By Brad Faye
With archetypes having been engrained in the psyches of creators for thousands of years, it comes as no surprise to see similar characters organically or inorganically appearing in some of our favorite stories. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird openly confess that their conception of Master Splinter was a conscious effort to create a character similar to Daredevil’s mentor, Stick. Other times, two characters will bear striking similarities without the intentional effort to see it so.
In the case of Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien and Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, there were some instances in which the latter professes to having been influenced by the former. For example, as in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, there is a point in the early going of Game of Thrones in which the majority of characters are together in Winterfell before each being required to go their separate ways. Martin himself cites this as one case where he was intentionally following the work of Tolkien. This appears to be the case as well with Samwell Tarly, the right-hand man of Jon Snow who appears to be a nod to Samwise Gamgee.
While dubbing somebody the “Robin” to somebody’s “Batman” is generally not a well-received title for its intended recipient, loyal comrades like Samwise Gamgee and Samwell Tarly embrace the opportunity to prove their loyalty to both their friend and mission at hand. During the trials ahead, each function as a living embodiment of that encouraging voice many of us require from time to time when the thought of quitting crosses our minds. Like Samwise explains to Frodo, some things are worth fighting for, and it often takes an optimistic approach like Sam’s to remind us of that. As Joseph Campbell often proclaimed, the hero is one who has transformed, but it was arguably psychiatrist Carl Jung who best articulated the requirement of needing another to make that transformation possible. As Jung proclaimed, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction both are transformed.” For Jon Snow, Sam’s friendship teaches him more about the history of Westeros and beyond. More importantly, Sam teaches him the meaning and importance of true brotherhood – an obvious requirement if one is to lead any group of young men into battle. The weapons at the disposal of Samwise and Samwell goes far beyond just words, however.
In The Lord of the Rings, Samwell Gamgee pledges his allegiance to help Frodo Baggins reach Mount Doom where he is sent to destroy the Ring. Through thick and thin, Sam proves that he will go as far as literally carrying Frodo on his back to help him see his mission through. But whereas Samwise Gamgee aided Frodo in his ascent up Mount Doom, Samwell Tarly would assist Jon Snow during his ascent to becoming the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. In Game of Thrones, Sam is sent off by his father to serve at the Wall as a steward before working his way up the ranks. Since first being introduced as an overweight and seemingly incompetent klutz, Samwell Tarly is defended in the early going by Jon before demonstrating the capacity to protect himself.
The commonalities between Sam and Sam don’t end with being absolutely dependable and extremely honorable. For example, both demonstrate affection for books. Samwell Tarly is quite content with locking himself up in a room full of them while Samwell Gamgee is entrusted with the highly coveted Red Book of Westmarch. Both are also hopeless romantics, who also demonstrate extreme loyalty to their love interests – Rose in the case of Samwise Gamgee and Gilly in the case of Samwell Tarly. And while both appear far more likely to find success via traits such as compassion or ingenuity, each also manage to accomplish astounding feats with their fists. When Sam encounters Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit has no problem engaging in hand-to-leg combat with the oversized spider. Meanwhile very few can claim they’ve bested a White Walker the way Samwell Tarly has.
Few things are black and white in the complex universes crafted by Tolkien and Martin. But one constant is the ability for Sam and Sam to see the good in the heroes they trust as well as a phenomenal way of distinguishing what is right from wrong. As does Jiminy Cricket for Pinocchio, Samwise and Samwell function as a moral compass of sorts to the story’s protagonist while consistently holding onto the flashlight that becomes a heavier and heavier burden as the journey goes on. It is not a stretch by any means to argue that Sam and Sam are even stronger in many ways than the hero who many shower with accolades, but neither would ever make that argument themselves.
Because being a “Number Two” appears to have a negative connotation, the role is generally reserved for the henchmen of super villains. But just as any winning team must have a player willing to accept a complimentary role versus that of being the team leader, championships in real life are also only possible when someone is willing to take on a role a little less sexy than protagonist. Whether metaphorically or literally willing to carry their companion on their back, men like Sam continue to prove that great stories can have more than one true hero.