In his chapter on friendship in The Four Loves, Lewis writes that “friendship can be a school of virtue.” Who better to teach us about friendship and virtue than two of the greatest professors and friends of the twentieth century: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien? Friendship surrounds virtually every character, story, and adventure in their imaginative worlds of Middle-earth and Narnia. Though faith, hope, and love are often known as the theological virtues, they are also virtues found within the friendships of these worlds.
A good friend, after all, is trustworthy, dependable, and faithful. And there is no one more faithful in Middle-earth than Tolkien’s beloved creatures, the hobbits. Chief among the hobbits is Samwise Gamgee. Toward the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo plans to leave the Shire for the elven home of Rivendell, taking the One Ring with him. But he wouldn’t get far without his good and faithful friend Samwise.
“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 mean 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.”
Such is the nature of a good friend, faithful even unto death. Despite countless dangers, and against overwhelming odds, Samwise was determined to follow Frodo to their journey’s end. As their journey progresses, however, Frodo fears he cannot even trust his faithful friend. Two of Frodo’s other close friends, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took (affectionately known as Merry and Pippin), discover his secret plans to leave the Shire for Rivendell.
Merry and Pippin quickly dispel Frodo’s fears, however.
“It all depends on what you want,” put in Merry. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin—to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours—closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway, there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid—but we are going with you, or following you like hounds.”
Merry and Pippin are true to their word, as is Samwise, following Frodo from the Shire to Rivendell and beyond, all under the watchful eye of Sauron’s restless evil.
Later, when Frodo chooses the heavy burden of being the ring bearer at the Council of Elrond, Samwise chimes in without hesitation.
“But you won’t send him off alone surely, Master?” cried Sam, unable to contain himself any longer, and jumping up from the corner where he had been quietly sitting on the floor.
“No indeed!” said Elrond, turning towards him with a smile. “You at least shall go with him. It is hardly possible to separate you from him, even when he is summoned to a secret meeting and you are not.”
Samwise further reveals his loyalty and fidelity when the Fellowship breaks apart at Amon Hen. Without hesitation, he flings himself like a lemming into the river to follow Frodo on to Mordor. Frodo protests his coming; the road ahead is fraught with danger. But Samwise insists. The faithfulness of friendship prevails. “I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you . . . I’m coming too, or neither of us isn’t going. I’ll knock holes in all the boats first.” Though Sam has no way of knowing the perils ahead of them, he knows that leaving his friend alone would be far worse. Sam will not be “the faithless one, who says farewell when the road darkens.”
Again and again, Samwise proves to be one of the greatest Christ-figures in The Lord of the Rings. In his faithfulness, love, and friendship with Frodo, he demonstrates the humility and love of Christ for us. Just as Samwise carried Frodo and the burden of the One Ring up the slopes of Mt. Doom, Jesus carries the great burden of our sin up the slopes of Mt. Calvary.
In the closing chapters of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Samwise appear to be at the end of their journey as well. Hope for rescue looked bleak. Nevertheless, Frodo says to his friend: “The Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
Friendship also abounds in Narnia. From the first time we enter through the wardrobe with Lucy, Lewis writes in his fictional characters many of the qualities of friendship he shared with his friends. Lucy and Tumnus the fawn quickly become friends over tea and conversation. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver befriend the four Pevensies, providing them food, shelter, and safe passage to Aslan. The peculiar marshwiggle, Puddleglum, accompanies Jill and Eustace along their perilous journey to rescue Prince Rillian.
Lewis also paints a sublime portrait of hope in his character Reepicheep, the noble talking mouse we first meet in Prince Caspian. As The Voyage of the Dawn Treader begins, Reepicheep inspires his friends with his hope that their journey to find the seven lost lords of Narnia would lead them to a higher hope on a greater shore. “‘As high as my spirit,’ it said. ‘Though perhaps as small as my stature. Why should we not come to the very eastern end of the world? And what might we find there? I expect to find Aslan’s own country. It is always from the east, across the sea, that the great Lion comes to us.’”
Reepicheep’s hope is infectious, filling Edmund and Lucy with awe and wonder. They had seen Aslan before in their previous adventures in Narnia. They longed to see him again, especially Lucy. If anyone dared to call Aslan their friend, it was Lucy.
To be sure, Aslan is not a tame lion, but he is good. More than that, Aslan is the Christ-figure in Narnia. He trades places with Edmund to save him and all Narnia from the White Witch’s curse. Like good friends, Lucy and her sister, Susan, followed Aslan to the stone table where he was sacrificed. After waiting and watching throughout the night, they were the first to see him alive again the next morning. Lucy and Aslan romped with joy. Lucy received the high honor of riding atop Aslan’s back, to touch his mane, and walk with him in counsel. When Lucy and Edmund departed Narnia for their own world in the final time in Dawn Treader, Aslan reassures them. “There I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
At other times in these two great stories, trust must be built, proven, and restored. Middle-earth and Narnia are also home to stories of reconciliation between friends and enemies. Aslan restores and reconciles Edmund with his siblings after the stone table is cracked. Eustace gradually becomes a good friend to Lucy and Edmund after he becomes un-dragoned by Aslan on Dragon Island.
Middle-earth and Narnia are also home to stories of reconciliation between friends and enemies.
An extraordinary transformation, from enemies to friends, occurs in the unlikely friendship of Gimli and Legolas. Their friendship is further evidence that Lewis was right in calling friendship a type of love. “Indeed,” writes Louis Markos, “of all the friendships in The Lord of the Rings, the most remarkable is the one that slowly develops between Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf. Though their races have been bitter enemies for many generations, the stubborn, feisty Dwarf and the aloof, distant Elf form a bond that promises a healing and reconciliation that no victory on the battlefield could ever accomplish.”
During the battle of Helm’s Deep, the strength and beauty of their friendship is revealed. Gimli and Legolas make a promise to one another, to visit the forests of Fangorn and the caverns within the fortress of Helms Deep once there is peace. Their promise reveals their mutual love, humility, and friendship.
Almost you make me regret that I have not seen these caves. Come! Let us make this bargain—if we both return safe out of the peril that awaits us, we will journey for a while together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm’s Deep.
The friendship we see between Legolas and Gimli is repeated throughout Middle-earth and Narnia. The faith, hope, and love shared between friends bears the fruit of humility and sacrifice.