Samwise and Bob: Pages in a Greater Story

Screenshot from The Lord of the Rings.

From the moment I met Samwise Gamgee on the big screen, he has been beloved to me. Seeing Sean Astin bring one of my favourite Tolkien characters to life made the actor inextricable from Sam in my child’s mind. And through the years, as I have grown older and more aware of the beauties and horrors of the world around me, the roles which Sean Astin has played have stood the test of time, largely due to their redemptive qualities. So, when I saw that Astin would be playing Bob Newby in Stranger Things 2, I was sure that I’d find something to love about him.

Both Bob the Brain and Sam Gamgee are vehicles for a universal truth, helping to show that there is in fact, “light and high beauty forever beyond” like Sam notices in The Return of the King. This hope is beyond the reach of the dark, even when the characters themselves seem fairly insignificant in their respective worlds. Bob and Sam are aware that they are in a larger narrative, that their role in their worlds and their small acts of goodness can reverberate through eternity. Sam’s revelation comes in the latter chapters of The Two Towers:

Sam acknowledges that the truest and most memorable tales include some suffering, some sacrifice, and a heap of courage.

“The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it.

“But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not what folk inside a story and not outside it would call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

In his simple, yet charming vernacular, Sam acknowledges that the truest and most memorable tales include some suffering, some sacrifice, and a heap of courage. Sam, of course, puts this theoretical knowledge into action as he plays a pivotal role in the ultimate destruction of The One Ring, all without abandoning his humility, his roots.

Bob, in Stranger Things 2, unexpectedly reminds me of Sam’s journey, inspiring me to reach further in my search for purpose and truth. He has a similar revelation to Sam’s in episode six of Stranger Things 2: “Man, I always thought things like this happened in movies and comic books. Certainly not in Hawkins, and certainly not to someone like you… Bob Newby, superhero (chuckles).” Shortly after saying this, Bob realizes that he is the only member of their group who knows BASIC, rendering him the sole individual who can reset the power in the lab where he and his cohort are hiding out. In this miniature journey of his own, Bob makes the ultimate sacrifice for his friends and loved ones. Though his death may seem insignificant, the role that he plays in the larger story of Stranger Things is beyond pivotal: he is the textbook unlikely hero, just like Sam.

These goofy, untraditional heroes are so magnetic, so beloved by fans, because we can imagine ourselves in their places.

When I find myself feeling insignificant, like just another cog in the machine, I look at Sam and Bob, whose small acts of kindness and heroism have a pivotal impact on those around them. If I follow their standards of atypical heroism—if I, for example, can create an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance in my classroom, if I can show kindness and love to a student, a grieving friend, or a stranger who looks or thinks differently from me, I may be able to contribute to significant good in the story I am a part of.

These goofy, untraditional heroes are so magnetic, so beloved by fans, because we can imagine ourselves in their places. They help us see that our lives can have a greater purpose. Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond pain, to see beyond the long journey to Mordor or the dema-dogs who’ve escaped in the laboratory. But both Sam and Bob are deeply sacrificial, unswervingly loyal, and are ultimately willing to give their lives up for those they love.

Though life seems mundane at times, I can find purpose in it; I am inspired by Tolkien’s idea of subcreation: writing, painting, composing, filming… Any piece of thoughtful art can be one more page in the greater story, the one that reveals truth and beauty to listeners, viewers, and readers who we may not even realize are tuned in. We are pages in a greater story, where the insignificant turn the wheels of the world in favour of redemption.

Christy Chichester

Christy Chichester

Guest Writer at Area of Effect magazine
Christy Chichester is an instructor at Penn State University, where she teaches Composition and Rhetoric, Writing in the Social Sciences, and Sci-Fi Literature. When she isn't teaching, writing, or grading, Christy can be found watching Star Wars, quoting Tolkien, or snuggling with her two pit bulls.
Christy Chichester

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