Expecting you since the Spring
EXAMINING ROSIE COTTON
An essay by
last revised February 2004
By any other name: narrative motifs within Tolkien's writings
Names part 2: Maiden, mother, and crone
Water, matriarchy, the concept of time, and the development of the Lord of the Rings
Looking outside the Red Book: Rosie as archetype
Torn in two: anima/animus roles
Girl on film: Rosie's portrayal in radio, movies, and computer games
Tolkien's marriage, attitudes to women, and historical context
"Well, I'm back," he said.
For a book titled Return of the King, few closing lines could be more appropriate. It is, after all, a book that more than lives up to its name, with rulers and heroes claiming their rightful places left, right and centre. And, at the last, one such hero returns home to the land he watches over, and informs his wife, child, and the reader, that he has indeed come back.
J.R.R Tolkien, while well-known in his dislike of allegorical theory being utilised in interpreting his work, was highly skilled in the use of metaphoric and metonymic story elements within his writing. Rarely are these echoes of old myths and reworked motifs more evident than in the last coda of Return of the King, the third and final book of the Lord of the Rings.
This last section of the story concerns hobbits, and the regeneration of their homeland, the Shire. It is here that the reader meets Rosie Cotton, a farmer's daughter who goes on to become the wife of Samwise Gamgee.
Many readers of the book have made mention of the fact that that this development seems to lack precedent in the story, that Rosie is not a character fleshed out with life in the same way other the female roles have been. However, it is possible to read Rosie as a final culmination of the feminine motifs introduced, thereby giving her character considerable substance and significance. It is her very lack of examination within the text which gives her a richness of character, as it allows her to be archetypal rather than specific.
By any other name: narrative motifs within Tolkien's writing
The first female character to be introduced in the saga of the hobbits is Belladonna Took, the mother of Bilbo Baggins. Although her adventures are not recounted, she is described as "remarkable", and Bilbo's wanderlust is attributed to her. It can be said that Belladonna and Rosie bracket the stories of their race, one initiating the thirst for adventure and the other quelching it.
This interpretation does not, however, take into account the few facts that are known about Rosie herself. For starters, there is the matter of her name. Tolkien's whimsical joke in naming Sam's wife 'Cotton' when 'Gamgee' was a Midlands word for cotton wool aside, the name is recorded in the appendices as a combination of 'cottage' and 'town'. A sketch by Tolkien of the Cotton home depicts a two-story building, a design also found in the descriptions of the house in the earlier drafts of 'the Scouring of the Shire'. A two-story cottage is not the abode of the typical hobbit, Sam himself is vocally uncomfortable around buildings of multiple levels. During one of the draft versions of the Scouring, all five of the Cotton children (Rosie and her four brothers) come clattering down the stairs from the upper story wielding thick sticks as weapons against the Ruffians. This event, while not occurring in the final version, is recalled in spirit by Lobelia's brandishing of an umbrella and using it against enemies. Hobbit women are still a feisty lot, even eighty-six years after Belladonna's departure.
As the name 'Cotton' was chosen due to the associations with 'Gamgee' it carried, other names connected to Rosie can be examined in a similar way to yield more hints towards her intended place in the mythology of Middle Earth.
Rosie's parents are Tom and Lily, both names appearing earlier in the text with other bearers. Tom Bombadil is a complex character who watches over and protects the woodlands surrounding his home but makes no claim to own them. The connections between Tom and Goldberry and Sam and Rosie are discussed at greater length later in this analysis.
Eowyn is referred to as a lily several times, the comparison meant to convey her coldness and elegant pride. Although she disguises her femininity in order to participate in battle, the lily metaphor illustrates not a renunciation of her gender but rather an appropriation - a lily carries distinct connotations when compared to a lobelia, rose or elanor, but it is a flower nonetheless. Considering the weight lent to this description of Eowyn, the chances of Rosie's mother being given the same name by accident become minute, and when the number of drafts of each family tree is taken into account, it becomes apparent that these common names between characters are most certainly deliberate.
Ioreth, a healer in Gondor, is treated with little respect by those who speak of her. She is thought to be "good", but without understanding or useful knowledge (strange, considering that she is charged with tending to the gravely wounded). However, it is Ioreth's memory of old tales about kingsfoil (also called athelas) which leads to the recovery of the near-dying. As Celeborn says to Boromir earlier in the story, "old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know". The smell of kingsfoil reminds Ioreth of her youth, and of the roses in her homeland, tying that particular flower to ideas of wholesomeness (as the smell of athelas is also described as being), feminine knowledge, and nurturing.
