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.


  • Matthew Perry

    6th July 2018 at 7:08 pm Reply

    Leadership in the church is, or at least should be, “servant leadership”, that is the leader is there as the servant of both those lead and of Christ. John 13: 13-16.

  • Stephen Sheridan

    6th July 2018 at 11:50 pm Reply

    An excellent analysis PW.

    Sam was always the hero for me, because he is the sensible, practical one and when he has to go it alone he becomes the leader himself. Frodo is a weaker character in many ways, but he is crucial because he gives mercy to Gollum, proving that he is better at empathy and making the difficult moral decision; whereas Sam would have got rid of him for common sense reasons with the result that at the end, Frodo would not have cast the the ring in Mount Doom and would have been overcome by Sauron or turned into a mini-Sauron.

    Tolkien more or less spells out that Sam is the person with whom to identify, when in the last piece of dialogue, Sam says to Rosie -“Well I’m back”. Tolkien builds on the traditional English view that the ordinary families are the heroes of England, whereas the aristocrats are prone to selfish corruption and power-hungry evil (Isildur, Saruman, Wormtongue, Denethor, Boromir).

    Leaders and servants are often the winning co-dependency in tales. A similar comparison is Ripley and Corporal Hicks in the film Aliens. Hicks is the theoretical leader as the senior surviving soldier, but Ripley takes the real leadership role in making the decisions, because she commands authority through her knowledge and everyone’s respect for her. There is even a mercy moment in the film (spoiler alert) in the mode of Frodo and Gollum when the corrupt company man Burke is exposed by Ripley as being happy to murder everyone for the sake of making some money, but she spares him, while Hicks wants to execute him. I’m pretty sure that Gandalf warns Frodo in Moria not to be so sure as to deal out death in judgement or is that only in the film? The theme is clearly a common one.

    Another aspect to this is how often politicians portray themselves as servants of the public rather than leaders. They talk constantly (and mostly not at all credibly) of a life “in public service”, while acting like selfish egotists. The best leaders really are doing it for the service of others, rather than their own glory, and the Bible is filled with good examples of this as well as the opposite. The way you portray the King in your first book is a great illustration of some one who really is doing it as a public service and feels the responsibility intensely. Perhaps the greatest synthesis in Christianity is that of Jesus as both Lord, by being God, while simultaneously being the servant of humanity through his sacrifice.

    • Penelope Wallace

      9th July 2018 at 10:25 pm Reply

      Thank you for that nice assessment of King Arrion. I do have a soft spot for him against my husband’s criticisms.

  • Judith

    8th July 2018 at 7:07 pm Reply

    I think it comes down to how we value people, of course speaks against the Christians taking the best seats, in Corinthians, but the bible is a difficult one to quote from as slaves are told to obey their masters and the only one we hear about by name is more to do with Paul than with him (I would have to look him up to spell him correctly).

    One of the things I liked about my job on the neonatal unit was the value placed on everyone because cleaning was so vital that when the problem arose about doctor’s rounds going on forever, preventing the first lot of cleaning a meeting was held including Cathy who was the cleaning leader down to the consultant and all on first name terms. Also I might be in charge one day and working clinically the next, however leadership does bring more responsibility, something our politicians etc don’t seem to either realise or care. What I do find interesting is more about who we are, not what are jobs are. What is our value if we are in a nursing home unable to do anything and please don’t say pray, not everyone are Christians and anyway it is avoiding the issue. What defines us and have we value etc.

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