Sam the Peasant

by Varda
Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher when he was writing LOTR;

''Sam by the way is an abbreviation not of Samuel but of Samwise, the old English for Half-wit. As is his father's name the Gaffer (Ham)..hobbits of that class have very Saxon names as a rule - and I am not really satisfied with the surname Gamgee and should change it to Goodchild if I thought you would let me.''

Christopher Tolkien replied;
''I would never wish to see Gamgee changed to Goodchild and urge ...that the name Gamgee is for me the essential expression of 'the hobbit peasantry' in their 'slightly comical' aspect, deeply important to the whole book....''

Later Tolkien wrote back;
''As to Sam Gamgee, I quite agree with what you say, and I wouldn't dream of altering his name without your approval; but the object of the alteration was precisely to bring out the comicness, peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits. ....had I thought it out at the beginning I should have given all the hobbits very English names to match the Shire....''*

England is only 60 miles away across the Irish Sea but I will never understand their obsession with class.

It is disheartening to see 'peasant' taken as meaning amusing and stupid, but Sam defies this stereotype, again and again. Tolkien wrote this letter when he was working on the chapters dealing with the passage of the Dead Marshes. In these parts of the book Sam comes into his own, clever, resourceful and brave. While Frodo was protected by the Fellowship Sam's qualities were somewhat hidden. But at Amon Hen he keeps his head when everyone else is losing theirs. Ordered to follow Aragorn he does so and when he loses him the 'peasant' hobbit does not panic or run away like Pippin and Merry but thinks things out and calmly returns to the boats and there finds Frodo. Not long after this passage Sam shows great courage and indignation when he confronts Faramir (surrounded by his warriors) for interrogating Frodo. Stupid? yes, like a lion is stupid.

It is interesting that both Tolkien and his son saw hobbits as the very essence of Englishness, as attested by the name 'Shire'. If the lower orders of hobbits were buffoons, what does that say about this 'Englishness'.

I am very glad they did not change his name....


*The History of Middle Earth Volume 8 PPs 112-3
Christopher Tolkien