Echoes of Tolkien's own tales of Beren and Luthien can be found within the arc of Sam, Frodo, and Rosie. Beren and Luthien's story runs in parallels to Frodo and Sam's, with Beren and Frodo seeking to enter a realm of great evil, followed and accompanied by a dear companion in Luthien/Sam. At the darkest moment in Beren/Frodo's journey, when they are imprisoned and beyond hope, Luthien/Sam waits outside and sings, eventually hearing a voice in reply.
Later, disguised as creatures of darkness, each pair works towards their final goal. Beren and Frodo fulfil their quests, but each is mutilated in some way upon victory - Beren's hand is bitten off, Frodo loses a finger to Gollum's jaws. Having achieved their quest, the two sets of companions are both saved from certain death by eagles.
Another story from the Silmarillion follows this same arc again, this time involving the Elf Maedhros in the Frodo role (again, losing a full hand rather than a finger) and Sam's part in the tale taken by Fingon. Notably, Fingon later has a child whose name is related to star imagery like Elanor, in this case named Gil-Galad. Fingon's wife is never named, and in other writings published long after the Silmarillion Tolkien's notes show that in some drafts she was removed entirely and Gil-Galad's paternity was transferred to another Elf hero.
Also noteworthy here is Leaf by Niggle, the short story published in 1947. In this tale Tolkien's focus is on two neighbours, Niggle and Parish. There are obvious and cheerfully self-deprecating parallels drawn between Niggle and the author himself, but it is also possible to read Niggle as fitting into the same category of protagonist as Frodo - his journey takes him out of his comfortable life and through strange hardship. Playing a key role in Niggle's adventures is Parish, his salt-of-the-earth neighbour. One interpretation of the two characters which can be drawn out of the story is that they represent two sides of one psyche: Tolkien as writer (Niggle) and Tolkien as man (Parish). Parish is married, and Niggle begrudges having to leave his painting in order to fetch the doctor when Mrs Parish becomes ill. Niggle's desire to paint all the time causes Parish's house to fall into disrepair. Tolkien, in a quote which is recounted in full later in this analysis, believed that 'the theme of the relation of ordinary life... and sheer beauty' was vital to many stories, and it also serves to underscore the lifelong struggle between his connections to humanity and the outside world and his desire to immerse himself in his art.
At the end of the journey, each of the characters has recognised the value in the other. Niggle explains of Parish that he "let me have excellent potatoes very cheap, which saved me a lot of time". Niggle cannot achieve spiritual fulfilment (he needed that time provided by Parish in order to create his art) without the ordinary physical realities which Parish gives him. Potatoes are a symbol used in the Lord of the Rings to underscore Sam's simple practicality, and there is little doubt that Parish is the Samwise to Niggle's Frodo. Indeed, Niggle calls him Old Earthgrubber, a general name for the character-type if ever there was one. At the end of the tale, they live together in a wonderful garden, which Parish comes to realise is created out of Niggle's paintings; his life is furnished and made beautiful by Niggle's talents. Tolkien's ordinary day-to-day allowed him to write, and in turn his writing made his ordinary day-to-day life more comfortable, even if each interfered with the other at times.
Drawing another strong parallel with Frodo, Niggle cannot stay in the garden he and Parish have made beautiful together. The two characters wish to remain together but Niggle is pulled on by his need to leave the known world, and Parish "was not yet ready to go on".
"I must wait for my wife," said Parish to Niggle. "She'd be lonely. I rather gathered that they would send her after me, some time or other, when she was ready, and when I had got things ready for her. The house is finished now, as well as we could make it; but I should like to show it to her. She'll be able to make it better, I expect: more homely. I hope she'll like this country, too."
Just as Sam has rebuilt the Shire and created a life to share with Rosie there, so must Parish and his wife remain after Niggle has moved on into the world beyond the edges of the tale and garden. Leaf by Niggle is of interest in and of itself as a work of art, but is also a source of interesting links between the motifs in Tolkien's writing and the stories of his own life.
