Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham

A Discussion of Two Tolkien Classics
Riv Res
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Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham

Post by Riv Res » Thu Jul 12, 2007 2:10 pm

Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham


Image


Farmer Giles of Ham was first published in 1949 and Smith of Wootton Major was first published in 1967 by Allen and Unwin. No doubt that they were meant to feed the demand for Tolkien literature created by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, yet relatively few have read them and, at first read, they probably disappoint. Yet, the careful reader can discern many of the same themes and images that find their fuller expressions in the better known works.

Author Paul Kocher says this about Smith:
A short prose meditation on the gift of fantasy, what it is, whence it comes, and what it means to the life and character of the man who receives it.
Perhaps, then, the story should be read in light of Tolkien’s essay on Faerie? I wonder how Tolkien would answer Kocher’s questions. And one can see something of Bilbo in the unwilling hero, Farmer Giles, although the dragon Chrysophylax bears only superficial resemblance to Smaug! Tolkien’s mastery of language and his roots in ancient tales also form the backbones of the stories.

So, where shall we begin the discussion?

© Mass Market Paperback - Image Art: Pauline Diana Baynes


Merry
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Post by Merry » Fri Jul 13, 2007 2:41 am

I'll start us off with a couple of random thoughts about Farmer Giles:

I was surprised to find this to be such a sort of radical story! The king is a self-serving scoundrel, and Giles basically thumbs his nose at him at the end. And Giles is no more interested in fighting the dragon as the dragon is in fighting Giles. The 'make love not war' adherents in the 60s must have loved that! My copy of the story calls it 'mock-heroic', a term I had not seen before, but it fits.

There are some little toss-away gems everywhere in the text! This one is for you, Iolanthe:
Some may well ask what a blunderbuss was. Indeed, this very question, it is said, was put to the Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford, and after thought, they replied: "A blunderbuss is a short gun with a large bore firing many balls or slugs and capable of doing execution within a limited range without exact aim. (Now superseded in civilized countries by other firearms.)"
I guess we met only three of the four Wise Clerks of Oxenford!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Iolanthe » Sat Jul 14, 2007 3:25 pm

:lol: :lol: we did! I love the way he stuffs that little 'in' joke there.

The tale sure is mock-heroic and mock academic right from the start. I love the 'Foreword' which uses the same conceit as LotR only to comic effect. Here we have someone (an acadmic) writing about somebody else doing his own recounting of an even older (lost) story.
It is evidently a late compilation, full of marvels, derived not from sober annals, but from the popular lays to which its author frequently refers.
It's a great joke and Tolkien must have really savoured writing the whole story!

The whole opening paragraph is a wonderful example of bathos - AEgidius Ahenorbarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo who turns out to be 'shortly, and in the vulgar form' Farmer Giles of Ham 'and he had a red beard'. In think I knew I would love the story as soon as I read that.
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
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Post by Iolanthe » Sun Jul 15, 2007 1:49 pm

I've started re-reading it and I'm struck by the fact that Tolkien can create something like Turin and Glaurung in Children of Hurin, then take the whole hero/dragon thing down a peg or three and produce something as wonderfully funny as this.

:arrow: Like Nienor meeting the dragon face to face at the top of a hill, Giles meets the giant face to face, looming over the top of a hill.
:arrow: Like Turin, Giles has a marvellous dragon-slaying sword
:arrow: Like Turin, Giles has to go out and meet the dragon to prevent it ravaging where he lives
:arrow: Chrysophylax, like Glaurung, is a 'hot' dragon, first spotted by the people of Ham by a burning wood in the distance
:arrow: Like Glaurung lying accross the chasm, Giles finds the dragon lying half accross a hedge (from the sublime to the ridiculous)
:arrow: Like Glauring, the dragon has a bit of a converstation with his intended victim
:arrow: Like Glauring, the dragon is deceitful - trying to outwit the people of Ham

It takes a hell of a writer to successfully pull off the same sort of story both as an epic and a comic tale. Maybe after thousands of years of retelling, reduction and vulgarising by popular rustic culture Turin would become Giles and Glaurung would be reduced to the cowardly Chrysophylax :lol: .
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

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Post by Merry » Sun Jul 15, 2007 9:56 pm

Great comparisons, Iolanthe! I wonder if we know enough about the chronology of his thought to figure out which was first? Giles was published in 1949, but that doesn't mean that he wrote it then. I suppose my guess would be that the tragic form came first in his imagination.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Riv Res » Sun Jul 15, 2007 11:56 pm

A little something I found in my travels...

Image

© Ted Nasmith


Merry
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Post by Merry » Mon Jul 16, 2007 12:04 am

Wonderful! I take it that this is Smith and the Fairy Queen? But what an evocative image!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Riv Res
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Post by Riv Res » Mon Jul 16, 2007 1:05 am

Merry wrote:Wonderful! I take it that this is Smith and the Fairy Queen?


Sorry...yes. That is the title of the Nasmith piece. :D

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Post by Iolanthe » Mon Jul 16, 2007 10:45 am

That's lovely! I've never seen that before :D .

I think Giles is well after Turin, who came into Tolkien's imagination very early on!

