Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Recently a single volume became available containing two of Tolkien's shorter pieces, "Smith of Wooton Major" and "Farmer Giles of Ham." Buy them, read them, treasure them. They are marvelous.
The illustrations by Pauline Diana Baynes look like something out of a medieval illuminated manuscript.
Farmer Giles made me laugh very much, and Smith makes me cry every time I read it. It is an absolutely beautiful piece, like the Pan chapter in The Wind and the Willows only without the pantheism. (Nevertheless, even thinking about that chapter brings tears to my eyes.)
I also think "Smith" is interesting because of certain parallels with the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings. For instance, the departure of Master Cook Rider at the beginning of the story reminds one of the departure of Bilbo, and the scene in which the King of Faerie asks Smith to surrender the fay star reminds one of the scene in which Gandalf insists that Bilbo leave the ring to Frodo. I wonder if Smith of Wooton Major was in some way consciously related to the writing of LotR.
Another interesting thing about it is that the word Faerie/fairy is spelled both ways. Always when a "believer" speaks it, it is spelled "Faerie" with a capital F, and when an "unbeliever" like old Nokes speaks it, it is spelled "fairy" with a lower-case F. Not an easy distinction to get across when reading the story aloud, I'm sure, but a significant subtlety.
What can I say about these two wonderful tales? "Farmer Giles" is about a clever farmer whose wits pass for courage when he is forced to face a dragon. "Smith" is about a blacksmith who finds that he is able to visit the magical country of Faerie. The one is a satirical legend, facetiously cut from the cloth of Beowulf. The other is a beautiful evocation of a gift that can only be used for good, and that lasts for all too short a time. If I have to explain it more than that, you aren't rushing off to buy it and read it. These are stories to cherish and to share, from an author widely thought to have written nothing but The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Now you know better!
Recommended Age: 10+
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