Queer Coded: Sam and Frodo ("The Lord of the Rings")

Yeah, Frodo and Sam are queer-coded too, at least, to me, if not to everyone else. But if the large amount of fanfiction is anything to go by, along with some forums and the reactions my former classmates had to the scene at the end of Return of the King when it looks like Frodo’s about to kiss Sam before he goes to the Undying Lands, then it would seem that Peter Jackson et al. were successful in making Frodo and Sam the hottest couple of 2003, even though they probably never intended for the relationship to be interpreted that way. 

First of all, as a Frodo/Sam geek, I love this picture that was apparently used for press purposes. It’s like the person behind the camera had an agenda. It looks like that engagement photo you get that you immediately want to shred to pieces because the couple that’s getting married is that couple, the one always showing PDA when you’re just trying to eat your sandwich or walk to the store or something. That thought process (and perhaps my passive-aggressiveness at PDA and my love-hate relationship with the idea of weddings) led me to create this foolery a couple of years ago:

Frodo Sam Wedding Invitation

But in all seriousness, Frodo and Sam are quite queer-coded (whether Sean Astin wants to believe that or not). How are they queer-coded, you ask? Let me count the ways:

1) There’s strong friendship, and then there’s loud subtext. I think when arguments start about whether or not Frodo and Sam are gay, one of the things that gets brought up is friendship somehow being “tainted” and twisted into gay fantasy. I think most people know what friendship is. I know I do. But when watching Frodo and Sam interact, there always seemed to be a lot more there than just friendship, and that’s not even counting the master-servant relationship.

In the second book, Sam does say he loves Frodo. To quote Goodreads:

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.

Of course, the historical context of this quote has to be examined. The book was written during the ’40s, but even during that time, the lingering Victorian idea of idealized love between same-sex friends was still in existence. Seeing how J.R.R. Tolkien grew up and lived during the early part of the 20th century, participating in the First World War and experienced intense loyalty with his compatriots, it’s not surprising to me that a statement of filial bonding is an overriding theme of the books.

What did surprise me was that this particular passage could easily be read as not just homoeroticism, but a full statement of love, including not just an examination of bonds forged between brothers-at-arms, but a true realization of all-encompassing love that involves actual romantic feeling. If Sam was a woman, there would be no question that the woman was in love. And also, the Victorian idea of idealized love is very much one rooted in homoeroticism.

Peter Jackson seemed to have taken this theme of intense love and turned it into something that could be seen as a sweeping romantic epic, if there wasn’t tons of fighting and killing in the way. It’s not really Jackson’s fault that Frodo and Sam appear to be in a soulmate-type romantic relationship; it’s Tolkien’s, and it’s also due to the changing times. Back in the day, you’d have to couch same-sex romance with pseudonyms such as “idealized love” or whatnot. Nowadays, everything’s out in the open, so people just call stuff for what it looks like now.

2) In the movies, Frodo is always shown as having feminine qualities, while Sam is generally shown as having the more traditional masculine qualities. Some of Frodo’s coded femininity simply comes from being part of the gentry and growing up in an environment in which he’s never had to strain himself for anything; he doesn’t have to carry his own bags because he has Sam, the servant, to do it for him.

But, Jackson seems to blow Frodo’s appearance up to a grander, and much more queer-coded scale. Gandalf describes Frodo as “a stout fellow with red cheeks, taller than some [hobbits], and fairer than most,” and that he has a lively personality, which is cool. It gives us the sense that Frodo’s unusual qualities have almost made him predestined to have the Ring and go on this fantastic journey. But these qualities get exaggerated once we get to the movie.

The book Frodo sounds like a buy who’s sturdy and up for challenges; the movie Frodo looks and acts like a little dandy-ish. He has large, round eyes, which, to many who have grown up with Disney, harkens back to princess eyes. He is of a slight build, which, in contrast to Sam’s stockiness, makes him look more fragile, even if he’s actually not. His red cheeks look less like flush and more like the pinched cheeks of an 18th century aristocrat. He also has a gentle way of speaking, which could belong to any man, gay or straight. But, when compared to Sam’s heavier tone, it comes off looking a lot more queer-coded than it probably should.

It seems like the movie wants you to compare the two characters in this way. It’s not surprising that the hobbit that does have to do all the work is the one that’s coded in a more traditional masculine sense. Sam is larger than Frodo, has less refined features, has a bluntness about him in comparison to Frodo’s loftiness and airiness, and fights off monsters, Gollum, or whathaveyou in a very “male hero” way, while Frodo faints, evoking the idea of the damsel-in-distress.

There are probably many other ways I could list, but for right now, these two will do. What do you think about Frodo and Sam? Do you think they’re queer-coded? And would you like to be invited to their wedding if they used that picture as their engagement photo? Discuss.

Sean Astin and Elijah Wood as Sam and Frodo. Credit: Warner Bros/New Line Cinema

  • Yes!

    Yes, I do think they’re queer coded and you’re right if it wasn’t for all the horse riding and killing I would see LOTR as a grand romance.

    I’m not a proponent, fan or even reader of the books. I came to the movies cold. I do know enough about the Victorian era to know what Tolkien was attempting to say with these two characters.

    That doesn’t stop me from seeing the homoeroticism in their relationship.

    Frodo almost always gently speaks to Samwise, even when he says harsh things. The way a loving wife often talks to her husband, even when she’s critiquing him.

    Samwise seems to keep Frodo’s flagging spirits up by being optimistic, something that Frodo comments on at one point. The way loving husbands are always reassuring their wives that everything will be fine.

    • I came to the books late (just last year, actually), but I was astounded at just how much the movies did reflect the books in regard to the homoerotic tendencies. And yeah, I agree that Sam and Frodo do have heteronormative ways of acting in their relationship.

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