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Amazing 1420 At Cottons' Farm

Painting of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton at Farmer Cotton's by Miriam Ellis
"When Sam Spoke to Rosie at Cottons' Farm" - Miriam Ellis

When the "Scouring of the Shire" is at an end and Sam Gamgee has sprinkled the earth of Lothlórien all about his homeland, a spring of surpassing vigor comes to restore the hobbits after all their troubles and privations. I love to think of how this joyful season would have felt for my favorite hobbit clan: the Cottons. Though we may only hear of Farmer and Mrs. Cotton, of Rosie, Jolly, Tom, Nick and Nibs at the edges of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, I think they give us our best glimpse of a happy, rural hobbit family. And, because of their kindness and courage, we can delight in thinking of them thriving in the remarkable spring of 1420.

When I set out to paint the Cottons' farm, I had to make a decision about what they might grow. Considering that Tolkien related in Letter 184 that his Cotton-Gamgee inspiration was owing to an old brand of cotton bandaging called Gamgee tissue, and adding to this the knowledge we have of the hobbits' love of wearing bright colors, I realized that the family might be in the textile trade. Remember that Bilbo had whole wardrobes of fine clothes. Someone must have been creating them!

Farmer Cotton is seen here coming up the lane in his hobbit pony cart (this would be the lane Sam runs up when he returns from his adventure). Frodo is seated beside him, helping bring in a load of wild woad plants which, along with the other plants the family is growing such as weld, madder, and nettles, yield bright natural fabric dyes. One of the examples of the Cottons' kindness is the fact that they house Frodo and Sam while Bag End is in disarray, and I think Frodo would gladly have come to do a day's work in thanks.

Above, you can see Mrs. Cotton outside her work shed, dyeing the yarns she would have made from the flax the family grows. I could have had the family growing cotton (after all, they have non-European foods akin to potatoes and sunflowers), but flax is such an ancient crop, and the linen it produces is mentioned in the legendarium. Jolly is hoeing nearby, and if you look closely at the full picture, you'll see Nick weeding one of the flax fields while Tom is ploughing up the vegetable garden and little Nibs is napping under a tree.

A neighbor's plum orchard blooms below the Great East Road and you can hardly tell that, just a few months earlier, all of the Shire was struggling under the terrible incursions of Sharkey and the ruffians. Perhaps the land is like the hobbits, themselves, and rebounds quickly from trouble. Galadriel's gift helps, and the abundance would have been so welcome to small farmers like the Cottons. They are so deserving! During the invasion, they took it upon themselves to see to it that Sam's old father, Gaffer Gamgee, was fed better than many poor folk, and Farmer Cotton plays a brave and pivotal role in the ensuing battle with the ruffians.

But the main action going on in this scene is, of course, Sam finally getting to propose to Rosie. He has been through so much, has gone to Mount Doom and back, and we know from the unpublished Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings that Rosie's bond with Sam is so strong that she somehow intuits that he is coming home and she begins to sing with joy.

Sketch of Sam and Rosie wading - Miriam Ellis

He and Rosie were children together. We hear of Sam wading in Bywater Pool with Rosie and the Cotton lads. I think it's significant that when we meet Sam, no mention is ever made of his mother, Bell Goodchild. It may be that the Gaffer is a widower, and that, like Tolkien, Sam is motherless. If so, the warm welcome of Mrs. Cotton could have meant a lot to the young Gamgees, and her eldest son, Tom, ends up marrying Sam's sister, Marigold.

But as 1420 begins, a last difficulty in Sam's epic journey has to be overcome. He is torn as to whether he must stay up at The Hill and take care of poor, ailing Mr. Frodo, whom he dearly loves, or whether he might find some way to marry his sweetheart. Kindly and generously, Frodo clears all these worries away, asking Sam to bring his bride home to Bag End. Their years there together will be long and merry, their children will be numerous, and their reward for loyalty, fidelity, perseverance, courage and love is wonderfully sweet.

painting of Sam Rosie and Elanor at Bag End by Miriam Ellis
"Well, I'm back." - Miriam Ellis

We don't get to enjoy a proposal scene. We don't even know how or where hobbits get married. But we rejoice to think of the fruitful spring of 1420 being crowned with the union of Samwise the Stouthearted and his patient Rose. I hope this short video will help you imagine the happy day on which Sam came to Cottons' farm to finally give voice to the question he's been waiting so long to ask:



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