The earliest echoes of the character that would eventually manifest in Rosie Cotton date from years before the stories mentioned above, however. In the Cottage of Lost Play, whose creation date of 1916 makes it the earliest of the stories that would later become the histories of Middle Earth, the tale begins in a way very evocative of the eventual end to the Return of the King: a weary traveller comes upon a small cottage on a hill as night falls, the windows giving off a warm and welcoming light. This cottage has curved walls, and to a reader of Tolkien familiar with later works the home is reminiscent of Bag End. It is also a home very similar to a hobbit-hole in that the people within it are of a far smaller size than the humans and Elves of the outside world.
Within this cottage live Lindo and his wife, Vair , with a large number of children. These children come from the Cottage of the Play of Sleep, a place described as 'children of the fathers of the fathers of Men' where the sinless inhabitants spend all day playing in the beautiful garden given to them by the Valar. Essentially, the Cottage of Lost Play is a haven for the later incarnations of Adam and Eve, a role fulfilled by the Shire under Sam and Rosie's care in the Return of the King, complete with an unrequited longing by some inhabitants to sail over the sea. Vair 's later incarnation is as the queen of the afterlife, who weaves the tales of history. One of the most commonly seen depictions of the maiden-mother-crone trinity is as weavers of life stories.
Names part 2: Maiden, mother, and crone
Then there is Rosie's own name. 'Rosie' is used throughout this essay as it is the form most commonly used in writings on the character, but it is in fact only the first of three titles she goes by.
In Sam's memories of the Shire during the quest, he thinks of her as Rosie. This is also the name used by her father and by Sam during 'the Scouring of the Shire'. Since this is where the majority of her presence in the text takes place, it is not surprising that 'Rosie' has come to be the name used to refer to the character overall.
However, not long after Sharkey is disposed of and peace returns to the Shire, the name Rosie is abandoned, and the character's second name given to her. When Sam explains his intentions to marry the girl to Frodo, he says "It's Rosie, Rose Cotton". 'Rosie' is rarely used after this point, the maiden aspect now replaced by the mother/wife incarnation of the character. Rosie is addressed as Rose, Rose-wife, and Mother Rose while in this stage of her development, which extends through the ending of the Return of the King, through the unpublished epilogues, and into the appendices.
It is here that the third version of Rosie is revealed, referred to in the first draft of the epilogue several times but omitted in favour of 'Mother Rose' in all instances but one in the second version. The record of her death in 1482 lists her name as 'Mistress Rose'. At this point she has moved through the three key manifestations usually attributed to Goddess characters: maiden (Rosie), mother (Rose) and crone (Mistress Rose).
Water, matriarchy, the concept of time, and the development of the Lord of the Rings
The memories Sam has of Rosie prior to the destruction of the Ring are also significant in that they offer the next connection to earlier female characters within Rosie's makeup. When night falls in Sam in Mordor, "through all his thoughts there came the memory of water; and every brook or stream or fount that he had ever seen, under green willow-shades or twinkling in the sun, danced and rippled for his torment behind the blindness of his eyes". He remembers being at the Pool in Bywater with Rosie and the other Cotton children, which is significant when the other hobbit interactions with water are considered. Water can signify death (Drogo and Primula), growth (Entwash) or adjacency to powerful female energy (Galadriel's mirror, Goldberry).
While Rosie never demonstrates a level of clairvoyance akin to Galadriel's sight, she does possess a degree of ability in this regard. In the unpublished epilogues, she is scolded by her parents for bursting into song one morning. Rosie replies that "my Sam's coming back to-day". Sam himself comments to Frodo that Elanor, a baby who oblivious embodies many of Galadriel's qualities by virtue of the circumstances of her birth, takes after Rosie.
The Shire comes to embody many marks of a paradise; it holds "an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-earth". It's a common phrase in mythology to describe one year in such a state as counting for many of ordinary time, and the Shire's plants grow in one year as if it were twenty.
This constriction of time also explains several of Rosie's comments to Sam. Her first words to him are "Where've you been? They said you were dead, but I've been expecting you since the Spring. You haven't hurried, have you?" - the hobbits' concept of time throughout the quest has been a leisurely one, full of long delays and rests at various points on the journey. Rosie's slight psychic tendency manifests itself in her choice of words, for it was in Spring that the Ring was destroyed. Rosie, being a physical embodiment of many traits of the new paradise-age, has an entirely different experience of time from the hobbits involved in these earlier instances, and does not adhere to the same slow rhythms.
