The Value of a Good Leader

There is a moment in The Return of the King in which Samwise Gamgee throws his pots and pans into one of Mordor’s many foul pits. Dwell on the moment a little, imagining the pots and pans he throws away. Are they elegant? Are they of good and decent quality? He has brought them all the way from the Shire and surely they bear something of that place in their design and usefulness. He sends them–and not without pain–into oblivion because at last he has come to realize there is no return. He is throwing away the substance of the Shire, in a way, to keep something more substantial.

Frodo, it seems to me, realizes what is happening earlier: at the falls of Rauros, on Amon Hen–the hill of seeing. There he sees, doesn’t he? There he understands, perceives, realizes and then decides. Sam is more limited, and his understanding is as well. He protests he knows or that it doesn’t matter, but we know he cannot really decide until he realizes what he is deciding for. He doesn’t realize till much later–the moment when he casts his pots and pans into the pit–the choice before him of following Frodo. Sam is so limited it is not till then, till on the plains of Mordor and in the land of Shadow that he he realizes what surely he would be the last to see. Frodo has sight, and lacks strength. Sam has strength, but cannot see what Frodo does so soon.

Frodo Baggins has eight companions, making nine of the fellowship of the ring. Were you Frodo and going into Mordor with one of these, who would you pick? Perhap a dwarf–since one is available. A dwarf would work, being hardy, enduring, tough, pragmatic, and knowing something of caverns, pits and holes such as the maggot folk of Mordor might be expected to have. But it is not a dwarf who goes. Perhaps we’d pick an elven prince: subtle, light and quick, far-seeing and far-sensing. But he does not go either. We might pick Gandalf: not human but with a curious affinity for Hobbits, as if of the same magic. Gandalf is powerful, experienced, strong and wise. But he does not go. Boromir might be picked for his resume: long experience in batting Mordor plus a whole education in upbringing and traditions of Mordor-resistance. And if not Boromir, then Aragorn surely–a man to have on dangerous journeys. But no, out of all of them (including relatives) the one picked to accompany the ring-bearer into danger and treachery is his gardener, Sam.

In that moment of the pots in pans in the perpetual twilight of Mordor we see the comical smallness of Sam take on another greatness. He is limited in his understanding and in his vision, but how unlimited his loyalty for a good, wise master is subsequently shown to be. So much so, that when they approach that troubled volcano which is for them the ends of the earth, not two, but one set of footsteps goes the last bit of the way. Sam takes on proportions that can only be called epic as he himself carries the ring-bearer to the end of the world. And if you think of it, you’ll see it could have been no one but Sam.

Such is the quality of loyalty and such the quality of leadership here shown that when the strength of the master has given out, his servant out of love picks him up and carries him to his destination.

And that, little ones, is the great value of good leaders.


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