The Return of the King
How we cite our quotes:
Aragorn looked at them, and there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath; for these were young men from Rohan, from Westfold far away, or husbandmen from Lossarnach, and to them Mordor had been from childhood a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass.
"Go!" said Aragorn. "But keep what honour you may, and do not run! And there is a task which you may attempt and so be not wholly shamed. Take your way south-west till you come to Cair Andros, and if that is still held by enemies, as I think, then re-take it, if you can; and hold it to the last in defence of Gondor and Rohan!" (5.10.20-21)
This is the moment when Aragorn pities the young men in his troop who take one look at Mordor and want to run for the hills. His offering them an alternative duty reminds us of an earlier scene in the series. Before the Nine Companions set out from Rivendell, Elrond reminds them that they cannot know their road ahead of time, so if any of them need to leave the Company (except for Frodo, who has to keep going), they should. Elrond offers, "let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall" (The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 3). Maybe Aragorn has learned from Elrond's example, and that's why he has mercy on his frightened soldiers, letting them go willingly rather than breaking their hearts by forcing them to continue. There is an advantage to this strategy, of course: by being generous enough to let unwilling soldiers go when Aragorn really, really needs all of the men he can get, he is also ensuring that the remaining force actually wants to be there and is capable of fighting. It's a sacrifice, sure, but it's one that might reap some benefits later.
"Water, water!" muttered Sam. He had stinted himself, and in his parched mouth his tongue seemed thick and swollen; but for all his care they now had very little left, perhaps half his bottle, and maybe there were still days to go. All would long ago have been spent, if they had not dared to follow the orc-road. For at long intervals on that highway cisterns had been built for the use of troops sent in haste through the waterless regions. In one Sam had found some water left, stale, muddied by the orcs, but still sufficient for their desperate case. Yet that was now a day ago. There was no hope of anymore. (6.3.17)
As though we needed any more proof of Sam's devotion, here he is, sacrificing as much of his water as he can to keep Frodo going in these desperate times. But you know what we find interesting? You may have noticed: we're getting a lot of stuff from Sam's perspective these days. Starting in Book 4 and continuing in Book 6, Frodo and Sam's adventures in Mordor are told nearly exclusively from Sam's point of view. It's his emotions, his despair, and his sacrifices that have become the focus of Book 6. To be fair, at this point, all Frodo can think about is the Ring, like a flaming brand on his brain, which means that Frodo probably wouldn't be the most awesome of narrators right now: "Ring. Hurts. Ring. Burns." So in order to get a more complete picture of what's actually happening to the two of them, we have to rely on the perspective of the not-possessed member of this partnership. What's more, Sam's sympathetic outside observations of the pain and struggle of Frodo's journey reminds us, step-by-step, of the sacrifices Frodo has made to destroy the Ring.
"I am glad that you are here with me," said Frodo. "Here at the end of all things, Sam."
"Yes, I am with you, Master," said Sam, laying Frodo's wounded hand gently on his breast. "And you're with me. And the journey's finished. But after coming all that way I don't want to give up yet. It's not like me, somehow, if you understand." (6.4.15-16)
In a letter dated September 1963, Tolkien comments on Frodo's final moments on Mount Doom: "he was restored to sanity and peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in sacrifice: he expected to die very soon" (source, pg. 327). Frodo expects that his quest to destroy the Ring will kill him, that, without the Ring, he must now die. That is the price he is willing to pay for the end of this awful duty that has been thrust upon him. But Sam hasn't been called upon to make that same sacrifice, and as Sam says in this scene, it's not his nature "to want to give up." Frodo may believe in the necessity of his sacrifice, but Sam, who remains more practical and less (to use Tolkien's word) "sanctified" (source, pg. 237) than Frodo, insists on saving not only his own life, but also Frodo's. Still, in a sense, Frodo is so set on the idea of dying for the quest that Sam's decision to bring Frodo out of the Sammath Naur only delays his ultimate sacrifice for a time. Is Frodo's deathly despair any different from Denethor's? How does his decision to follow Sam in this crucial moment differentiate Frodo from Denethor?