It is worth mentioning at this point, also, the development of the end of the Lord of the Rings, as obviously this causes a great impact on the topic at hand. In drafts dating from approximately 1939, Tolkien wrote of the final moments in Sammath Naur: "Here perhaps Sam comes up, beats off a vulture and hurls himself and Gollum into the gulf? Function for Sam? Is he to die?", while other manuscripts from this same period end with Bilbo sailing with the Elves and Sam and Frodo settling down in a "green land by the sea". Indeed, even some of the most final notes for the Return of the King include statements such as "Frodo rides to the Havens and says farewell to Bilbo" and "When old, Sam and Frodo set sail to island of West".
This second set of plotting ideas date from the period after Tolkien had written, in 1944, that "... and then a clearing up of all loose threads, down even to Bill Ferny's pony, must take place. A lot of this work will be done in a final chapter where Sam is found reading out of an enormous book to his children, and answering their question about what happened to everybody (that will link up with his discourse on the nature of stories in the Stairs of Kirith [sic] Ungol)."
As this quotation shows, Rosie's role (as the mother of the children Tolkien planned for Sam) predates her character. Form following function, she can be said to have existed as an idea as early as these drafts, even if she did not appear as a character until some time later. The fact that the ending was not set in stone at this stage (as Tolkien's musings on Sam and Frodo's eventual fate shows) suggests that the idea of Sam's family was one of several possible elements which the end may or may not have eventually included.
However, the fact of Rosie's late arrival in the narrative proper is a concept that seems to have been decided by Tolkien in the very early days of the writing of the Lord of the Rings. In one of the very first drafts of the beginning of the story, he writes "Hobbits had a curious habit in their weddings. They kept it (always officially and very often actually) a dead secret for years who they were going to marry, even when they knew. Then they suddenly went and got married and went off without an address for a week or two (or even longer)." So, even if Tolkien had not yet decided whether Sam was to have a family or not, it was a long-established element of the hobbit culture he was creating that nobody else would have any idea of Sam's intentions until it happened.
Looking outside the Red Book: Rosie as archetype
The themes found at the end of the Return of the King can be understood to greater depth if compared to the first Chronicle of Narina, by C.S Lewis. The Magician's Nephew was first published in 1955, a year before the Return of the King was released. While it is often trite to compare the works of Tolkien and Lewis merely on the basis of their shared situation during this period, the narratives of the stories display interesting parallels.
The Magician's Nephew tells the story of a boy who is given a box of magic dust by a magical female benefactor. Being greedy, the boy chooses to manipulate the dust for his own ends, and a series of events is set into motion that send many innocents off on various journeys. Sam, by contrast, uses the box of dust he is given to care for and regenerate the lands of the Shire, and is rewarded with the growth of a mallorn tree. This is echoed in the events at the end of The Magician's Nephew where another boy (the nephew of the title) is presented with a similar choice and plants a magical apple.
The apple grows into a large tree that "will protect Narnia from [great evil] for many years. So this land shall have a long, bright morning before any clouds come over the sun". Similarly, the Shire enjoys a golden age that lasts for many generations before it begins to wane.
Narnia is now a rich, green, protected land that will flourish for many years. Chosen as the King for this world is Frank, a young man from the country who was pulled into the adventure unexpectedly. To act as Queen, Frank's wife Nellie is conjured out of thin air "not by any tiresome magic rings, but quickly, simply and sweetly as a bird flies to its nest". Nellie (later Helen, a name sharing roots with Elanor) does literally what Rosie has often been accused of by readers - coming out of nowhere to play the Queen.
The Eden imagery in The Magician's Nephew is difficult to miss, for the Narnia Chronicles as a series are notorious for their Christian allegory. Therefore Frank and Helen play the role of the new world's Adam and Eve, a status that can then be applied (with, naturally, the removal of the majority of the allegory, in order to spare Tolkien's dislike) to Sam and Rosie.
Also of note is the nameless daughter of a star in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. At the end of this story, the prince Caspian is separated from his travelling companions when they realise they need to sail east of the sun. He wants to go with them, but they explain that this is not possible and that he should go back and marry the girl he has fallen in love with instead. Caspian does so, and they rule as King and Queen for many years. The daughter of the star is a character not unlike that of Goldberry the River-daughter, who also provides hospitality to those on a long adventure.
The link between Goldberry and Rosie, marked by their associations with water and their shared status as consort to a nurturer of the earth, is especially significant as it ties the mythic structure of Middle Earth into many variations of the creation myth.
