from Rivendell. (map)

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12 thoughts on “The Simple Rustic Love of Sam and His Rosie

    • Right, but was that what he meant in the context of this quote? I’ll have to go back and look at the sentence or two before it in the letter to see, I guess.

    • So I’m rereading it now and I think it might be Aragorn being referred to as the “chief hero.” It’s hard to say because after the unpublished summary of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien talks a (very) little about the Ents (whom he didn’t mention in the summary). But then says this:

      “Sine we now try to deal with ‘ordinary life’, springing up ever unquenched under the trample of world policies and events, there are love-stories touched in, or love in different modes, wholly absent from The Hobbit. But the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond’s daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told elsewhere in the short tale, Of Aragorn and Arwen Undomiel. I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes , and the ‘longing for the Elves’, and sheer beauty. But I will say no more, nor defend the theme of mistaken love seen in Eowyn and her first love for Aragorn. I do not feel much can now be done to heal the faults of this large and much-embracing tale – or to make it ‘publishingable’, if it is not so now. ”

      It’s from Letter 131.

      I guess it really depends upon how he told the summary of Lord of the Rings. Did he end it with the Ring being destroyed or with the return of the king? And though I know he saw Sam as the real hero, I don’t think that’s how he was describing it in this case. But I could be wrong – who knows what he was really trying to say (apart from what he had to say about Sam).

      • Thanks for the reply, Eric…and I’m sorry for the delayed response.

        I have not yet made it so far as publication dates in my copy of “Letters” yet (I think I’m still shy of the mark by about 5 years) so I’ll give this one and perhaps a few others a proper reading soon.

        I like that he places Aragorn and Arwen’s love as “highest” whilst Sam & Rosie’s is, whilst perhaps not a “known thing” it is nevertheless the version or depiction of love to which we, the reader, can relate to on a personal level.

        However I don’t read that excerpt in the same way you do. I do not think that he’s setting Aragorn up as the “chief hero”. I think the bracketed description, “(the chief hero)” still belongs with Sam. The word immediately preceding the parentheses “his” comes from a sentence in which the subjects of that sentence include: 1) Sam 2) Rosie 3) the rustic love. I read “his” as a pronoun for Sam…not for Aragorn.

        But I admit, that grammar is hardly my strong point…and could be misreading things. And I’ll aslo admit that the whole passage appears to be open to interpretation. I can easily see how it could be interpreted differently. So my own interpretation is certainly not “the correct one”…it’s simply my own.

        However, as support for my theory, I present to you Tolkien’s well-known and solidly established themes and ideals as evidence. One need only look to the closing chapters of “The Hobbit” to see what I mean.

        “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

        Tolkien’s distaste for industrialization and modernization of society is well-known. But he reflects these ideals in his works as well. It is not from the viewpoint of men or elves that his most well-known tales (“The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”) are told. It is from the perspective of hobbits. As these tales are “written by hobbits” (Bilbo and Frodo) the do of course inherit an obvious element of bias. Yet hobbits are the hardy folk….the un-daunt-able…the indomitable race and, ultimately, those responsible in the end (even if Frodo did fail at the last) for saving the world from the clutches of Sauron.

        Whereas Aragorn had everything to gain by fighting the long fight and opposing the will of Sauron, hobbits had everything to lose. It is no small thing that they (Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin) were ripped from their quiet hobbit lives of ignorance and thrust onto the larger stage of the world.

        “Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him.” (The Old Gaffer)

        And the Gaffer wasn’t alone in his thoughts. It’s not like he was just a doddering old fool who was out-of-touch. Even Frodo’s peers such as Fatty Lumpkin wanted absolutely nothing to do with larger quests. No going through the forest for Fatty Lumpkin, thank you very much!

        The Shire was small…isolated…and ignorant. They did not understand what was happening in the world outside their borders…which of course is what makes Bilbo and Frodo so unusual! It was a rude awakening for them to be sure when Sharky and co. came into town and started messing about.

        With so much at stake…their homes, their lives, their culture, their quiet seclusion…the hobbits have everything to lose and yet they risk it all anyway. Why? For the greater good.

        ###################################
        “‘Well!’ said Gandalf at last. ‘What are you thinking about? Have you decided what to do?’

        ‘No!’ answered Frodo, coming back to himself out of darkness, and finding to his surprise that it was not dark, and that out of the window he could see the sunlit garden. ‘Or perhaps, yes. As far as I understand what you have said, I suppose I must keep the Ring and guard it, at least for the present, whatever it may do to me.’

        ‘Whatever it may do, it will be slow, slow to evil if you keep it with that purpose,’ said Gandalf.

        ‘I hope so,’ said Frodo. ‘But I hope that you may find some other better keeper soon. But in the meanwhile it seems I am a danger, a danger to all that live near me. I cannot keep the Ring and stay here. I ought to leave Bag End, leave the Shire, leave everything and go away.’ He sighed.

        ‘I should like to save the Shire, if I could – though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them. But I don’t feel like that now. I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.

        ‘Of course, I have sometimes thought of going away, but I imagined that as a kind of holiday, a series of adventures like Bilbo’s or better, ending in peace. But this would mean exile, a flight from danger into danger, drawing it after me. And I suppose I must go alone, if I am to do that and save the Shire. But I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well – desperate. The Enemy is so strong and terrible.’
        -The Fellowship of the Ring, Ch. 2, ‘The Shadow of the Past’
        ###################################

        Hobbits truly are remarkable creatures. Tolkien may well give Aragorn his due credit, and show us all how unapproachable his level of greatness is….how perfect he is as an heroic king among men. But Frodo et al … these small hobbits….they really did risk it all. And through Sam, the quest is achieved and the world saved.

        • Hmm. All good points and quotes, but I’m still not ready to say that the “chief hero” in this case was Sam. It seems to me that he talking about two people. I’m fairly certain now that it’s not Aragorn.

          But I think this would all be solved if the summary of LotR wasn’t cut from the letter. I’m betting that somewhere in that summary Tolkien refers to someone specifically as “the chief hero”.

          I have an old copy of Letters, maybe if you (or anyone) has the newer version, you could check to see if it was put back in. I think it’s essential to understanding his wildly ambiguous pronouns.

  1. I often talk about the importance of first lines, but in terms of last lines few beat LotR and Sam saying, “well, I’m back.” So perfect. I love Sam and Rosie.

  2. I took one of those silly “Which _________ are you?” that has been floating around on Facebook recently. This one was “Which [LoTR] character are you?” I got Sam Gamgee. I was overly happy about it. Heh.

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