I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. “Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.” And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings (movie)
Since the Hobbit is coming out this week, I thought I’d dedicate my American Values series to Tolkien’s world and the values that are espoused through his works and Peter Jackson’s adaptions of them that are very “American.”
There is one character in this entire movie that experiences no doubt about what they are doing and why they are doing it, and that is Samwise Gamgee. He made a promise and he intends to keep it. His clarity espouses the one American Virtue that is so important in a civil society: Integrity.
Being the one who keeps promises is not the easy road. While Sam was with Frodo, his advice was not valued as input on the quest, though his attitude, his songs, his bardic qualities of morale lifting were.
In a way, Frodo had an angel whispering in one ear (Sam) and a devil whispering in the other (Gollum). His choices between them were always clear, and while the devil may have left his side at times of trouble, the angel never did. But still the voice of proven deceit was easier for Frodo to trust than the voice of what he KNEW from personal experience to be the more virtuous, even if less experienced in worldly matters. But Sam never lectured Frodo on that matter, he kept his place in that Trinity and steadfastly maintained his integrity there.
Keep in mind that with all the people trying to take the ring from Frodo, Sam actually had it and RETURNED it which spoke more of his Integrity than any other characters in the entire book, even those who–like Gandalf, Aragorn, and Galadriel–turned down the ring when offered it, were certain that they would LOSE their Integrity by accepting it. And of all the people who had worn the ring, only Sam’s Integrity remained intact after contact with it–proving that you didn’t have to be superhuman to overcome the power of the ring, you only had to be true. That is the very heart of Integrity, as Job said “I Will Not Remove Mine Integrity From Me” (Job 27:5). To endure the worst of what friends and enemies deal you (for Job as well as Sam were often met with discouraging words from their friends/allies), and come out the same true person you were before–not unchanged, but still true to those ideas you promised to live.
The hobbits were known for their Integrity, and Samwise exemplified it. It is a virtue that the Founding Fathers would have included in commentary, read and explored had Tolkien written Lord of the Rings 200 years earlier. While Integrity is not specifically an American value–the Japanese value/honor their word over their life–it is one that the founders were very prolific about. It was a theme that ran through the Constitutional Convention as well as everything that led up to it. It is a value that continues to be exemplified as heroic. Integrity is one of our finest virtues and I hope Hollywood keeps bringing the stories of characters that live it like Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, or even the real life stories of the heroically tragic like Pat Tillman, Tyrone Woods and Todd “Lets Roll” Beamer. Our lives are made better when we watch these stories, and our world is made better when we live them.