Tom Bombadil's name in Elvish is Iarwain Ben-adar, translating to "oldest and fatherless". Glorfindel says that Tom will be "Last as he was First". The First, Oldest, Fatherless man of Christian mythology is Adam.
"He is", Goldberry says simply of her partner when asked by Frodo the identity of Tom. Tom does not care to own anything, control anything. He lives with his River-daughter in a state very like that of the pre-fallen Adam and Eve, living from day to day with no larger concerns or desires.
Sam and Rosie, by contrast, are an Adam and Eve who have returned to Eden, created it anew with the knowledge the mature, 'fallen' life has taught them. In Norse mythology, often cited as a major influence on Tolkien's imagination, the golden apples of innocence and youth (the opposite to the fruit of knowledge eaten by Eve and Adam prior to their fall) are guarded by Idun. Idun is the goddess of youth, fertility and death, the three aspects attributed to the stages of Rosie's life previously. Bragi, Idun's husband, is the god of rhyme and verse, an identity related to an aspect of Sam that becomes apparent during the quest, that of the 'proper poet'.
The Christ imagery in the story of the Lord of the Rings has been often discussed. The Fellowship leave Rivendell on the 25th of December, Christ's birth, the Ring is destroyed three months later at what is typically Easter-time, the completion of Christ's work on earth.
Upon resurrection, Christ is at first mistaken for a gardener; upon his return to the Shire Sam, a gardener, is not recognised by those who knew him. In the Celtic version of the Christ myth the central figure, Lleu (born of a virgin, hung on a tree and then resurrected), is cursed never to have a wife of flesh and blood. This curse is broken by the entrance of Blodeuwedd, a woman made of flowers.
The story of Blodeuwedd resembles that of Guinevere within the Camelot legends in many respects. Tolkien gave Frodo what he described as an 'Arthurian' ending in the eventual sailing to the Havens, leaving behind Sam and Rosie much as Lleu leaves behind Blodeuwedd and her new lover, Gronw Pebyr. The lovers left behind in the Blodeuwedd story take the form of birds together, an owl and an eagle - one a symbol commonly connected with goddesses, the other especially significant within Tolkien's world where eagles are wild and noble creatures.
Another interesting note on the subject of Lleu is his eventual partial evolution into Lancelot, noted by many Arthurian researchers. This is most evident in the story of Caledfwlch, the 'sword of light' first held by Arthur and later passed on to his most esteemed knight. Echoes of this are obvious in the story of the glowing Elven dagger Sting and its bearers, Frodo and then Sam.
Blodeuwedd is a goddess whose name translates to 'flower maiden', and there are other connections within Rosie's name to the divine that associate more directly with the mythology of Middle Earth. The Hebrew word for rose is varda, which is another name for the Queen of the Valar, Elbereth. Frodo and Sam, at times of great peril, display an ability to channel the grace of this Aniu.
Rosie's status as Sam's consort (and therefore as unofficial Queen of the Shire), as well as the origins of her name, causes her to contain earthly, rustic echoes of this holy creator of light. Indeed, one of the earliest queen figures in Tolkien's mythology, dating from 1916, is named Meril-i-Turinqui, given as 'Queen of the Flowers' in the translations of The Book of Lost Tales - however, the Elvish that Sam translates for Elanor in the unpublished epilogue would put this queen's name as literally The Rose Queen.
Torn in two: anima/animus roles
Sam and Frodo's relationship in the later part of the quest is one encompassing notions of the romantic and physically intimate, and the reading of latent homosexuality into the pair is not uncommon amongst readers. But Frodo sustains a wound at the culmination of his quest, the severing of a finger, as well as the earlier stabbing by a Morgul blade. These injuries have been likened to those of the Fisher King, guardian of the Holy Grail, whose thumb was burnt and thigh pierced by a poison sword. The Fisher King is left sterile by his wounds, unable to engage in sexual congress or father children.
Therefore any textual or subtextual relationship Frodo could wish to have with Sam is rendered impossible by the journey they have been on, save through an avatar acting in Frodo's stead. Rosie can be seen as this avatar, her marriage to Sam encouraged by Frodo. Frodo, in fact, creates a situation where Sam's married life and his living with Frodo are one in the same, by encouraging the newlywed couple to take up residence in Bag End with him.
