Who’s the best character in fantasy?
Such a broad question begs for any number of answers, but one character always comes up in the conversation.
Sam is to Lord of the Rings fans what cosplayers are to comic con. It’s impossible not to love him. By all rights he’s a hero, and one of the kindest, humblest, and bravest to grace the pages of fantasy with his presence.
Good old Sam. I don’t know about you, but for me, merely saying his name in my head conjures a host of images.
- Carrying Frodo up Mount Doom.
- Tending his garden in the Shire.
- Embarking on a perilous quest in an act of utter sacrifice, love, and loyalty.
Consider his predicament for a minute. He could accompany his dear Mr. Frodo into the wilds beyond the Shire, but at what cost? Leaving behind his home, his friends and family, his garden, his sweetheart Rosie. Everything he’d known.
As readers, we don’t always appreciate the significance of the sacrifice heroes make in order to combat evil. One reason quest stories are powerful (putting aside tired stereotypes and dulling clichés) is the compelling ways they show sacrifice.
Coming back to Sam, he’s one of the most sacrificial characters you’ll meet. Few characters I know of are as highly regarded as dear Sam.
Why? What about this humble hobbit appeals to us?
I already listed a number of his positive traits, and I could wax eloquent for days on his personality and character. He’s a hero in the truest sense of the word, which is one reason it’s so easy to love Sam. But there’s more to it, I think.
I’ve been running a character tournament over on my blog the past several weeks, and today I announced the winner.
Sam, of course.
He leveled the competition, and that started me thinking…why? Of all the fabulous characters we geeks talk about, why does Sam constantly rise to the top as a universal favorite?
To Be Sam or Not to Be Sam
What’s so special about Sam besides all his hobbit awesomeness and the fact that he saved Frodo and Middle-earth and can cook and is the best gardener this side of Rhȗn?
I think something deeper is at work than his characteristics. As readers, we empathize with characters. We’re able to step out of our skin, our lives, our problems and triumphs, and into theirs.
When we see Sam, we see someone we want to emulate.
We see his loyalty and admire it.
We look at his courage and wish for the same when facing our own dark paths through Shelob’s Lair.
We witness his humility and innocence, stirring a desire that the same would be true of us.
Sam is loved because who wouldn’t want to exhibit the same qualities if given the chance? There’s something intrinsically compelling about such a character. We marvel at Sam because he’s who we want to be when we grow up.
Sam the Faithful Friend
Yet this perspective points in another direction as well—outside ourselves.
Yes, it would be great to be half as worthy as Sam. In addition to that, such are the virtues we naturally seek in others. At its core, Sam’s worthiness is summed up in one word: relationship.
His friendship with Frodo drives and colors all other parts of his behavior and attitude. Without Frodo, Sam may easily have lived a quiet, uneventful life without ever leaving the Shire. But Frodo’s need and presence drew out the side of Sam we’ve come to know and love.
Deep down, we long for such connection as well.
To have people in our lives as loyal and loving as Sam.
As steadfast and encouraging as Sam.
As brave and fierce—yet humble—as Sam.
The story of Sam, and by connection Frodo, gains its potency from the inherent role it plays in our lives.
In Sam, we have heroism in the tangible form of a sturdy hobbit. Not only does that appeal to us as readers, it digs into the nooks and crannies of our souls to motivate, encourage, and inspire us.
And in the end, his story shines bright with the rays of redemption and hope.
Why do you think Sam is so well loved?