LOTR ends with Sam coming back into the Shire, because he was coming back from meeting his friend for one last time at the Grey Havens. Logically, this type of ending seemed to make the most sense.
But what does that mean really?
There are many reasons why Tolkien decided to have this ending, and it has led some to wonder if it was saying anything about who the main character is.
However, in my opinion it does not seem to immediately tell anything about the main character or story arc, as Sam’s ending seems to be more similar to Merry and Pippin as well – and intentionally so. This is also based on the character development of each hobbit.
Furthermore, even looking through Sam’s lens – the ending wasn’t exactly perfect as Sam was envisioning Frodo also staying in the Shire with him for the remainder of his days.
Sam, Merry and Pippin after LOTR
Sam’s ending would be something that is similar to Merry’s or Pippin’s. While they were in different locations, they did the following, establish a home, have a family, and rule their respective towns.
Merry wed Estrella Bolger, sister of Fredegar Bolger, and became the Master of Buckland while Pippin wed Diamond of Long Cleave and became Thain of the Shire – before they both would leave their towns to go to Gondor.
Sam would start a family with Rosie, and become the Mayor of the Shire before going to the Grey Havens.
It could also be seen as more of a preparation for a possible “spin-off” series: for example – The Hobbit was Bilbo’s story, LOTR was Frodo’s and we see that the torch is being passed on to Sam here. While it is not certain, it can be implied that he had this in mind when writing the ending.
This is not because LOTR is about Sam, but also that a possible epilogue or the appendices that was anticipated at time of writing could have been about Sam.
Different types of endings
Finally, Tolkien may have thought that the traditional happy ending suited Sam better based on his background and similarities with Bilbo. After all, Sam would have received education from Bilbo on poetry and language.
“Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting, because he has to be high-minded, and has (as it were) a vocation.” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 93).
The vocation would presumably be to be the ring bearer in addition to the adventuring and devotion to the elves.
“The book will prob. end up with Sam. Frodo will naturally become too ennobled and rarefied by the achievement of the great Quest, and will pass West with all the great figures, but S. will settle down to the Shire and gardens and inns.” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 93).
As a result Frodo would be too ennobled by his achievements that he would have to sail west with Bilbo, along with the bearers of the Three Rings – Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond.
Since Sam had remained loyal, he would be able to peacefully go back to the Shire and enjoy the remainder of his days.
Whose story is it?
It also seems to be argued that Sam is the one who changes the most since he seems to have started out as an “inferior” character relative to class, as Frodo, Merry and Pippin are of higher class than Sam was.
Starting out as “cocksure, and deep down a little conceited,” this conceit would “later be transformed by his devotion to Frodo.”
Sam “is a more representative hobbit than any others that we have to see much of; and he has consequently a stronger ingredient of that quality…a readiness to measure and sum up all things from a limited experience, largely enshrined in sententious traditional wisdom.” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 246)
However, it could also be argued that Frodo seems to have gone through the most character development, being “of a special kind: in spiritual enlargement rather than in increase of physical or mental power;” as…
“…his will was much stronger than it had been, but so far it had been exercised in resisting not using the Ring and with the object of destroying it. He needed time, much time, before he could control the Ring…before it could control him; before his will and arrogance could grow to a stature in which he could dominate other major hostile wills.” (JRR Tolkien, Letter # 246)
And later, Tolkien even imagines what would happen if Frodo had refused the quest entirely – that the quest would just wait and Sauron would not have feared the ring, for it was his own.
Thus, by design, Frodo would show the most character development as in that he would have the most challenges to overcome throughout the story of LOTR.
C. Williams, a friend of Tolkien’s, would later point out that the center wouldn’t be on war and heroism but more so in freedom, peace, ordinary life and good liking – which should also require a world outside the Shire as well.
This could also imply that Frodo leaving Middle-earth and Sam coming back to the Shire can be seen as one ending instead of two separate ones as well – though it is just that – a possibility.