As a dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien fan, I have read the Silmarillion, which covers arguably the whole history of Middle-Earth. It doesn’t just tell us the First Age legend of Beren and Luthien, and the Second Age drama of Numenor’s downfall. It also contains a delightful section telling the story of the Third Age, including the events of “The Lord of the Rings”, in the heroic style, rather than the (comparatively) chatty, detailed and hobbit-centric manner of the more famous book.
The hero of this retelling is largely Mithrandir (Gandalf), although Aragorn is also mentioned.
(LOTR spoilers follow.)
But “as many songs have since sung, it was the Periannath, the Little People… that brought them deliverance. For Frodo the Halfling, it is said, at the bidding of Mithrandir took on himself the burden, and alone with his servant he passed through peril and darkness and came at last in Sauron’s despite even to Mount Doom; and there into the Fire where it was wrought he cast the Great Ring of Power, and so at last it was unmade…”
I think JRR Tolkien (or was it his son Christopher, who edited the book?) must have grinned to himself as he wrote that paragraph.
He would have known (I think; am I wrong?) that most of those who read it would have blinked, and then screamed either a) “But that’s not what happened at Mount Doom!” or b) “’His servant’? His servant? We all love Sam Gamgee; perhaps he’s the real hero of the story. How dare you not give him even a name?”
Tolkien would have smiled, I think, and considered his points made. That yes, if we knew the truth, heroes would often be nothing without their servants. Sam is a servant, and a friend, and a hero, which actually makes him quite unusual. The high-born tend to take the credit. (By hobbit standards, Frodo is high-born, although less so than Merry and Pippin.)
Regular readers of this blog will know my fascination with the Biblical books of Samuel and Kings. A close reading of these texts reveal several interesting servants. Perhaps the most hard-done-by is the man who accompanies Saul on his donkey-search in 1 Sam 9, where the future king meets Samuel. All the sensible decisions and suggestions on this journey are made by the servant, who even puts up his own money to pay Samuel for directions; yet he is not considered fit to hear the words of prophecy. (“Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God,” Samuel says in 1 Sam 9:27).
One may add the heroic armour-bearers of Jonathan (1 Sam 14), and Saul (1 Sam 31), and Naaman’s excellent servants in 2 Kings 5. The “little maid” was the heroine of a Ladybird book I had as a child. And I wonder what happened to the servant Elijah left behind him after facing down the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18: 43-4 and 19:3.)
If you want a significant but less noble servant, there is of course Gehazi (2 Kings 4-5).
It’s interesting that Gehazi’s the one with a name. Just as the mark of a good house-elf is that you don’t know it’s there, and the honour of a woman in ancient Greece is that she isn’t talked about, the sign of a satisfactory servant is that they don’t need to be named. This is presumably the trope that Tolkien is referencing by not naming Sam in the Silmarillion.
But it seems inappropriate to a modern reader.
I think I’ll return another day to the question of servants in literature, my own and others’. Today I’ll mention that servants are plainly extremely important to God, because He chose to become one (Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2.) Paul was quite happy to be a servant/slave.
I sometimes feel a little uneasy with our churches’ emphasis on leadership, leadership qualities and training leaders.
Some people are called to lead, and doubtless this is important and challenging, but all of us are called to follow (God), and most of us are called to follow people. Are we taught how to follow, supportively, cheerfully, humbly, but not blindly? And do we celebrate followers – the people who look at the new ideas produced by the bright sparks, weigh them, and then sign up, the people who are one name among twenty making cakes or standing in demonstrations?
Servants do not get to be independent, and they don’t get to be famous. But they’ve always done the hard work.
Love from the PPI Blogger
PS Competition results will follow. I may or may not post anything about the holiday, which was very nice, thank you.