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In my re-read of LOTR, I lately began book 6 - the final leg! Here be more musings, this time all about Frodo/Sam as the One True Pairing. Be warned.

I do honestly believe Tolkien didn't intend to make Sam and Frodo's relationship romantic. But I also know from experience that characters start doing their own thing after you've been writing them a while, and I'm sorry, Professor, but those two hobbits REALLY seem like a couple. And they seem like they have been for YEARS before this quest. Or, at the very least, Sam's in love with Frodo, and Frodo complacently humors it. I'm not even trying to be a swoony shipper here--the conditions of the quest are not exactly sexy--nor am I trying to be subversive. This is my (admittedly 21st-century) writer's instinct talking.

Sam does marry Rosie after they get home, so maybe the strain of the quest is what finally ends the relationship. I can see how the Ring would do that. (Curse you, Ring!) But up till then--really, I'm trying to bring non-shipper-ish, clear-headed analysis to this, and they STILL feel like a couple to me. I keep shrugging off one eyebrow-raising endearment only to have them voicing new ones the next page.

Yes, LOTR is a book full of close male relationships--which it would have to be, given the absence of females. But none of the other guys act the way Frodo and Sam do. Merry and Pippin are close and chummy, but theirs is more a bromance. Legolas and Gimli make a nice Odd Couple or pair of Grumpy Old Men willing to travel together after the quest, but that's about all. And Legolas does say how he, and others, will follow Aragorn anywhere because they love him so much, but that feels like a kingly-worship thing, along with an Elvish-courtliness thing.

None of them sleep in each other's laps the way Sam and Frodo do. They don't gaze at their buddy as he sleeps, find him "beautiful," and murmur, "I love him" (Sam, The Two Towers). They don't fondle each other's hands and say, "My dear" (both Frodo and Sam, lots of times). When parted from one another, they don't long only for that fellow, "for one sight of his face or one touch of his hand." (Sam looking for Frodo, The Return of the King.) In fact, only Éowyn so far, to Aragorn, has used stronger words of romantic love, and shown stronger signs thereof, than Sam and Frodo have to each other over and over throughout.

Sam is Frodo's servant, which does alter the nature of how they'd relate to each other, especially since this is a fantasy world where social norms could be different. Frodo's role as "master" could--people say--account for Sam's brand of loving devotion. Tolkien claimed he meant their friendship to resemble that of an officer and his batman in WWI. A rural gentleman and his familiar valet, perhaps, one could also say. As regards the cooking and pack-carrying and looking-after that Sam does for Frodo, sure, I accept that. But I'm sorry, Professor, my instincts say he's gone beyond the feelings of a faithful servant. Or else being a batman apparently means acting like someone's boyfriend.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
scholargipsy
Mar. 26th, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
Interesting post; thank you for, well, posting it.

I'm afraid that simply the fact of my writing this will make me seem like an off-the-rack homophobe. I'm really, really, really not; I'm all for romantically and/or sexually intimate same-sex pairings in literature, as long as they're both believable and interesting, just like any other such coupling.

But...I can't help feeling like your argument here falls into a bit of a trap, and a common one nowadays: that of assuming that any verbal, emotional, or even physical intimacy must be romantic (or sexual), especially between dudes (or dude-hobbits). And to be honest, I think that says more about our culture and times than it does about Tolkien's characters' feelings, whatever the author's intentions.

I have friends, male and female ones, with whom I am extremely touchy-feely, very emotionally tender, and verbally quite demonstrative. But that doesn't make those admittedly deep and intimate friendships erotic, and Sam's and Frodo's need not be either. Likewise, parents often display the same traits and behaviors you talk about; while Frodo and Sam obviously cannot be direct blood relatives, it makes as much sense in many respects to view their relationship through a paternal lens as through a gay one.

I suppose if I have a bias driving my reaction here, it's only this: I love that Tolkien presents to us several loving masculine relationships in the novel, and invites us to deem them admirable and moving, without their having to default to the presumed erotic. Soi-disant women's literature (I hate that term, but I hope you know what I mean) is full of that sort of thing, but men? We get it very, very sparingly if at all. I don't care to imagine Frodo and Sam as a romantic couple not because gay-ew-gross or any dumbass stuff like that, but rather because I really like the idea of their male/male friendship being comfortably loving and intimate. Men, especially straight men, need more such literary models!

Of course, neither of us is "right" in this debate, any more than even J.R.R. could be said to be "right" about his characters' feelings and motives. I firmly subscribe to reader-response theory, and to the notion that each reader constructs her or his own version of a text, a text that remains incomplete in a real sense until finished by the reader's own impressions and conclusions. If your Lord of the Rings is slashfic, I will not gainsay you! But I thought you might find another perspective interesting. :)

Edited at 2014-03-26 06:04 pm (UTC)
mollyringle
Mar. 26th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
No homophobia taken - I know plenty of liberal people who don't get this vibe, or at least don't read it this way.

Part of the problem is definitely that I'm almost unable to *not* see it through the lens of modern standards. And modern American standards at that, wherein I have no idea how a person "should" behave with servants. Tolkien, on the other hand--well, one could never say he was overly modern. ;)

I guess I mainly wonder why the other male friendships in the book don't go as far as Frodo and Sam's, if it's just the norm to behave like that. Is it all down to Sam's being the only technical "servant"? If so, that's an uncomfortable notion for me (being the modern American, etc.). Sometimes it's almost as if Sam's more like Frodo's dog than his fellow hobbit companion, in Tolkien's way of drawing things. Since my mind doesn't like seeing that kind of unequal set-up, perhaps it slides things over into some slightly messed-up possibly unrequited love scenario instead. :)

Edit: That said, the parent/child prospect could potentially make sense, since later Frodo does make Sam his heir, and is at least a decade older than him. I'll try viewing it that way as I continue the re-read and see how it strikes me!

