04 August 2014

Happy Endings, by S. Gamgee

In The Grey Havens Sam accompanies Frodo on one final journey, but it's not until they meet Elrond, Galadriel, and Bilbo on the road that Sam grasps its purpose. Frodo is not going to visit Bilbo in Rivendell, but to the Grey Havens to sail across the sea to Valinor.

'But,' said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, 'I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you've done.'
'So I thought too, once.  But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.
(RK 6.ix.1029)

Frodo is not going to get the happy ending that Sam wished for him, and that Bilbo, and indeed Sam, had imagined years earlier at Rivendell:
'What about helping me with my book, and making a start on the next? Have you thought of an ending?' [asked Bilbo.]
'Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant,' said Frodo.
'Oh, that won't do!' said Bilbo. 'Books ought to have good endings.  How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?'
'It will do well, if it ever comes to that,' said Frodo. 
'Ah!' said Sam. 'And where will they live?  That's what I often wonder.'
(FR 2.iii.273-274, with Tolkien's emphasis)

Sam's 'often' in this passage is fascinating.  For it indicates that Sam has already begun to see the adventure that he and Frodo were in as part of a story, just like Bilbo's.  With time and experience Sam will come to recognize that their story is in fact part of a much greater story, that of Beren and Luthien ('Why ... we're in the same tale still! ....  Don't the great tales never end?' TT 4.v.712).  But here, now, in the woods of the Shire as they meet Elrond, Galadriel, and Bilbo on their way to the Havens, Sam's vision of a happy ending for him and for Frodo collides with a reality that had grieved him before their quest had ever begun.  Early in The Shadow of the Past he says of the Elves:
'They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us,' said Sam, half chanting the words, shaking his head sadly and solemnly.'
(FR 1.ii.45)
Only now this sorrow has a very personal sting.  After all that he and Frodo had been through together, the fact that he and his wife and child were living in Bag End with Frodo must have seemed to Sam the most complete answer to the question he had 'often wonder[ed]' about.  But Frodo must leave and go sailing into the West with the Elves, and Sam must remain, as Frodo tells him, for 'as long as your part of the Story goes on.' (RK 6.ix.1029)

And so Frodo sails:
And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water.  And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
(RK 6.ix.1030)
Which explicitly recalls the beginning of the chapter Fog on the Barrow-Downs:
That night they heard no noises.  But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.
(FR 1.viii.135)
If we pause here to consider the narrator for a moment, interesting facts emerge. For most of The Lord of the Rings the narrator is Frodo, as the scene in which he turns his and Bilbo's book over to Sam makes clear (RK 6.ix.1027), 'but Chapter 80 was unfinished, and after that there were some blank leaves,' which Frodo expected Sam to fill: 'The last pages are for you.'  Adding Bilbo's writings (The Hobbit, nineteen chapters) to Frodo's (The Lord of the Rings, sixty-two chapters) we learn that chapter eighty is in fact not the last but the penultimate chapter, The Scouring of the Shire.  So Sam finished this chapter -- perhaps starting from 'And that's the end of that' at RK 6.viii.1020, where the tone becomes less somber and more colloquial -- and wrote all of The Grey Havens himself.

What does this mean?  Sam could not have known what Frodo saw or heard once he boarded the ship.  In fact the text seems intended to draw our attention to this detail. After seeming to run ahead at least several days with Frodo ('until at last on a night of rain'), it returns to Sam on the quay:

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West.  There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.
(RK 6.ix.1030)
Frodo gets white shores and a bright sunrise, Sam nightfall and a vanishing shadow. Frodo hears elven song from across the water, Sam the waves quietly washing the shore.  Sam the character who still has a part to play in the continuing story cannot know more than the darkness of night and the murmur of the sea.  Sam the character has what the life of Middle-earth can offer: the 'great comfort' he finds in the companionship of Merry and Pippin on the way home; and in the sound of their voices raised in song as they part company with him and head merely to Buckland while he takes the turn for Bywater. Sam the character has the great comfort of returning home, to the warmth of a fire and the pleasure of an evening meal, to the love of Rose and the joy of Elanor.  And these are great comforts indeed.

But Sam the narrator can pretend to a knowledge that is greater and a comfort more profound than Sam the character enjoys.  Sam the narrator can imagine for himself, and for us, that Frodo's dream in the house of Bombadil was a prophecy, now at last realized in 'a swift sunrise.'  Sam the narrator can grant Frodo the happy ending his sacrifice seemed to deny him.

And I can't imagine many readers would disagree, or wish to.

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A very nicely parallel passage to this use of the dream in the house of Bombadil may be found at TT 4.viii.714, where Frodo the narrator imagines a moment that no character could have seen, a fact which he also draws attention to in the text.  I am currently writing about this scene, and will post a note on it in time.

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All citations are to the single volume 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings.

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