Feast of the Righteous Martyr Febronia
THERE ARE many heroes in The Lord of the Rings. Along with Frodo we have Aragorn the great king, Gimli the brave dwarf, Legolas the dauntless elf, Théoden the noble king of the Rohirrim, and others. But the greatest hero, I believe, is Frodo’s gardener and loyal companion, Samwise Gamgee, the “foot soldier” who looks after Frodo, who literally carries him through to Mount Doom.
Sam is about as common a hobbit as one can imagine, unsure of himself, exceedingly humble and a bit of a bumbler, but sure of his devotion to Frodo and the Shire, and of the fundamental difference between good and evil. It is just this devotion, the courage that arises from it, and his plain common sense and humility, that ultimately save Middle Earth. He is the common man, the man of good sense, the man of the soil whose virtues arise from the simplicity and integrity of his way of life and his character. This very simplicity gives him uncommon and very practical wisdom.
One particularly poignant scene showing Sam’s wisdom reveals the way Tolkien understood how good stories and a good life work together. Finding himself at the very heart of a real adventure—with real danger, real death, and real evil—as he and Frodo journey through the dismal, ruined lands of Sauron, Samwise realizes that all the great tales he loved in his childhood were preparing him for the drama in which he now finds himself. Good stories prepare us for the real battles. As Samwise reflects in The Two Towers,
[W]e shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. 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. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?
That is what we all have to wonder, especially when we find ourselves in similarly dark times. As a friend of mine once said, regarding the condition of our culture, “The orcs are in the Shire!” As with Samwise and Frodo, we find ourselves in a particular place and time, confronting real evils that must be dealt with. We have the freedom to turn back, to try to continue a life of ease and make the best of it as the sky darkens. But we also have the freedom to trudge on and do what we must. The freedom we do not have, however, is to be neutral or to be in another time. We shall be judged by God and others by what we did or didn’t do in the face of the evils that confront us, and by what kind of world we leave those who live after us.
As Gandalf the wizard later counsels in The Return of the King, “Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.
Dr. Benjamin Wiker is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Franciscan University, and a Senior Fellow of Franciscan’s Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com.
*Excerpted from Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read. Call Eighth Day Books at 1.800.841.2541 for your copy!