Edited at 2014-03-26 06:51 pm (UTC)
Cara G. Chapel
Mar. 26th, 2014 07:23 pm (UTC)
Servants as children? A possible mitigating explanation for Tolkien's intent
The way I related to this pairing back in the days of my pre-slashiness was by seeing Sam (and, by implication other servants) as a child-- or by believing Tolkien saw him as such.

People are much more demonstrative in dealing with children than other adults, and I believe Tolkien's society embraced a concept of servants (and/or lower class people who grew up to be servants) as being lesser beings than their masters, with a potential to reach a higher level of maturity, but who had possibly not done so, as children are seen in relation to adults. Even as adults, servants may have been seen in this way. Therefore servants had a potential to be treated as requiring more emotional support and both emotional and social guidance, and were in a position to be condescended to, coddled, etc. This held true even as they were in something of a position to take certain liberties based on that immaturity and/or the degree of social closeness in the relationship/permissiveness in the master.

This opinion might not have been at all out of place in Victorian times. If you look at their interaction through that lens, the tender speech and affectionate touches fall into another light. Note how Frodo is addressed as "Master Frodo" with respect, meaning the master in the master/servant pair, but Sam receives the title "Master Samwise" as a Victorian child would: "Master" is used (often with some asperity, and always with condescension) in the same way it would be if he were the elder child of the house's actual master-- a practice frequently used with children in Victorian society.

I often touched on this obliquely in my slash stories, especially by having others in the Shire regard Sam as a child in relation to Frodo, even to a degree after he reached sexual maturity by Shire standards and could have married. Frodo had that lingering responsibility to be the adult of the pair in the expectations of others, and was frowned on if he was seen failing in that regard, particularly if they thought he was taking advantage of his position over Sam to indulge in requiring sexual favors, etc.

Just a few thoughts on where Tolkien might have been coming from-- you know how I love the slashy reading of Frodo and Sam; I too find it irresistible!
mollyringle
Mar. 26th, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Servants as children? A possible mitigating explanation for Tolkien's intent
Thanks! This is probably the best explanation, since Sam is the only major character who's a servant, and the demonstrativeness is almost all on his side. (Also the respect and deference--Frodo's sweet to him, but of course it's never "Mr. Samwise" the way it's "Mr. Frodo"; and even Pippin, who's younger than Sam, gets to order Sam around a bit.) But yeah, as I've said in other comments, that kind of condescension and social-class-divide is distasteful to my modern sensibilities, so I *want* it to be some other explanation. :)
mariole
Mar. 27th, 2014 03:20 am (UTC)
I remember being rather shocked by Sam's love of Frodo the first time I read it at age 18. I read it as absolutely straight, but thought, Wow, that Sam sure has a crush on Frodo. I mean, he thinks he's _beautiful_. And what's with all this touchy stuff? Hmm...

But I never thought of them being in a relationship. The main reason is that Frodo is so ignorant of Sam's abilities. He says, early on, "I'm learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey." (I believe it's after Sam sings the troll song.) For Frodo not to know Sam has any creative capability is a rather basic omission for a relationship. But I certainly view Sam as loving and revering Frodo, and Frodo kindly returning the affection as best he can.

Of course, I'm colored by my upbringing. I don't even know what age I was when I learned about homosexuality, but I don't recall it being part of my upbringing one way or another. My parents are liberals, it just wasn't discussed. So my default was "straight... with touching." :)
mollyringle
Mar. 27th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm almost irritated sometimes now as I'm rediscovering Frodo's surprise to learn that, you know, Sam *has a brain* and is not in fact his dog. It's that social class thing again, I suppose. :)

I had a similar upbringing, sounds like--my folks are eccentric academics and open to new ideas, but never told us about gay people's existence. I had to pick that up from school. When I first read LOTR, I saw Frodo/Sam as romantic in a swoony way, probably because by that point (in my 20s, with the films starting to come out) I already had heard about slash, and Frodo/Sam as a popular pairing in particular. But this time around, trying to be more realistic, I'm finding that it doesn't feel like they're getting physical on the quest itself (not sexy conditions, as mentioned), but more like they might have sometimes back in the Shire. And I also get the impression Sam's been harboring confused strong feelings for quite some time, though perhaps Frodo never gave it that much thought, and in any case is more preoccupied nowadays with other stuff.

Still, if it gives LGBT readers a boost to see the heroes of the most famous fantasy novel ever as potentially gay, the way Ian McKellen said Frodo/Sam meant a lot to him, then I'm happy the interpretation is a common one out there! Even though Tolkien surely did not anticipate such a reading. :)
avari_maethor
Mar. 28th, 2014 12:38 am (UTC)
I'll just leave my friend and I's awesome license plates here...

http://i49.photobucket.com/albums/f295/Suilad/10151137_630716548292_405729515_n_zps9b1625f1.jpg
mollyringle
Mar. 28th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC)
Aww, tandem license plates! That's so cool. Good choices!

There's a "SHDWFX" vanity plate in our neighborhood, but the car isn't even white. I always feel it should be white. And I've never seen it go all that fast so far.
avari_maethor
Mar. 29th, 2014 12:26 am (UTC)
It should totally be white with that name. Otherwise it should be "GRAYWIZ".
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )