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 too…

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.

Just musing.....

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 servant?  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.