From the first moment I watched and read The Lord of the Rings, I fell in love with sweet, loyal Sam. I always regarded him as more heroic than anybody else, and I thought he deserved more recognition than he ever received. Later I learned Tolkien felt much the same, calling him the "chiefest hero" of the story. At first, Sam may not seem heroic or important since he's a simple hobbit who loves gardening, but his endearing qualities help shape the events of the story in extraordinary ways.
"'Why, Sam,' he said, 'to hear you somehow makes me merry as if the story was already written. But you've left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. "I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn't they put in more of his talk, dad? That's what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam, would he, dad?'" -Frodo Baggins, The Two Towers, 363
1. He's loyalAnyone who knows the story of Samwise Gamgee wouldn't be surprised to learn that one of Sam's greatest qualities is his loyalty. Throughout the books, Samwise has one goal: to stick by Frodo's side, no matter what. At every turn, he is looking out for his master and carefully makes sure he knows where Frodo is at all times (The Fellowship of the Ring, 252; The Two Towers 328). At the beginning of the book, he aims to help Frodo by carrying more than his fair share of supplies (FOTR, 78, 201). In addition, he refuses to leave Frodo's side, even falling asleep at his feet: "Sam refused to leave his master. When Pippin had gone he came and sat curled up at Frodo's feet, where at last he nodded and closed his eyes" (FOTR 92). When they meet Strider, he's suspicious, if only to make sure Strider won't hurt Frodo (FOTR 194, 222). The same happens when they encounter Gollum; he doesn't want Gollum to turn around and strangle them in their sleep (TT 264, 274). When they are in Rivendell he "had begged to be allowed to wait on his master, but had been told that for this time he was a guest of honor" (FOTR, 255).
Of course, he is most known for declaring to follow Frodo all the way to Mordor if that is what they are meant to do. He interrupts the Council of Elrond to demand Frodo is not sent off by himself, and he chases after Frodo, determined that Frodo won't get lost by himself (FOTR 304, 455).
"'But I'm going to Mordor.'He defends Frodo multiple times, whether it be from swampy tentacle-monsters, strange Men of Gondor, or greedy orcs (FOTR 346-47; TT 306; The Return of the King 200). He makes sure Frodo gets proper food and sleep, even giving Frodo the last drink of water and his own portion of lembas bread (TT 292, 361, 365; ROTK 219). After they are attacked in Shelob's Lair and Samwise believes Frodo to be dead, Samwise stays loyal to his master by deciding to take up Frodo's quest and destroy the Ring (TT 385-86). When he learns Frodo is not dead, he makes it his priority to save Frodo first: "He sprang up. He flung the Quest and all his decisions away, and fear and doubt with them. He knew now where his place has and had been: at his master's side" (TT 389).
'I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I'm coming with you.'" -Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, The Fellowship of the Ring, 457
Even to the end of the Quest, Samwise is by Frodo's side. He determines he was meant to stick by Frodo's side to the end, even if that meant death: "'So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started,' thought Sam: 'to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then, I must do it'" (ROTK 225). He offers to help carry the Ring, but when Frodo refuses to allow him such a burden, Samwise decides he will do what he must to help Frodo succeed, even if that means carrying Frodo himself (ROTK 229, 232). In one of the most heroic moments in the books and on cinematic screens, Samwise carries the frail Frodo upon his back into the heart of Mount Doom:
"'Come, Mr. Frodo,' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go.'" -Samwise Gamgee, The Fellowship of the Ring, 233
"'If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain,' said Sam. 'Don't you leave him! They said to me. Leave him! I said. I never meant to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said. They laughed.'" -Samwise Gamgee, The Fellowship of the Ring, 97
2. He's braveSam's loyalty to others filters straight into his other qualities, namely his bravery. Hobbits are known for being exceedingly surprising, especially when it comes to resilience and strength in the face of despair (think Bilbo facing Smaug or Frodo carrying the Ring to Mount Doom), yet Samwise is more surprising than most. At the beginning of the story, he ends up bursting into tears over pretty much anything: Elves, excitement, eavesdropping. Yet by the end, he is a steadfast, stouthearted hobbit that shows incredible bravery.
Due to his loyalty, he finds it is his personal duty to defend Frodo, as mentioned earlier. He will do whatever it takes to save his master from trouble. He'd go up against Black Riders, Bill Ferny, Gollum, orcs, and a nasty spider just to see Frodo safely into Mordor. That kind of action requires bravery that far exceeds the normal capacity.
"'Sam is an excellent fellow, and would jump down a dragon's throat to save you, if he did not trip over his own feet...'" -Peregrin Took, The Fellowship of the Ring, 117While Sam reveals his bravery at the beginning, it isn't until he and Frodo travel alone that his true character is revealed. When they pass through Emyn Muil, Sam volunteers to go down the side of a cliff first, if only to save Frodo from being squashed: "Before Frodo could stop him, he sat down, swung his legs over the brink, and twisted around, scrabbling with his toes for a foothold. It is doubtful if he ever did anything braver in cold blood, or more unwise" (TT 235). After Gollum betrays them in Shelob's Lair, Samwise fights off Gollum and shows resilience in the fight. He had fought Gollum previously and knew it was not easy, but he was willing to try again if to rid the world of the wretch (TT 378-79). But Sam's greatest feat of bravery comes when he fights off Shelob in order to save Frodo:
"Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master's sword in his left hand. Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate." -The Two Towers, 381
Samwise could not have fought off Shelob like he did without his strength of courage. He doesn't give up, even when she comes at him with her stinger. And his bravery continues as he decides to take up Frodo's quest and place the burden of the Ring around his neck: "But slowly, as if the weight became less, or new strength grew in him, he raised his head, and then with a great effort got to his feet and found that he could walk and bear his burden" (TT 387). Sam continues to show bravery as he tracks down Frodo's whereabouts and rescues him from an orc-infested stronghold. He doesn't even hesitate when he hears the orcs' uproar and fighting. He continues through, determined to save Frodo if it's the last thing he does. He simply walks in and bravery maneuvers his way through the tower, past the dead bodies of orcs and the wicked air of the enemy's land (ROTK 189). When he does find Frodo, he once more shows his courage by fighting off the orcs who have him:
"With a cry Sam leapt across the floor, Sting in hand. The orc wheeled around, but before it could make a move Sam slashed its whip-hand from its arm. Howling with pain and fear but desperate the orc charged head-down at him." -The Return of the King, 196
Later, Sam shows the same kind of fearless bravery when he helps save the Shire (ROTK 311). Samwise's bravery helped save Frodo on numerous occasions and gave him the resilience and strength to keep moving forward, despite all their obstacles and losses. It is with good reason Frodo calls him "Samwise the stouthearted" (TT 363).
"'Now come, you filth!' he cried. 'You've hurt my master, you brute, and you'll pay for it. We're going on; but we'll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!'" -Samwise to Shelob, The Two Towers, 383
Samwise has many more qualities that set him apart as an extraordinary literary gentlemen. I'll continue discussing more of these qualities and how they all tie together in part two!
All quotations from from 2012 Del Rey Mass Market editions of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), The Return of the King (1955).