In the early parts of The Lord of the Rings, Sam comes across as a rather flat character, a sidekick to the more interesting and dynamic Frodo, whom he serves. But from a psychological point of view, Sam is among the most interesting and complex characters in the novel. Like his probable namesake, Pickwick’s servant Sam in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, Frodo’s Sam is earthy and commonsensical, fond of his beer and his bread, clever though sometimes forgetful—as when he forgets he has a magic Elf rope in his bag. Over the course of The Two Towers, Sam changes more than any other character. Initially, he is subservient and not quite capable of independent judgment. His constant references to Frodo as “Mister Frodo”—a formal title that other characters do not use even when addressing kings or Wizards—makes us wonder whether Sam suffers from a sense of inferiority. Frodo never orders Sam around as a master would command a servant, yet Sam continually speaks of himself as serving Frodo.

Eventually, Sam is a servant no more. By the end of The Two Towers, when his master lies speechless and paralyzed, Sam is forced to affirm his own strength and assume the role of Ring-bearer himself. In being forced to make his own decisions, he becomes his own master, thereby becoming a symbol of the potential for leadership and heroism that may lie dormant in the most unsuspecting people, perhaps even ourselves.