The Priority of Friendship

The common concept of friendship might appear too simple or trite to have such great importance in an epic novel, but Tolkien’s picture of true friendship is at times grave and demanding. Tolkien suggests that even the all-important quest itself should be suspended for the sake of devotion to one’s friends. Sam’s deeds in Mordor display the ultimate courage, for he must constantly decide between fidelity to his friend Frodo or the forward movement of the Ring. In the dead silence of Mordor, Sam risks discovery by singing aloud in order to find his way to Frodo’s hidden cell. For Sam, true friendship means absolute devotion to another person. This absolute devotion involves a denial of the self and the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for one’s friend.

At the same time, Tolkien’s exploration of friendship remains refreshing in its lightheartedness. The companions of the Fellowship make few vows of deep or serious friendship to each other. Rather, friendship in the novel frequently means being content with the company of another person. As Frodo leisurely tells Sam while Mordor collapses around them, “I am glad you are here with me . . . at the end of all things.” Gandalf closes the novel by quietly bidding Sam, Merry, and Pippin to return home, “for it will be better to ride back three together than one alone.”