Sam's Star
by Cara J. Loup

An entry in Lord of the Rings Appendix B describes the meeting of Aragorn and Arwen with Sam and his family at the Brandywine Bridge, in the year 1436 S.R., when Elanor became a maid of honor to Arwen, and Sam received the "Star of the Dúnedain" from Aragorn (LOTR, p. 1133). What exactly was this ‘Star’, and why did Aragorn give it to Sam? Nothing further is said about it, but of course I couldn’t help wondering: this short essay is the result of my prodding and questioning.

A footnote in Unfinished Tales mentions that Robert Foster’s "Complete Guide to Middle-earth" identifies this jewel as the Star of Elendil (the Elendilmir, also known as Star of the North, and Star of the North-kingdom), but Christopher Tolkien disputes this: "it seems to me in any case out of the question that he [Aragorn] would have made a gift of it to the Mayor of the Shire, however greatly he esteemed him." (As a side note, there is no reason to assume that Sam received this jewel in his function as Mayor, on behalf of all hobbits. The Appendix entry refers to him as ‘Master Samwise’, thereby implying a personal gift.) There is no other reference to the ‘Star of the Dúnedain’ anywhere in Tolkien’s writings, yet Christopher concludes: "it seems to me almost certain that it was not [the Star of Elendil], and that Master Samwise received some other (and more suitable) distinction." (Unfinished Tales: Disaster of the Gladden Fields, p. 369).

Disregarding for the moment what Christopher Tolkien thought Aragorn thought was suitable for Sam, let’s look at the available information about "the Elendilmir of the West" first (UT, p. 355). It was a "white star of Elvish crystal" (UT, p. 359) which belonged to the royal house of Númenor, but can’t have orginated there. As an ‘Elvish crystal’, it must have been brought by one of the ships that sailed from Tol Eressëa, bearing gifts out of the West (among them Nimloth, a seedling of Celeborn, the White Tree of Eressëa; see The Silmarillion, p. 316). The first person to have possessed this ‘white star’ is Silmarien, daughter of the fourth king of Númenor, and ancestress of Elendil. (The affixed –mir means jewel, but it’s worth noting that in Noldorin Mirion/Miruin specifically denote the silmarils.) The jewel travelled to Middle-earth when Elendil and Isildur fled, so that Isildur still had it when he was ambushed by orcs and betrayed by the Ring. Subsequently, the Elendilmir disappeared together with Isildur’s body and the Ring, and a new Star was made later for Valandil, Isildur’s son, in Rivendell. This second Star was passed on to Aragorn down the family line: It’s the jewel he wore under the guise of ‘Thorongil’, during the reign of Ecthelion II (cf. LOTR Appendix A.iv, p. 1092), and which was bound to his brow when he returned to Minas Tirith as Gondor’s lawful king (ROTK, p. 881, 1002). The original Elendilmir came into his possession only when, some time after his coronation, it was discovered in one of Saruman’s secret chambers. Tolkien writes that afterwards Aragorn "wore it only on high days of the North Kingdom. Otherwise, when in kingly raiment he bore the Elendilmir which had descended to him. ‘And this is also a thing of reverence,’ he said, ‘and above my worth; forty heads have worn it before.’" (UT, p. 359).

Christopher Tolkien apparently thought that the original Elendilmir would have been too precious a gift for Sam. He considered it a matter of ‘distinction’, rather like a decoration for Sam’s achievements, or a reward for rendered services. Perhaps Christopher also believed that such a treasured possession should remain in Gondor when it had finally been retrieved, to lend additional luster to the returned king’s reign. However, Aragorn wasn’t exactly short of illustrious heirlooms (from Narsil/Andúril to the White Tree, the Gondorian crown and the Elessar, another precious stone with a complex mythical history), and the second Elendilmir held greater personal significance for him since it descended through the entire line of kings in Middle-earth, which means that Aragorn must have received it from his own father. By giving the original Star to Sam, Aragorn wouldn’t have deprived his kingdom of the only heirloom that formed a connection to Númenor and Valinor either, since the White Tree of Minas Tirith is a direct, living descendant of Nimloth of Númenor which in turn descended from Galathilion of Valinor through Celeborn.

