FEE (Foundation of Economic Education)’s “You’re Wrong About Optimism” uses the plots of the Lord of the Rings, and a couple of other movies and shows to show the importance of optimism and optimistic characters in times of despair.
So the beginning of the video talks about how LOTR is a story that is not about big heroes but small heroes that want to make the world a better place. Since this is a LOTR channel I will mainly go over the Middle-earth sections of it – though the videos do feature other movies which I could sort of briefly see the patterns of the perceived messages of without having watched them beforehand.
“You’re Wrong About Optimism:” The Core Theme
This was one of the core themes – and yes – Sauron brought it to destruction though he was a Maia, though I wouldn’t say if he’s a Demi-god as this video says. He also has a long history in the previous ages – especially his invasion of Rivendell in the Second Age and the whole ordeal with the Three Rings. He was a servant of Morgoth.
Though depending on the viewer – you could say that it provides hope especially with so many iconic plot lines.
However, he would argue later also much like many fans would – that Sam is the most important character in the story rather than Frodo, the main ring bearer. If you know me by now you may know the many reasons why I don’t quite agree with that but let’s find out why FEE does and his reasons for it concerning optimism.
Yes. The later parts were starting to be a bit more about Sam but I think it’s mainly due to circumstance. Probably right when Frodo was stabbed by Shelob in Shelob’s Lair. The Ring was starting to get heavier and heavier on him the longer he holds it, and the closer he gets to Mordor.
On a side note, carrying the ring is a huge deal. All consuming. And it definitely makes sense if there’s little room for fighting or much else.
FEE says that Sam starts out as unremarkable and a bit dim – not sure about that since he had education from Bilbo. But he was of a lower class than the Bagginses – but they were able to view each other as good friends as well. I just never thought it was a matter of competition as to how they were brought up.
FEE said Sam was naive in joining Frodo – well I think it’s because Sam’s main driving factor was always to be with his best friend. In the beginning Gandalf kind of assigns Sam the role to go with Frodo and all. And Sam’s character was to be later transformed by his devotion to his friend and master. In a way he was also chosen.
They definitely have hard times with being abandoned by friends – though FEE provides a close-up of Boromir being corrupted from the Ring, without touching it, and begging to take the ring from Frodo – before the latter puts on the ring to escape before walking off.
However, Boromir later tries to fight orcs to save Merry and Pippin before he was stabbed and he died fighting at the end of it.
And Frodo insisted on going off alone – but it wasn’t out of a desire to leave his friends but rather that he saw what the ring was doing to Boromir and didn’t want his friends to go through that.
Of course – Sam is there every step of the way though I wouldn’t say he couldn’t really do anything about it. Sure he might not have been able to take the ring, but he definitely did the best he could to help his struggling friend.
Sam wasn’t a great leader or warrior like Aragorn or Legolas (respectively), nor was he a warrior like Gimli or a wizard like Gandalf – and as a gardener – “he has something that no one else in the entire fellowship manages to have: an unshakable belief in the fundamental goodness of the world and the belief it can and will be restored.“
Don’t get me wrong, Sam’s positivity is VERY admirable. But unfortunately up to this point, not much is said about anything that he had trouble with when he was journeying with Frodo to Mordor.
Thus, while Sam does to an extent – he didn’t exactly always see “goodness, light, and beauty even in the darkest places” – this is actually what Frodo sees in Gollum.
Additionally, something that was hugely left out was Sam’s treatment of Gollum and the essence of who Gollum is. Of course – it was mainly out of not knowing. And maybe that was the point that Sam couldn’t know until later when he would be a ring bearer for a short time when Frodo was stabbed by Shelob and deemed unconscious.
There is a reason why shortly after the fellowship breaks up – when Frodo first sees Gollum in his retched state much later – he starts to pity him.
“For now that I see him, I do pity him.” (The Two Towers, “The Taming of Sméagol”)
This is not out of being gullible but more so out of pity – and later, empathy.
