Sam steps up to the plate in a big way.
Frodo was lying face upward on the ground and the monster was bending over him, so intent upon her victim that she took no heed of Sam and his cries, until he was close at hand. […]
On the near side of him lay, gleaming on the ground, his elven-blade, where it had fallen useless from his grasp. Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master’s sword in his left hand. Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.
The bulk of Sam’s battle with Shelob takes up all of one page, as her attempts to crush him brings her full weight down onto Sting, because of course she’s foiled by her own malice. Although it doesn’t kill her, she’s put on the defensive, and then Sam remembers the star-glass.
‘Now come, you filth!’ he cried. ‘You’ve hurt my master, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!’
As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before.
It actually makes a ton of sense that Sam would be the fiercest warrior of the four hobbits, as long as he knows what he’s fighting for. Merry might possibly be more skilled on that front, but Sam is fierce as a dragon when Mr. Frodo’s safety is on the line – but of course, he never doubted that Frodo was only hurt.
‘Master, dear master,’ he said, but Frodo did not speak. As he had run forward, eager, rejoicing to be free, Shelob with hideous speed had come behind and with one swift stroke had stung him in the neck. He lay now pale, and heard no voice, and did not move.
[…] ‘Frodo, Mr. Frodo!’ he called. ‘Don’t leave me here alone! It’s your Sam calling. Don’t go where I can’t follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!’
I don’t care if this is a fake death, this scene is HEARTBREAKING.
And so Sam is forced to make choices for the first time since he set out on the Quest, because he’s always left the decisions for wiser minds to make.
‘What shall I do, what shall I do?’ he said. ‘Did I come all this way with him for nothing?’ And then he remembered his own voice speaking words that at the time he did not understand himself, at the beginning of their journey: I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.
‘But what can I do? Not leave Mr. Frodo dead, unburied, on the top of the mountains, and go home? Or go on? Go on?’ he repeated, and for a moment doubt and fear shook him. ‘Go on? Is that what I’ve got to do? And leave him?’
It’s clear to the reader at this point what he must do, but it actually takes Sam quite a bit of internal debate to come to that same conclusion.
Now he tried to find strength to tear himself away and go on a lonely journey – for vengeance. If once he could go, his anger would bear him down all the roads of the world, pursuing, until he had him at last: Gollum. Then Gollum would die in a corner. But that was not what he had set out to do. It would not be worth while to leave his master for that. It would not bring him back. Nothing would. They would better both be dead together. And that too would be a lonely journey.
[…] There was no escape that way. That was to do nothing, not even to grieve. That was not what he had set out to do. ‘What am I to do then?’ he cried again, and now he seemed plainly to know the hard answer: see it through. Another lonely journey, and the worst
‘What? Me, alone, go to the Crack of Doom and all?’ He quailed still, but the resolve grew. ‘What? Me take the Ring from him? The Council gave it to him.’
But the answer came at once: ‘And the Council gave him companions, so that the errand should not fail. And you are the last of all the Company. The errand must not fail.’
He’s tempted by anger and grief, but of course in the end he accepts his duty. And that’s how he takes up the burden of the Ring – with a sense of duty and humility, like he’s had for so much of his life, if never with this much at stake.
Unfortunately, just as Sam finally gets the resolve to leave, the inhabitants of that tower they saw at the top of the pass finally appear.
Now the flicker of approaching torches and the clink of steel ahead was very near. In a minute they would be on him. He had taken too long in making up his mind, and now it was no good. How could he escape, or save himself, or save the Ring? The Ring. He was not aware of any thought or decision. He simply found himself drawing out the chain and taking the Ring in his hand. The head of the orc-company appeared in the cleft right before him. Then he put it on.
The Ring acts differently on Sam here, although it could just as easily be the proximity to Mordor as the different bearer. This is clearly where the filmmakers got the inspiration for their “Ring-world” which they use throughout the series (the dark and misty atmosphere). Another (possible) new feature is that Sam can understand the Orcs, although they are from different clans and thus might actually be using the Common Tongue, but that’s never confirmed one way or the other.
Anyhow, they discover Frodo’s body and take him to the tower.
‘How many are there?’ he thought. ‘[…] How many can I kill before they get me? They’ll see the flame of the sword, as soon as I draw it, and they’ll get me sooner or later. I wonder if any song will ever mention it: How Samwise fell in the High Pass and made a wall of bodies round his master. No, no song. Of course not, for the Ring’ll be found, and there’ll be no more songs. I can’t help it. My place is by Mr. Frodo. They must understand that – Elrond and the Council, and the great Lords and Ladies with all their wisdom. Their plans have gone wrong. I can’t be their Ringbearer. Not without Mr. Frodo.’
But he’s tricked by the Ring and misses his opportunity to do something incredibly stupid, so he follows the orcs and ends up eavesdropping on the Captains.
‘Nothing gets by Shelob when she’s on the hunt.’
‘Nothing, say you! Didn’t you use your eyes back there? I tell you I’m not easy in my mind. Whatever came up the Stairs, did get by. It cut her web and got clean out of the hole. That’s something to think about!’
‘Ah well, but she got him in the end, didn’t she?’
‘Got him? Got who? This little fellow? But if he was the only one, then she’d have had him off to her larder long before, and there he’d be now. […] But there was more than one.’
[…] ‘Who cut the cords round him, Shagrat? Same one as cut the web. Didn’t you see that? And who stuck a pin in Her Ladyship? Same one, I reckon. And where is he? Where is he, Shagrat?’
[…] ‘By all the signs, Captain Shagrat, I’d say there’s a large warrior loose, Elf most likely, with an elf-sword anyway, and an axe as well maybe; and he’s loose in your bounds, too, and you’ve never spotted him. Very funny indeed!’ […] Sam smiled grimly at this description of himself.
Then he discovers what you might have guessed all along (especially if you’re familiar with spiders): Shelob only knocked out Frodo.
‘You fool, he isn’t dead, and your heart knew it. Don’t trust your head, Samwise, it is not the best part of you. The trouble with you is that you never really had any hope.’
It was his worst fear: That Frodo would die and it would be his own fault. Even dooming the world to darkness would be nothing to him after that. So of course he has to get some hope back in order to keep the story going.
Sam yelled and brandished Sting, but his little voice was drowned in the tumult. No one heeded him.
The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.
Not to mention that army we saw earlier marching to assault Minas Tirith (whence all the other heroes are bound). Tolkien sure knows how to end on a cliffhanger!
Tolkien has sort of been playing with the idea of Sam as the true protagonist throughout Book IV, and although he’s still not technically “the hero” now that we know Frodo is still alive, he does kind of take over as the driving will behind the Quest from this point.
Until next time…