Beginning with the fact of her flower name, the connections between Rosie and gardens are many in the Lord of the Rings, starting with the scene in Lothlorien where Merry and Pippin comment that Galadriel's gaze has caused Sam to blush. He replies "If you want to know, I felt as if I hadn't got nothing on, and I didn't like it. She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with - with a bit of garden of my own". His hesitation implies that it's more than just 'a bit of garden' that he is thinking of. Similarly, in the second draft of the epilogue the final line is Sam describing what it is that he came back to: "To the most belovedest place in all the world. To my Rose and my garden."
Fertility imagery aside, this use of the garden as a metaphor for Rosie is interesting when it is taken into account that it is Frodo who Sam works as a gardener to, and the home and garden which Sam eventually calls his own are the ones at Bag End. Just as the idea of Rosie and the idea of gardens are connected, so are those of gardens and Frodo's relationship with Sam.
Tolkien himself likened Sam and Gollum to Ariel and Caliban of The Tempest, and it is not a dissimilar notion to hold Rosie and Frodo up as the anima and animus aspects of the same character. It is not enough, however, to simply declare Rosie as the anima (feminine) and Frodo as the animus (masculine) halves, as their respective relationships with Sam make the situation more complex. Sam is the carer/nurturer to Frodo on the journey, and the story makes references to the times when he 'drew back the curtains at Bag End on a summer's morning', a duty much like those of a wife or housekeeper.
Sam is the anima of the Sam-Frodo pair, whereas he is the masculine to Rosie's feminine. Therefore, the fact he is 'torn in two' can be read as Sam's attempts to fulfil both roles simultaneously, and explains why Tolkien felt that 'Sam has to choose between love of master and of wife' (as he said in a letter).
Elanor, in one of the unpublished epilogues, speaks of Frodo as her father's 'treasure', and muses on the choice of Luthien. Elanor swears that she herself will not choose as Arwen had, but ends up becoming the guardian of the Red Book upon Sam's departure to Valinor.
While Luthien, Arwen and Elanor all choose staying over going, Sam is excused from having to make any such choice himself - he cannot go with Frodo at the time of Frodo's departure, but his own journey is delayed rather than denied. Arguably, this exemption from the usual division of possible fates is evidence of Rosie and Frodo's connection as characters. Arwen renounces her immortal Elven aspect in order to be with Aragorn, but if Rosie and Frodo are an anima/animus pair, then Frodo's sailing is only a temporary removal of the problematic two-role situation Sam was put into, and also the inhuman (unhobbitlike) qualities that block the possible shared mortal life of the lovers.
Haldir says in the Fellowship of the Ring that 'if there are mallorn-trees beyond the great Sea, none have reported it'. The distinction between earthly pleasures and the bliss of the Undying Lands in made clear, the beauty of Eden is not the same as that of Heaven. Frodo and Rosie, as individual aspects of a whole, straddle both worlds. Sam speaks several times of being 'torn in two', and despite the rich and full life shown surrounding him in the epilogues, he still hears the distant whispers of the sea. Rosie and Frodo make no such complaints because they are not torn but neatly divided, two sides of a whole. Upon Rosie's eventual death, Sam sails from the Grey Havens himself, no longer pulled in two directions by the earthly and spiritual sides of the Rosie-Frodo character.
Girl on film: Rosie's portrayal in radio, movies, and computer games
As such a peripheral character to the main action of the Lord of the Rings, Rosie has not often appeared in adaptations of the story. She was spared the indignity accorded most other characters by the infamous 1978 film, because it did not follow the book's narrative along far enough to reach her part in the tale. The made-for-tv cartoon of the Return of the King (1980), discards all female roles from the book save for two: Eowyn has one scene, and Rosie is shown with a number of the Gamgee children when Sam is thinking of home while in Mordor.
The BBC radio adaptation of Tolkien's work, written by Brian Sibley and broadcast in 1981, gives Rosie a few lines. Played by Kathryn Hurlbutt, this Rosie is shy and somewhat timid. This makes Sam's recounting of her acceptance of his proposal with 'you've waste a year' seem somewhat out-of-character; the meek hobbit maiden we hear say hullo to her Sam doesn't seem the kind to say such a thing.
This BBC version is also notable because it takes the line "and if Sam thought himself lucky, Frodo knew that he was more lucky himself; for there was not a hobbit in the Shire that was looked after with such care", and states outright that it is Rosie who is doing the caring. This is not explicitly stated within the text, where it can also be read as Sam doing the caring or as a task performed by the pair of them.
