An extended commonplace entry from The Two Towers revealing Tolkien’s thoughts on the importance of stories—the tales that really matter.
“Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”
“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”
“No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it – and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got – you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?”
“No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later – or sooner.”
“And then we can have some rest and some sleep,” said Sam. He laughed grimly. “And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, or course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.'”
“It’s saying a lot too much,” said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. “Why, Sam,” he said, “to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?'”
“Now, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, “you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.”
“So was I,” said Frodo, “and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.'”
“Maybe,” said Sam, “but I wouldn’t be one to say that. 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?”
“Gollum!” he called. “Would you like to be the hero – now where’s he got to again?”
Sam finishes that conversation on story in The Return of the King.
“What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we? I wish I could hear it told!”
Naturally, the best stories end with coming home—and a meal.
But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said.