As you may have guessed by now, I got quite excited when I read this minor note in Unfinished Tales, and despite Christopher Tolkien’s commentary, I was instantly convinced of the contrary – which has something to do with how I see Aragorn’s appreciation and understanding of Sam, but it’s not just that... More than anything, his gift to Sam parallels Arwen’s gift of the ‘Evenstar’ to Frodo, and with it the implications of a coming journey across the Sea (and this is true regardless of which jewel it actually was): that’s what makes it so significant. The name given in Appendix B – Star of the Dúnedain (i.e. Men of the West, Númenóreans) – alludes to this as well through the reference to Westernesse. And of course there are many reasons why a ‘white star’ was a most appropriate gift to Sam who saw a star in Mordor in response to his wish for a ‘bit of light’, called out to Elbereth the star-kindler in his greatest despair and for a while carried the Phial in which the light of Eärendil was reflected. Since the Star’s name translates as ‘jewel of the Elf-friend’, this implication, too, may well have played a part for Aragorn’s decision. (However, such a precious gift would necessarily have been kept a secret, so that no-one else in the Shire could know what the Star truly was, which would explain why it appears in Appendix B under a different – yet otherwise unrecorded – name.)

But if it was the original Star that Aragorn gave to Sam, what does that mean, and what might his reasons have been? Perhaps he consciously intended to mirror Arwen’s gift to Frodo, so that the two jewels would also represent the two kindreds, the Eldar and the Edain, and their union in those few marriages between immortals and mortals. Surely he wanted to give Sam a token of hope for his own journey into the West and his reunion with Frodo, but there may be more implied in the gesture. The Elendilmir represents a direct connection to the Undying Lands, and epitomizes the history of Númenor, once called Elenna-nórë, the Land of the Star (also known as ‘Starwards’), since the settlers were guided there by Eärendil: "so bright was Rothinzil [Adunaic for Vingilot, Eärendil’s ship] that even at morning Men could see it glimmering in the West, and in the cloudless night it shone alone, for no other star could stand beside it." (Silmarillion, p. 313). In the Index to Lord of the Rings, it’s stated that the Elendilmir "represented the Star of Eärendil" which strengthens this particular connection (LOTR, p. 1193, see also p. 1072). In later days, Númenor was lost when the last king defied the Valar and set out to conquer the Undying Lands, in the hope to gain immortality for himself. By letting Sam, a mortal, carry the Elendilmir back into the West, Aragorn may have wished to return a gift that once came out of Valinor or Eressëa, as a token of regret and reconciliation.

But, by giving Sam the original Elendilmir (if that’s what he did), he also passed on the heirloom of another who’d carried the One Ring and failed where Frodo and Sam had succeeded. Interestingly, the more detailed story of Isildur’s death, which is said to have been written during Aragorn’s reign, places particular emphasis on two elements that are absent from the report given in LOTR. In this version, the Ring is already experienced as a burden; Isildur realizes his presumption and experiences relief at the loss of the Ring, albeit too late (cf. UT, p. 355f.). Secondly, the Star’s light is not affected by the Ring’s power and remains visible when Isildur uses the Ring to hide himself from his enemies, since "the Elendilmir of the West could not be quenched" (UT, p. 355). Its light also affects the perceptions of the orcs who see Isildur as he tries to cross the river: "There he rose up out of the water: only a mortal man, a small creature lost and abandoned in the wilds of Middle-earth. But to the night-eyed Orcs (…) he loomed up, a monstrous shadow of fear, with a piercing eye like a star." (UT, p. 356). This version of the story obviously reflects Aragorn’s understanding of the Ring, but it’s also reminiscent of Sam at Cirith Ungol, where the orcs mistake him for an Elvish warrior. Just like the Elendilmir itself, Sam then remained unaffected by the Ring’s power and its efforts to tempt him, and this parallel may have given Aragorn another reason why Sam should take the Star into the West: as a sign that the failure of Isildur, too, had been redeemed.

When I look at these various implications, they’re all inherently connected to a hope for overcoming at least part of the loss and division that define not only the Númenórean legacy but also Aragorn and Sam’s personal histories. The gift of the Star acknowledges who Sam has become through his role in the quest and his bond with Frodo: Elf-friend, Ring-bearer, touched and uplifted by the Elven stars of which he sang, a Traveller who keeps hearing the voice of the Sea and awaits a journey to the Undying Lands. Beyond that, the gift of the Elendilmir would have made him the bearer and messenger of mortal hopes, of lingering memories that still connect the mortal world to the light in the West – and that seems very fitting to me.

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Editions quoted:
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings. (The Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers. The Return of the King.) Illustrated by Alan Lee. [Originally published 1954, 1955] London 1991. (abbr. LOTR, FOTR, TTT, ROTK)
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London [1977] 1979.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London [1980] 1998. (abbr. UT)

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