As with so many things in Tolkien's writing, the interpretation imposed upon the story by the reader is what makes it resonate so strongly and so personally to each new person. This is why Tolkien did not like allegory - it reduced everything to one reading, one interpretation. Everyone reads a different book when they pick up the Lord of the Rings, and it is better that this causes disagreement than that one definitive interpretation be held up as the truth.
Therefore, all adaptations must be treated as what they are: one artist's interpretation and retelling of another's work. This does not, as many fans seem to fear, negate the original text in any way. Rather, it allows the audience to draw from a number of interpretations in the formation of their own opinion, and to examine the context of time and situation which led to these disparate visions.
To date, the adaptation with the most epic of scales has been the trilogy of films made by New Line, directed by Peter Jackson. Rosie is introduced at Bilbo's birthday party in the Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo encourages Sam to dance with her. Sam, too shy to approach her, says he'll just "have another ale" instead. In a later scene, we see that Rosie is a barmaid at the Green Dragon, the hobbit pub at Bywater. Again, Sam is not game enough to go up to her, and instead drinks his mug of ale.
In both these instances, Frodo plays an important role. At the Green Dragon, after another bar parton flirts with Rosie, Frodo consoles Sam by saying that she "knows an idiot when she sees one", to which a suddenly-worried Sam replies "does she?!". Every time Rosie and Sam interact, Frodo smiles or laughs in response. To further support the anima-animus connection between the characters which is already present in the source material, the film's costume design places both Frodo and Rosie in outfits comprised of several shades of blue during a section of the film in which no other characters wear the colour.
In the Return of the King, Sam remembers her dance at the party and weeps because he knows that he would have married her and believes he will die without ever seeing her again. When the hobbits return home, having survived despite all odds, they go to the Green Dragon and toast silently. Sam, seeing Rosie behind the counter, takes a final gulp of his drink and puts the cup down, standing up and going over to her. Merry and Pippin are surprised, while Frodo begins to laugh. The scene then cuts to Sam and Rosie's wedding where, as Tolkien once suggested in a letter about hobbit customs, there are flowers all around and a garland in Rosie's hair.
Rosie is shown one final time, in the last scene as Sam returns home. She holds baby Frodo in her arms and greets Sam at the front gate of their smial (located on Bagshot Row and featuring a yellow door), ushering the toddler Elanor forward as the family head back inside and the film fades to black. As in the BBC version, Frodo's line about "you cannot always be torn in two" is voiced-over during this scene.
As in the first of the films, the use of colour in costumes is significant in this last coda. Frodo wears the ice-like light blues and greys of the Elves, who have passed through springlike greens into deep autumn shades and finally a wintry palette in their costuming as their time in Middle Earth comes to a close. Frodo, too, has reached this winter. Rosie, by contrast, wears the oranges and greens of autumn or spring, the life and colour of the world far from bleaching out to cool shades as it has in Frodo's garb.
Rosie's dance in the Fellowship of the Ring is comprised of a series of arm movements which echo traditional symbols of the mother (or moon) goddess in numerous cultures. Whether this is deliberate or not is known only to the film-makers, though it is worth noting that no other hobbits are shown dancing in such a way.
The fact that Rosie and Sam are not shown as living in Bag End is easily explained; the film's coda is far shorter than that of the book and it would be an extra plot complication just when all the loose threads are being tied up. Also, the image of Frodo alone in his empty home is a good visual metaphor for his thoughts and feelings. It does, however, eliminate much of the symbolism of Frodo making Sam his heir, as it is only the Red Book which we see passed down rather than all Frodo "might have had".
Anthony Lane, film critic for the New Yorker, comments: "Sam, the staunchest figure in the saga, goes home to a bosomy hobbitess, as he does in the novel, but Jackson, the man who can marshal warriors by the thousand, finds it hard to catch the rusticity - brisk, unsentimental, cider-sharp - of the original."
While Lane's comments may be true from the perspective of the Rosie who appears in the novel and the story told there, within the context of the film the character makes sense. Rosie is a symbol of the small and yet hugely significant change in Sam's personality - he is now brave enough to approach her and have the life he dreamed of.
