Are they or aren’t they?

As many who know me could attest, I have a soft spot for guys who like guys. I think it’s sweet & sexy. Little surprise, I suppose, that I have lots of gay friends and decided to live in the Castro. It’s not just that I am not homophobic; I’m positively homophilic. So, with, as Sir Ian McKellen puts it, the “gaggle of beauties” in the cast of the Lord of the Rings films plus all the deep affection between both the characters and the actors, it’s not news that I as much as anyone else thought:

“Frodo and Sam have got to be a couple. What other interpretation could there be? Maybe they haven’t done anything about this smoldering romantic passion, but, jeez, there’s no denying the devotion between them.”

And that remained my interpretation after seeing the first two films and rereading the first two books. But now that I’ve seen and reread Return of the King, I’ve changed my mind. Certainly, it’s possible to imagine a romantic relationship between these characters – lines like Sam’s (from the book) “I love him, whether or no” don’t make it much of a stretch – but now I do not feel that is the relationship which Tolkien wrote or the filmmakers intended or the actors portrayed. And, most importantly, this lack of sexual attraction doesn’t make the relationship any less significant.

To their credit, all of these storytellers (intentionally or otherwise) have left room for interpretation and personal reaction, but I believe that the relationship between Frodo and Sam which they describe is one for which we do not have a contemporary model. I’ve read of Sam as Frodo’s “batman”; of their relationship as that between a WW1 officer and the enlisted man who acts as a servant to look after his belongings and take care of him. Oddly enough, that relationship, though it was known less than 100 years ago, is not as familiar and understandable to us today as that of a knight and his esquire.

What is essential to understanding their relationship is the context of a society divided by class; Frodo and Sam are unequal. They are master and servant, well-connected gentlehobbit and working-class gardener. It is Sam’s duty, his role, to support Frodo in whatever way he can. Sam is not expected to understand Frodo or the great matters in which he has become involved. Today we would see that as unfair to Sam, as subjugation. “Don’t worry yourself with matters above your station” is not an approach which we in the 21st-century West consider good or just. We want Sam to be recognized – by himself perhaps more than by anyone else – as Frodo’s equal. But with them as equals, we have no model for Sam’s unstoppable, selfless devotion other than romantic love.

Think about that for a moment. Our culture doesn’t have a model for that kind of love. It’s like not having a word for some concept in your language. What does it do to us not to be able to express an idea? Or imagine such a relationship? Perhaps our problem is that we use the same word, “love”, to describe many forms of affection, quite a few of which are completely non-sexual.

I am interested to see how these characters will be interpreted in the future as Tolkien’s intent, the model for the relationship, and widespread experience of friendly but class-divided relationships fades. Will the devoted same-sex friendships of Lord of the Rings create a new model for loving, non-sexual relationships? Will Frodo and Sam be claimed as role models for gays and bisexuals? Or will the current rifts remain? Will homosexuality remain something that the characters are “accused of”?

***

This topic all came to mind when I was rereading Return of the King and got to this bit near the very end:

When all was at last ready Frodo said: ‘When are you going to move in and join me, Sam?’
Sam looked a bit awkward.
‘There is no need to come yet, if you don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘But you know the Gaffer is close at hand, and he will be very well looked after by Widow Rumble.’
‘It’s not that, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, and he went very red.
‘Well, what is it?’
‘It’s Rosie, Rose Cotton,’ said Sam. ‘It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so. And I didn’t speak, because I had a job to do first. But now I have spoken, and she says: “Well, you’ve wasted a year, so why wait longer?” “Wasted?” I says. “I wouldn’t call it that.” Still see what she means. I feel torn in two, as you might say.’
‘I see,’ said Frodo: ‘you want to get married, and yet you want to live with me in Bag End too? But my dear Sam, how easy! Get married as soon as you can, and then move in with Rosie. There’s room enough in Bag End for as big a family as you could wish for.’

That passage reminded me of a similar one in the last Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, “Thrones, Dominations”, in which two characters with a very similar relationship, Lord Peter and his manservant, Bunter, are deeply depressed by the prospect of having to part ways when Bunter marries. What I had forgotten until just now when I went to see if I could find the passage quoted on the Web is that it was not written by Dorothy Sayers half a century ago, but was Jill Paton’s relatively recent completion of Sayers’ final unfinished work. Perhaps Sayers included the conflict and its pleasing solution in her notes, but it is equally possible that it is the invention of a mind of the latter half of the 20th century, perhaps even one which had been exposed to Sam’s dilemma.

Notes & additional reading:
1 – Nancy Marie Ott’s “JRR Tolkien and World War I”

2 – Web Behrens’ “The queerness of Hobbits”

3 – r. savage on “Forms of Love” and the tower of Cirith Ungol sequence

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dinahsanders

Author. Discardian. Defender of life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. she/her

12 thoughts on “Are they or aren’t they?”

  1. I’ll make it even simpler, they share friendship that has more to do with brotherhood than acquaintance. It’s not exactly a rare phenomenon with males and often occurs in situations of stress (military, police, fire, college). It has nothing to do with sex. If the two men in question were not predisposed to like other men any sex would be a misused outlet for affection that they feel needs some outward expression. The deepness of their bond and the difference in their stations are mutually exclusive.
    Where this sort of bond is less likely to occur is with women of any era, as unpopular as that may make me for saying. The male and female ideals of “friendship” are very different.
    Differences in class/station aren’t as defined today but they do exist. Equality (arguably) exists under the law but there are vast differences between modern men when it comes to social and political or economic and education levels. This means that not every two men are equal in every instance. Friendships as strong as this, minus the flowery language, can and do exist even between modern men separated by luck, education or wealth, without any master/servant aspect.
    However, I do agree with my brother who said, “well, it was the gayest of the three films.”

