On Bravery

The Tower of Cirith Ungol

Standing Bravely

Courage in many forms (Source)

Samwise the brave: it has a nice ring to it. Perhaps nowhere else do we get to see inside Sam’s character and experience his bravery than here, as he rescues Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol. While Sam’s assault on Shelob was more blind fury and passionate folly that true valor, here was have calculated, planned, and methodical courage. Yet it is important to distinguish the bravery of Sam, for it appears in three different forms.

There is the bravery of Sam in pursuing the course. Many a time on his march to the stronghold and up the tower was there a reason to turn aside: the exhaustion of the journey, the impossibility of the action, the weight of the ring. While warmed by some bouts of passion and loyal love, the vast majority of Sam road is chilled with cold fear and raw danger. Perhaps the moment of highest valor in this manner is before the gates of Cirith Ungol, confronting the Silent Watchers. These living statues are the embodiment of fear, the symbolic outside of bravery, and they seemingly cancel out Sam’s courage. But here was see the persistence and rationality of Sam’s valor that reveals itself not as passion but as bravery. For Sam walks on, unveiling the light of Galadriel as a supplement to his own raw hobbit courage. It burns brightly in his hands for it augments his own natural valor. In that, he can bravely cross over the threshold.

Then there is the bravery of Sam in handing over the Ring. The Ring’s power and temptation is immense. For Sam to yield the Ring back to Frodo requires three components of courage. First, there is the courage to give up something that has a hold on you. Second, there is the courage to suffer abuse unwarranted in the processes of handing it over. Third, there is the courage to give over something that you fear will do one you love some harm. Sam can see that there is no negotiation, no compromise with the burdened Frodo, and so he bravely accepts the suffering that is imposed on him at each level as the Ring returns to Frodo. It is a different valor, a valor internal, but it does not make the valor any less noble.

And then there is a strange sort of bravery: the courage to sing songs in the stronghold of the Enemy. This may seem less than shocking, but the act is one of immense, nearing foolhardy, bravery. For the songs not only reveal Sam in his presence but also confront directly the very essence of the darkness of the Tower itself. This is the same bravery that allows one to laugh in the face of one’s certain demise (as Eowyn did at Pelennor) or to stand firm even amidst great loss (as Pippin did at the Black Gate). It is the bravery of indifference, of acknowledging that the evil has no true power over you, of suffering whatever consequence for not succumbing to fear and despair.

So let us be brave – in act, in gift, and in song – and follow in the footsteps of Master Samwise. For valor appears in many forms to both the great and the small, and we would be wise to recognize courage in all its marvelous unfoldings.

2016’s Reflection: “On the Silent Watchers
2015’s Reflection: “On Betrayal and Loyalty


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