In The Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee climbs the Tower of Cirith Ungol to try to rescue his master and friend, Frodo Baggins, who has been taken captive by Orcs. When Sam is near despair because he cannot find Frodo, Sam sings a song that makes reference to “merry finches.” What is the significance of this phrase in his lyrics? To answer this question, my essay first explores J.R.R. Tolkien’s ornithological knowledge, especially of finches in England, which is readily demonstrated from a letter he wrote to his son, Christopher Tolkien (July 7, 1944), about his observations of bullfinches in the family garden at 20 Northmoor Road in Oxford and his comparison of them to goldfinches. Next, this essay explores Tolkien’s tendency to connect his naturalist observations to biblical, classical, and medieval myth, legend, and literature. Attention is paid to the legend that associates the goldfinch with Christ’s Passion and, in the process, a thematic parallel is found between the goldfinch’s attempt to alleviate Christ’s suffering and Sam’s attempt to alleviate Frodo’s suffering in the Tower. This study concludes with reflection on Tolkien’s concept of “eucatastrophe,” from his essay “On Fairy-stories,” and the manner in which Tolkien uses the reference to “merry finches” in Sam’s song to foreshadow a sudden turn toward joy.
Beal, Jane PhD
"Sam's Song in the Tower: The Significance of 'Merry Finches' in J.R.R. Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_,"
Journal of Tolkien Research: Vol. 17:
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch/vol17/iss2/4