In the book, Sam doesn't ask for Rosie's hand before the quest because he has "a job to do", whereas in the film the delay is due to his shyness, which remains until he has gone on the quest "there and back again". Within this different context, it would make little sense for Rosie to respond with "You've wasted a year, so why wait longer?", because it isn't until he returns that any union is really possible; Sam's not ready before that.
The Tolkien Enterprises-endorsed video game of the Fellowship of the Ring, which makes a point of saying that it is not based on the New Line film, also features Rosie as a barmaid at the Green Dragon. This Rosie, much like that of the BBC radio drama, is soft-spoken and sweet-natured. If Frodo, whom the player is controlling as an avatar, offers her a cask of cider, she will give him silverware in return. While not necessary to complete the game, this small interaction will later provide the player a chance to gain extra health and strength. Merry and Pippin, who are also in the Green Dragon at this stage of the game, will comment that there's gossip going around that Sam is sweet on Rosie, which they decide is nonsense because Sam "only loves his taters". Like the character shown in the films, this Sam is not yet ready to approach his future wife.
Tolkien's marriage, attitudes to women, and historical context
While arguments can be made as to why it is detrimental to a work of art to contextually examine it within the life and times of the artist, the fact remains that much of the intention behind a work can be clarified by delving into the circumstances of its creation. Therefore, Tolkien's own life and attitudes are here examined.
"Women are apt to break down if asked to 'wait' for a man, too long, and while youth (so precious and necessary to a would-be mother) is swiftly passing. They should, in fact, not be asked to wait", Tolkien wrote in a letter to his son Michael from 1941, lending a note of sympathy to subsequent readings of the character of Rosie, who was forced to do just this.
The same letter includes many insights into Tolkien's views on women and relationships, such as his contempt for "exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose". This quote echoes another letter, written a decade later, in which Tolkien writes "I think the simple 'rustic' love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves', and sheer beauty".
Tolkien also states simply that lovers are "companions in shipwreck, not guiding stars", then later goes on to elaborate that
A young woman, even one 'economically independent' as they say now (it usually really means economic subservience to male commercial employers instead of to a father or a family), begins to think of the 'bottom drawer' and dream of a home, almost at once. If she really falls in love, the shipwreck may really end on the rocks. Anyway women are in general much less romantic and more practical. Don't be mislead by the fact they are more 'sentimental' in words - freer with 'darling', and all that. They do not want a guiding star. They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don't really need any such glamour either to fall in love or remain in it.
It is interesting to read the following quote from the Return of the King with this opinion of Tolkien's in mind. The only instance in which Frodo refers to the journey after the fact is to tell a group of hobbits that Sam is "one of the most famous people in all the lands, and they are making songs about his deeds from here to the Sea and beyond the Great River". This single comment on the hobbits' part in the quest is followed by the line "Sam blushed, but he looked gratefully at Frodo, for Rosie's eyes were shining and she was smiling at him". She may not need "any such glamour" to love him, but it doesn't seem to hurt either.
It is perhaps also worth noting that Tolkien's courtship with Edith Bratt was delayed by various societal pressures. They were seperated for three years following their first time together and then another full year passed before Edith converted to Catholicism and Tolkien felt it appropriate to become formally engaged to her. Accounts of the relationship between the young lovers suggest a very explosive, and often bordering on antagonistic, relationship, and it is not outside the realm of possibility to consider that Rosie's "wasted a year" scolding of Sam may have a real-world basis in Tolkien's own life.
Another piece of historical context that can be cited when examining Rosie as a character is the use of the name in World War two as slang. More commonly found in America than England, the term was nevertheless universally used to describe a woman whose husband or beau had gone away to war. The 'Rosies', famously the subject of popular songs and some of the most well-known propaganda art of the era, were strong, capable, and the very antithesis of the languishing sweetheart waiting for the return of her lover.
Rosie, it can be argued through the numerous examples, motifs and connections outlined above, is not the sketchily-drawn, hastily-added 'reward' wife for the returning Sam, but on the contrary a character whose lack of elaboration speaks of a deeper level of meaning within the text.
All her aspects and qualities have been previously detailed in relation to other characters, and echo appropriated mythic structures. She represents many of Tolkien's opinions of women, as well as embodying feminine energy at the culmination of an often wholly masculine narrative.
She's the maiden, mother, and crone, the goddess and the mortal being. Wartime sweetheart and baby-boom parent, guardian and matron of the Shire-Eden. The end of the Return of the King is, in many ways, the arrival of the Queen.