The Breaking of the Fellowship
In these pages we have stark contrast between Boromir the man and Samwise the hobbit. Their differences seem obvious: strong vs timid, proud vs humble, traveler vs local, independent vs follower. Yet on the slopes of the great river we see other aspects arise: the moral collapse of Boromir vs the sturdy loyalty of Sam. We observe Boromir’s fall into temptation, and Sam’s rise into good sense.
We have noted slow hints of the unfolding of Boromir’s mind, all the way back at the Council of Elrond. His pride has ever been on display, but so has his valor, and his sense of duty and commitment to protecting the Fellowship. He is a leader of men who is neither the first nor second commander of this Fellowship, and it clearly stings him to see his advice and perspective so often disregarded. Yet, it was not until he entered the secret woods and met the Lady Galadriel that a sudden change seemed to take place in him: the muttering, the nail-biting, the unshakeable concern. Was this the natural conclusion of the Fellowship’s continued approach to Minas Tirith? Or did the examination of the Elven queen break something inside of Boromir? Or, to think of it another way: was the fall of Boromir inevitable?
In his temptation, we glean interesting insights from observation and word. The justifications he uses; the arguments he makes; the see-sawing between friendly support and bitter resentment: these things are both like and unlike Boromir. They are aspects of his personality, deep-rooted. Yet they are also not in his nature, and in his image of himself as a man of Gondor, one who does not lie, or harm those in need of protection, or abandon his task.
Compare, then, the man with the hobbit. Sam may be young and out of his league, but what he does know he knows well. He knows his master better than Frodo knows himself: he understands what Frodo cannot put into words, and can therefore predict both before and during the breaking of the Fellowship what will unfold. And though Sam is both timid and weak, he nevertheless is both stout and brave, especially when it comes to the things he cares most about: the Shire, his Gaffer, Frodo. He dives after the boat (a vessel for which he has no liking) into water in which he cannot swim: he cannot know for sure that Frodo will save him. Yet, that’s where his good sense gets him: on a seemingly one-way journey to Mt. Doom.
What is there for us in these ends of both Boromir and Sam? Much, as there normally is, and things that cannot be addressed in full here: the choosing of the straight road over the easy one, the tragic dissent of a man weighed with much, the need for proper swim classes in the Shire. Yet, perhaps, we may note two things. First, Boromir shows us that what we consider our strengths may often times also be our greatest temptations. Second, Sam shows us that in moments of weakness and crises, pausing to let good sense guide us may help us obtain our goal. And as the Fellowship breaks, and the Fellowships of the Ring ends, these are simple yet valuable lessons to learn.