Sam was frustrated, not knowing what his friend and master was doing because he simply didn’t see Gollum as trustworthy.
“[He] stared at his master, who seemed to be speaking to some one who was not there.” (TTT, “The Taming of Sméagol”)
“It is difficult to exclude [pride and posessiveness] from the devotion of those who perform [Sam’s services]…In any case it prevented him from fully understanding the master that he loved, and from following him in his gradual education to the nobility of service to the unlovable and of perception of damaged good in the corrupt.”J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter # 246
However, this didn’t seem to be any fault of his – as he could possibly just not have the understanding needed to show compassion to Gollum at this point, before he would have any contact with the One Ring…
(L246 cont.) “…[especially] in the incident of the Forbidden Pool. If he had understood better what was going on between Frodo and Gollum, things might have turned out differently in the end…Sam could hardly have acted differently.”
However, Sam did reach the point of pity at last for the good of Gollum, after reaching the cracks of Mount Doom.
Then FEE does go over a little bit of Sam’s speech from the movie – and later concludes that it is a matter of choice. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that Sam’s perspective was better than Frodo’s – they are just different. Ultimately they just approach it differently.
In the books, Sam does sort of acknowledge that while he couldn’t understand it just yet, he does respect and admire Frodo’s compassion towards Gollum at times.
“Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway. And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he’s the hero or the villain?”
JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”
Destruction of the Ring
And lastly – when Frodo claimed the ring as his own and succumbs, it wasn’t like Sam had just destroy it for him. This is also no fault of their own. It is also further explained in Tolkien’s Letters # 192 and 246.
“It is possible for the good, even the saintly, to be subjected to a power of evil which is too great for them to overcome – in themselves. In this case the cause (not the ‘hero’) is triumphant, because by the exercise of pity, mercy, and forgiveness of injury, a situation was produced in which all was redressed and disaster averted” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 192)
…referring to the eventual outcome of Gollum slipping into the fire with the ring.
But this doesn’t mean one must be merciful just for later, but more so that one is assured the true meaning of showing this mercy that is inherently desired.
“The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), ‘that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named’ (as one critic had said)” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 192)
This would most likely be referring to Eru Ilúvatar – the deity of his legendarium, that Tolkien had written for The Silmarillion.
As finite creatures, we don’t necessarily know the scope of limits by natural strength and grace, and to others we must “apply a scale tempered by mercy: that is, since we can with good will do this without the bias inevitable in judgements of ourselves, we must estimate the limits of another’s strength and weigh this against the force of particular circumstances.” (L246)
This double scale was frequently seen in the saints and their judgments upon themselves when suffering great hardships and temptations, and others in like trials.
I get that it is probably based on the films rather than the books – especially the part on where he mentions that if Gollum had not tricked Frodo into thinking that Sam took his food. This is something that I would love to cover at some point as it seemed to not be just the food in my opinion, but still one of the hardest scenes for me to watch.
But it is preposterous to claim that everything was due to Sam’s hope, courage, and optimism.
After all – we never really get a glimpse of Sam’s struggles either. He struggled with trusting Gollum and thus, understanding his friend.
Also, it’s definitely not to mock or refute optimism – but while Sam is a very important character, he’s definitely not the only character that embodies these traits.
Since we are talking about optimism – I think it’s clearly missing something else about it. While he does say later that he does not mean that optimism is ignoring anything bad that’s happening but choosing to acknowledge the good, he forgets to mention how hard it would be to maintain this optimism when you’re taking the ring to Mordor and the weight keeps increasing the closer you get there.
I think my main gripe with this, would be that for me personally – Frodo taught me that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to show vulnerability – especially while carrying the ring. It’s definitely a huge deal. And at the end, he found he couldn’t stay in the Shire.
Thus it’s okay to come to terms with things not proceeding as planned. Doesn’t make you disloyal nor does it define your quest. This is the perspective that the video’s message lacks, in my opinion.
And if you really look at it, I think it’s more that they show different kinds of courage. And thus I could also say I agree with part of it but disagree with the rest.