Why write about any other topic than the one you’ve invested more than a decade and a half in? In celebration of Hobbit Day this year, I’ve decided to take you on a quest of your own–a quest on the true sexuality of everyone’s favorite hobbit, Frodo Baggins. (Not everyone’s, though; I fancy Samwise Gamgee.)
When people are watching the Lord of the Rings movies and reading the books, there’s clear references to what (at least our generation) would consider overtly romantic or sexual tones with the hobbits, especially between Frodo and Sam. I remember clearly, at the end of Return of the King, when my straight high school buddies winced queasily seeing Samwise hug, kiss, and exchange meaningful glances with Frodo. Sighs of relief were audible when Sam’s wife, Rosie, and their child were shown at home later on, Frodo long gone over the sea.
But the books and the movies just make you want to be held in a cuddly hobbits’ arms. Right? Tolkien was from a different day, and back then, physical and emotional intimacy between men was common and even considered necessary. Tolkien expresses this blithely in the novels: early on in Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbits all bathe together; Samwise kisses his master’s hand frequently; the hobbits run about naked on a hill, joyful at their rescue from evil barrow-wights. Tolkien goes through this so quickly that we wonder if evenhe is uncomfortable with these scenes. But, despite his Catholicism, Tolkien is actually indicating something entirely separate.
Frodo symbolizes what Tolkien loves best about the world. He’s essentially Tolkien himself, someone who likes to wander and explore, someone who is somewhat learned (mostly self-taught), and he has a respect for things naturally noble, artistic and pure. Sam symbolizes an almost proto-Frodo (that’s an awesome word!): while simplistic and clearly not as intelligent as Frodo, he is also aligned with nature and husbandry, artisans and the common folk. Both are inherently good and represent, truly, what ‘ordinary’ folks were to Tolkien. In Tolkien’s mind, Frodo is the master and Samwise is the servant. This relationship is not equatable to modern terms of servitude: there’s an actual relationship here, to the extent that the thought of Frodo paying money to Sam is never once mentioned in the books.
Frodo, as the master of Samwise, is responsible for his actions and for his well-being. But he also teaches Samwise, treats him fairly, and essentially has him as a natural part of his inner circle (with Merry and Pippin, who somewhat constitute a hobbit gentry). Sawmwise, as the servant, is Frodo’s gardener, protector, and in some senses keeps Frodo sane with his ‘hobbit-sense’: he provides to Frodo what Frodo, as an absent-minded professor, lack. The relationship here is significant and total, essentially meaning that there is a great love between them, but it’s not romantic, it’s not platonic–it’s something other, a unique Victorian concept.
Let’s continue with the symbolism here. If Frodo represents that Tolkien loves best about the world, it only makes sense that Frodo’s constantly under attack. Poisoned by Shelob, stabbed by Ringwraiths, and constantly tempted by the des
ire of the Ring. Endless speculation can be brought about by what each of these things means–obvious ones are to equate the Ring with political power, Shelob with pollution, and so forth–but the point is clear that our morals, through Frodo, are under attack. Samwise–simple, straightforward Samwise–is here to both protect and save these ideals, someone he loves, clearly, but not in a romantic sense. When a soldier fights for his country, or for his beliefs, he does so out of love–but a qualitatively different love than the one he feels for his spouse.
At the end of the book, when Frodo and Sam return to the Shire, it’s almost anti-climactic as their relationship is so incredibly close, but us modern readers can’t comprehend that there might not be any action or consummation when two people are so connected.While Sam does marry Rose Cotton at the end of the novel, it’s worth noting that he and Rose were involved before the entire adventure, and Sam chose to go with Frodo rather than stay with Rose. In this way, we see that the love of ideals–the philosophical love that he and Frodo represent–go above and beyond the romantic love that society asks of us.
But a-ha! you say: Frodo never marries or even shows the slightest interest towards women! He must be gay! But the truth of the matter is, we simply don’t know what Frodo’s sexuality is. It just never comes up. A possible interpretation would be that Frodo found pleasure in other things–writing, socializing, exploring, reading books of l0re–rather than with a member of the opposite (or same) sex. Though, it’s worth considering that Tolkien probably didn’t write Frodo as a gay character, knowing it was still considered sinful and a disorder in his day.
In the months and years after Lord of the Rings, there were posts online about whether Elijah Wood was in a gay relationship with Dominic Monaghan or someone else (not like I was looking). But it’s more evidence to indicate that modern day readers and fans of Lord of the Rings assume a simplistic explanation of the complex, philosophical relationship between Frodo and Sam.