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  2. Hmm, yes, being an only child does mean I lack first-hand experience of the sibling-bond which may be a good analogy for the Frodo-Sam relationship.
    I would say that the supposed uncommonness of the sort of bond we’re discussing among women is probably more likely to be due to under-awareness than to less occurance. However, I will grant you that intense, non-sexual, non-related bonds of this nature most frequently (almost exclusively?) occur under conditions of extreme stress and danger and women are less likely in most cultures to be put into those situations.
    “Flowery language”? But Frodo and Sam (and Merry & Pippin) aren’t flowery, they’re simply loving and kind. It’s sad that even simple statements like “I’m glad you’re here with me” and “I won’t leave you” are too “gay” for straight friends. Hrmph. Well, okay, I’ll grant you that Aragorn and Boromir got pretty flowery, but that was the first film.

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  3. You are sick. All of you. Tolkien did not mean for Frodo and Sam to be Homosexuals. I can’t see how any of you could think such a disgusting thought. This is constantly popping up. “Sam and Frodo are gay.” “Sam digs Frodo.” I think Gays are just grose. Yes grose. Tolkien would never write something like that. It’s something called, “Deep Frienship” but of course to people like you, friendship means you like them. In this day and age there are two things. You hate them or you want to marry them. You should be ashamed of your selfs. I’ll remember to pray for you.

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  4. Uh, George… you are not providing the most convincing of arguments here. Perhaps you should actually talk to some gay or lesbian people someday. Also, just for future reference, “grose” is not a word.
    By the way, you need to read my entire post; I agree with you that a romantic or sexual relationship was not the original intent of the author.

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  5. It’s perfectly fine to interpret the Samwise-Frodo relationship (whether romantic or platonic) in any way. Both are entirely plausible. I personally believe that, while I don’t think Samwise and Frodo is much of a turn on for me and Sean’s explanation is just as likely, they could be romantically involved. Who knows? It will forever remain a mystery.
    George, you don’t need to be immature by flaming the opinion of another person (most good Christians don’t really blatantly flaunt their beliefs by expressing their disgust and offering to pray. Very unimpressive), nor is it reasonable to assume that all people base everything on a love/hate scale. We only interpret things differently from you, and it’s pretty dickheaded to think that anyone who doesn’t believe the things you do deserves to go to hell -_-;

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  6. Frodo and Sam may start out as friends at the beginning of their journey, but towards the end, it is clear that they develop a homosexual relationship. This is because for the longest time, they only have each other to care about, so they become attached to each other. Such an attraction can actually be strong enough to develop into a romantic relationship.
    But I doubt the two are aware of their love for each other until the quest is over, and they’re back in ordinary little Hobbiton. Frodo narrates, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life?” In the old life, Sam was simply his gardener, and a good friend. That is when they realized how much things really changed.
    Sam tries to pick up the threads of his old life. He realises that deep down, he loves Frodo more than he loves Rosie, so he tries to make up for it by marrying her. He thinks that maybe if he marries Rosie and lives a life with her, he can fix the “mess” their journey created.
    Also, never forget the way Frodo says goodbye to Sam before departing for the sea. He just hugs Merry and Pippin, but he not only hugs Sam, he gives him a gift (saying, “The last pages are for you, Sam”) and a lasting kiss on the forehead. This was pretty much the largest piece of evidence I could find that helped prove to me Frodo and Sam are gay.
    As for sex in the relationship, I avoid it entirely. I see the relationship between the two as loyal, caring and affectionate, the sort of relationship I would define as “cute”. Any sort of behind-the-scenes sex life would damage the spirit of their relationship.

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  7. Loving, caring, significant relationships between two members of the same sex are not the same thing as those two being romantically/sexually oriented to the opposite sex.
    Gay is the latter. What you’re describing, Anna, – particularly with the caveat that there’s no sex to “damage the spirit of the relationship” – isn’t being gay, it’s caring about someone.
    Loving someone isn’t the same thing as being in love with them. If you’ve been to the brink of death with someone as many times as these two, I don’t think you just shake hands when you part for the rest of your life.
    Please, as a culture let’s not take away the possibility of our male friends showing each other the kind of affection that is socially permissible between female friends; that kind of cruelty to perpetuate some macho mythology is needless.
    I’d also recommend you get to know some adult homosexuals in committed relationships and I think you’ll pick up on the fact that the sex usually enhances the spirit of the relationship, just as it does in heterosexual relationships.

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  8. It is important to understand that with every great author, the possibility of an interpretation is never accidental. If any relationship, symbol or idea in LTR or Shakespeare or Wagner or Homer had a single meaning, the work would be diminished. Think for a moment about the complexities of Aragorn’s relationship with Arwen–there are many, many ways of examining their relationship without the aspect of sex (and for the record, they never have sex or even kiss in the books), but obviously, there are many ways to interpret their relationship with the sex. The same goes for Frodo and Sam. That version of their love is an intentional part of the story, even though it is not the only valid interpretation–there need not be only one right answer, such is the stuff of poorer and less memorable art.

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  9. Anyway you gotta admit the ending of Return of the King, the movie version, is pretty gay in general, starting with Frodo’s gay reunion with all his friends when he is in bed after being saved by the eagles. Elijah’s face just looks really gay when he sees each of the fellowship members pop through the doorway, and the hobbits all bouncing on the bed don’t help much.

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