I've finished reading through it again now and can add another comparison:

:arrow: The dragon lives with his treasure in an ancient, abandoned cave city with great bronze doors, made by men or giants of long ago. Rather like Nagrothrond (except the door is on the West not east side of the hill!).

:arrow: All of Giles's fortune comes by extraordinary good luck, unlike Turin whose fortune is exactly the opposite - ruled by bad luck/fate/doom.

Also - isn't Giles rather like a gentleman-farmer Sam Gamgee. A salt-of-the-earth no-nonsense character.
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

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Post by Merry » Mon Jul 16, 2007 4:18 pm

You know, a picture is emerging in my mind of Tolkien growing happier as he ages. My assumption is that most of us grow unhappier--maybe not a good assumption. But I wonder if his emergence in literary style from epic tragedy to mock-heroicism to eucatastrophe mirrors his own personal, emotional and spiritual health?

I definitely see something hobbity in Giles!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Lindariel » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:00 pm

So far, I have only had a chance to speed through Smith of Wooton Major. At the end of the tale, I was struck by the parallel between Smith being required to give back the gift of the star on his brow, which gave him passage into the realm of Faery, and Aragorn gracefully giving back the Gift of Man by voluntarily giving up his life when the time is right.

Smith does seem to regard his loss as a form of death -- the end of his adventures in Faery -- but to understand that such a gift can only be temporary and that it is important for future generations to have this experience so that Faery will never be totally lost to Mankind. He struggles, but ultimately relinquishes the gift of his own free will and comes to regard it as the right thing to do.
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Post by Merry » Fri Jul 20, 2007 3:27 pm

Which is all good, isn't Lindariel, since he has no control over his entrance into Faery in the first place? It is all gift.

You know, when I read these two works--I sped through, too, and should probably read them again very soon--I had the impression that there were some inside jokes I wasn't getting that English people would get. Even just names of places, like Wootton Major (which I really have to work at to spell right!) seem to have significance that I can't grasp. Does anyone know what I mean?
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by marbretherese » Fri Jul 20, 2007 4:26 pm

Does anyone know what I mean?
Yes, I do, and I wish I had my books to hand here at the office, because either Shippey or 'The Ring of Words' gives more information on this, at least as far as Farmer Giles of Ham is concerned. Amazon's book review mentions that "Tolkien crammed much sly wit into his little story, plus jokey philological explanations that Giles's amazing adventures are commemorated in Thames Valley placenames like Worminghall and Thame" (Thame, which in real life is located in Oxfordshire, is the Ham of the story) and I'm pretty sure that there's a whole etymological/geographical tie-in, with the dragon being located in the Pennines or the mountains of Wales.

Farmer Giles' full name (AEgidius Ahenorbarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo) is also a joke - or rather, has a genuine translation. Certainly 'Agricola' is the Latin word for farmer and a brief internet search has revealed the following:

- Aegidius translates as Giles (a Roman Saint)

- 'Ahenobarbus' translates directly as 'brazen-bearded' - ie red-bearded - it's also the name of various Roman emperors.

- 'Julius' is of course another name associated with Roman Emperors.

Clever, huh?
"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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Post by Iolanthe » Fri Jul 20, 2007 7:47 pm

Now that 'Julius' is going to madden me. I can see the reason for all the rest of it: Giles 'Red Beard' Farmer of Ham. But why Julius? There must be a connection there somewhere :-k.
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Post by marbretherese » Fri Jul 20, 2007 9:51 pm

Aegidius, as well as being the name of a Saint (a disciple of St Francis of Assisi), was also the name of a regional Governor in Frankish Gaul - which given the other Roman references is probably a better connection. Perhaps Aegidius was linked to Julius Caesar in some way? According to one of the reviews on Amazon:
"Sunny Sam" the Blacksmith's true (Latin) name is Fabricius Cunctator - "Fabricius the delayer", a clear pun on the name of the famous Roman general Fabius Cunctator, who got his cognomen by delaying battle with Hannibal.
So Tolkien seems to have taken his inspiration from Roman generals here.

Shippey points out that Thame (which is actually in Buckinghamshire and not Oxfordshire, as I posted earlier :oops: ) is twelve miles east of Oxford; Worminghall four miles away and Oakley (which had its parson eaten) five, and that the capital of the Middle Kingdom is probably Tamworth, historical capital of the Mercian kings. He places the dragons in the Pennines and the giants in Wales. Shippey goes on to suggest that the entire story is a tongue-in-cheek allegory concerning Tolkien's switch from academicism to creativity (The Road to Middle Earth Ch4 A Cartographic Plot - if you only ever read one chapter of Shippey make it this one!!)

In Ring of Words the authors point out that 'The Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford' are almost certainly the four Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, and the definition of the word 'blunderbuss' they give is that of the OED itself.
They also remind us that the word 'Worm' is the ancient Germanic word for dragon, and that Tolkien has Giles and Chrysophylax first meeting at the Buckinghamshire village of Worminghall!

Shippey also points out that Tolkien chose the names of the characters in Smith of Wootton Major with equal care, although the story is not intended as a joke in the way that Farmer Giles is. As you know from reading my essay, I find Tolkien's choice of names and geographical references completely fascinating!
"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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