Secretly Queer Classics: The Lord of the Rings
When I started asking people for suggestions for classics to read looking for queer subtext, the most common one people threw at me was the Lord of the Rings series, for Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. So today we’ll be looking at Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam, shipping it, and coming up with a way to make it YA.
Full disclosure: I have not read Lord of the Rings. I’ve tried, multiple times, and haven’t been able to get into it. I’ve marathoned the movies with my cousins, and I have an understanding of the memes (this gem). I did start The Fellowship of the Ring and am slooooowwwwwllllyyyyy working my way through it.
Let’s get started.
If you dive into the Tolkien fandom online asking this question—Sam + Frodo = Luv 4 Evr??—a frequent response on book-focused forums is something to the tune of “NEVER and YOU’RE DELUSIONAL and SICK and DUMB for EVER thinking such a thing!!!1!”
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So let’s address that real quick: there is no legitimate reason to get angry about someone finding a homosexual ship in a favorite fictional world. A ship may be poorly supported by evidence, or may not be a healthy pairing, or may mess with your OTP, but those are all casualties of millions of people from different walks of life interpreting the same fictional universe. To argue that homosexuality cannot exist in the same world as orcs or elves or hobbits is unimaginative at best. Whether the author intended a queer interpretation or not is irrelevant: books belong to their readers, and one of the great joys of reading is that no two people will experience a book the same way.
If you, like me, are looking to interpret Sam and Frodo as Luv 4Evr, there’s plenty of textual evidence to back you up.
From The Two Towers:
Then as he had kept watch Sam had noticed that at times a light seemed to
be shining faintly within; but now the light was even clearer and stronger.
Frodo’s face was peaceful, the marks of fear and care had left it; but it looked
old, old and beautiful, as if the chiseling of the shaping years was now revealed
in many fine lines that had before been hidden, though the identity of the face
was not changed. Not that Sam Gamgee put it that way to himself. He shook his
head, as if finding words useless, and murmured: “I love him. He’s like that, and
sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.
Aw, Sam. You think Frodo is pretty!! And you liiiiiiike him!!
From The Return of the King:
“'Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam,’ said Frodo, and he lay back in Sam’s
gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are
driven away by some loved voice or hand. Sam felt that he could sit like
that in endless happiness…
Hobbitses cuddling. Too cute.
Also from The Return of the King:
His love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he
cried aloud: “I'm coming Mr. Frodo!”
Oh, Sam. Love conquers all.
Make it YA: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is so firmly rooted in Middle Earth that it would be impossible for a YA standalone novel to match the worldbuilding, and skipping the fantasy element entirely would be a real bummer. But what if the gang were all out on a LARP? (LARP, or Live Action Roleplay, is basically playing pretend, but on steroids. You can read more about it here!)
Using a LARP event as the foundation of the story would allow the setting, situations, and aesthetic to draw heavily from the epic high fantasy tradition, maybe amping it up to the point of campy, fun ridiculousness. The gang is fighting Soapgone, and Frodo/Fred is trying to dispose of the One String to Rule Them All! (For the invisibility effect, you tie it around your finger like you forgot something.)
It’s worth noting that a LARP adaptation would allow the boys serving as our Sam and Frodo to avoid one of the kind of gross elements of their relationship in LOTR canon: Sam is an employee of Frodo’s, a groundskeeper and later Frodo’s babysitter. (That’s not how he’s described, but he does a lot of caretaking for Frodo.) This intimate, friendly relationship gives them a good start to the closeness of a romantic relationship, but in 2017, we recognize that the power dynamic between a boss and an employee is an unequal one, and may put Sam in a disadvantaged position if a romantic relationship occurs. If he breaks up with Frodo, will he lose his job? Not the cutest question to bring up when shipping two hobbitses, but we need to be practical.
If our Sam and Frodo are not an employee and his employer, but two teenagers who were assigned the parts of sidekick and hero for a weekend adventure, the power dynamic isn’t a problem. It also leaves an opening for the author to create another point of difference between Sammy and Fred the LARPers and Sam and Frodo the hobbits: were Sammy and Fred best friends before the LARP, and are now realizing that what they have may be more than friendship? Were they just acquaintances, or even strangers, who realize how well they connect when they’re out on a side quest for this weekend’s roleplay event? Are their friends cool with it, or are they closed-minded fan purists? (Great opportunity for an author to create a Teachable Moment.)
What other literary classics would you love to see queer’d and YA’d? Tell us in the comments!