Who Stole the Lembas?
by Varda with responses from Ladyhawk and Eilenach.
When I saw the film for the first time and Frodo sends Sam away on the
word of Gollum, thinking he ‘stole’ the lembas, I thought pthhhh. (that
should sound like a raspberry, but I am tired after Xmas…..)
But one thing I have learned in the course of these films is that all
the changes have some reason, even if it is a bad one, as with Faramir.
So there must be reasons for the lembas incident.
In the film, we are shown Gollum ‘framing’ Sam for the eating of all
the lembas. We are asked to believe that Frodo would believe this of
Sam, after his loyal servant has deprived himself for his master’s sake
for months. Why does PJ risk alienating those who have read the book
attentively with this clumsy device ?
I think Sam, Frodo and Gollum’s progress through Mordor presented some
problems when PJ came to show it visually. Sam’s growing mistrust of
Gollum, accurate to the book, has to be shown. So has Frodo’s
increasing disorientation and weakness. And that terrible passage,
after Sam rescues Frodo from the orc tower, where he turns savagely on
Sam, has to be shown, the low point of their love. As Jackson showed us
Boromir teaching the hobbits to fence to give us an idea of the man’s
kindness and generosity, so he manufactures the lembas incident to show
Gollum’s power to deceive, Frodo’s growing dislocation from reality,
and Sam’s enduring loyalty.
Frodo, in book and film, has come to trust Gollum, against Sam’s better
judgement. This incident shows him actually taking Gollum’s word
against Sam. But as he does so it is clear from his voice and posture
that he is very weak and not thinking clearly. So we are asked to
believe that in his weakened state he forgets himself. If we accept
this, we are less likely to not accept his final succumbing to the
power of the ring at the Crack of Doom.
The incident also succeeds in showing the utter ruthlessness and
malevolence of Gollum. To be so cunning, so credible, so persuasive,
denotes great reserves of intelligence and determination. It also shows
he realises how weakened Frodo would be without Sam. In the book
Gollum’s attack on Sam is direct and violent, he almost succeeds in
strangling him as Shelob attacks Frodo. It is only Gollum’s
overconfidence that allows Sam to escape death (and in a very nice
touch, Sam breaks the staff Faramir gave him on Gollum’s back) This is
a savage battle, almost to the death. But Jackson knew that he could
not show Sam fighting Gollum, then show Sam fighting Shelob immediately
after, and hope to maintain dramatic tension. He had to choose, and the
Sam/Gollum fight was left out. But some clash between them had to
happen, so the lembas incident is concocted.
Frodo does turn on Sam, but in the book it happens later, when he finds
Sam has taken the ring for safe keeping. This is a much toned down
incident in the film, but there is a reason; Sam has just heroically
rescued his master. It is not the place to stress violent rejection,
but to celebrate Sam’s loyalty and love. Jackson knew it would be too
much to ask an aucience to then see Sam rebuffed so unfeelingly. So he
creates a scene of rejection, the lembas incident, earlier on, and the
dominant feeling of their reunion in the tower is of joy, love and
compassion. I always dreaded that scene in the book, and maybe PJ did
It still seems strange, that after refusing to part from Frodo at the
lake, where he almost drowns, Sam would leave him on the slopes of the
mountain. But perhaps Gollum’s hypnotic wheedling has begun to
infiltrate even Sam’s mind, and by now he genuinely cannot say for sure
if he did not, in some dreamlike state indeed eat the lembas…..
...maybe you ate it yourself.
Response from Ladyhawk:
Alas, no Lembas here...
Your reasoning is quite sound and the best explanation I've read so far
for the path the movie took. I do understand that PJ is walking a fine
line endeavoring to stay close to the book and yet have the journey
make sense to someone who's not read the book. Following your train of
thought, the characters but move along the path together... sorry that
makes no sense at all, but I'm thinking that as Frodo weakens Sam
strengthens. Each character is pushed to their limit until the final
moment when the Ring melts. As far as Sam leaving, my feeling was that
he was just so tired. How many times have I given up just because I
wasn't thinking clearly, then something would catch me downward slide,
so to speak, and give me the extra "kick" I needed to strengthen my
resolve. When Sam volunteers to follow Frodo at the lake there is only
Frodo asking him to go back. At the scene with the lembas there is not
only Frodo telling him to go back but there is the Gollum mudding the
water at every turn. Sam spoke rightly when he says it's not just
Gollum, it's Morder and that thing around Frodo's neck. At the lake the
stakes weren't nearly as high, only because they didn't know. Now they
have a much clearer picture. I found it interesting too that Sam spoke
of the trip back when saving the lembas. Then, when Frodo drinks the
last of the water, he says there's not enough for the trip back and Sam
tells him he doesn't think there will be one. An unexpected and yet
clear change of perspectives. Then I remember the scene at the river
side back in the EE of FOTR where Frodo tells Sam he can't help, not
this time. Then there is Sam saying, "I may not be able to carry your
burden, but I can carry you." Goodness, it brings tears to my eyes just
to think about. Thanks (((Varda))) for the musing that brought the
wonder of that moment so clearly to mind.
Response from Eilenach:
Excellent thoughts.. how about also considering Sam's role as
While Sam has grown thoughout the book, we still see that, underneath
it all, he subverts his will to Frodo's. I think this is very clear on
Mount Doom when Sam does NOT slay Gollum after Gollum attacks them. He
has seen Frodo spare Gollum's life, and he will not kill Gollum unless
Frodo specifically orders him to (and Frodo's life is not immediately
in danger from Gollum, at this point.) So I can believe that Sam would
initially obey Frodo's order to "Go home" -- until he realizes that his
higher call is not to obey every order, but to protect his master from
the murdering Gollum. PJ uses the lembas bread as a visual device for
this realization, but I think it would have happened in any case. Sam
just needed some time to think.