Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham

A Discussion of Two Tolkien Classics
Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Sat Jul 21, 2007 2:16 am

Oh, marbretherese, your excellent post reminded me that I skipped that chapter in Shippey because I had not read the books! Now I get to anticipate more wonderful reading.

I'm pretty proud of myself that I figured out the connection with the Four Wise Clerks, and I wondered if the poking fun at Latin was a jab at academe. But so much more to understand! Thanks for the reminder.
0 x
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.

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Wed Jul 25, 2007 3:29 pm

marbretherese wrote:As you know from reading my essay, I find Tolkien's choice of names and geographical references completely fascinating!

Which we're all benefitting from :D . That was really interesting! I have read all Shippey's book but, typically, had forgotten that he had written so much about Farmer Giles. Probably because I read it first and then Farmer Giles quite a while after. I guess I'll have to go back and read that chapter again. A simple story that kids would love, but with nothing simple at all about it!
0 x
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:43 am

There are lots of interesting snippets about Farmer Giles in Tolkien's letters (I spend way too much time in that book :lol: ).

:arrow: He wanted to do more stories set in the Little Kingdom - the adventures of Prince George, the Farmer's son, a fat boy Souvetaurilius (Suet) and the battle of Otmoor.

:arrow: It was originally illustrated by Pauline Baynes and Tolkien adored her 'medieval' style pictures for this book. Tolkien said they were 'more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a commentary on the drawings'. :lol:

:arrow: He was emphatic that the story was not written for children:
...whoever may buy it, this story was not written for children; though as in the case of other books that will not necessarily prevent them from being amused by it. I think it might be as well to emphasize the fact that this is a tale specially composed for reading aloud: it goes very well so, for those that like this kind of thing at all. It was, in fact, written to order, to be read to the Lovelace Society at Worcester College; and was read to them at a sitting.

But it's still a wonderful tale for children, I think!

There's a lot more - I'll follow up more of the index leads when I've got a bit more time :D .
0 x
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Gil
Posts: 82
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2007 4:19 pm
Location: England

Postby Gil » Wed Aug 15, 2007 8:00 am

I can't help with place names - you've already said it all, but "Canterbury bells" are traditional English garden flowers.

If Tolkien was using roman generals then maybe "Julius" is "Julius AGRICOLA Gnaeus" the Roman general who conquered most of the UK between AD 69 -83. Certainly people going through school in the UK in the 50's to 70's would have spent many many hours on "Agricola" as he is usually known here because of the availibilty of Tacitus's glowing record. I did! and Agricola means farmer...

As for "Red beard" I've often wondered if this is a reference to PH Shaw-Stewart who was a member of Balliol college, Oxford and was a poet killed in the first world war. He is remembered as growing a "striking red beard". Surely JRR must have known of him even if he didn't know him well?
More about Shaw-Stewart here Shaw-stewart
What do you think?
0 x

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Wed Aug 15, 2007 10:35 am

Could be! It's full of 'inside' references so who knows? Tolkien seems to have had so much fun writing this piece and I so wish he had had the time and encouragement to write a few more stories like it.

I'm now two thirds of the way through Smith of W-M again.

The descriptions of the Land of Faery are just amazing. The silent sea with the giant waves and Elven army, the red lake of a glass like substance with fiery creatures under it. Where did he get these ideas? It's wondrous and terrifying just as the Land of Faery should be. You want to hear so much more. I keep trying to relate it to Middle-earth or even Valinor but I can't. Where is this place in his imagination? It's something entirely different - not our world in ages past but the wonder of old tales and fabulous stories that fed the imaginations of men before the Victorians got hold of the fay and created 'Fairyland' and the sugar coated Fairy Queen on the cake.
0 x
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Sun Aug 19, 2007 3:28 pm

Getting slightly off track here into musings about fairyland.....

I've been reading Garth's Tolkien and the Great War (finally, I hear some of you saying) and I'm fascinated by one of his insights about Tolkien's history of the Elves and how it provides "an elegant 'explanation' for the presence in fairy tale tradition of two apparently contradictory versions of Faerie".

I suppose I'm especially interested because of my last comments about how the Land of Faery is represented in Smith of Wooton Major.

Garth is really talking about Tolkien's very earliest writings about the elves. They first lived in Kôr (the name of their earliest land in Valinor) then - after leaving Kôr to live with men and teach them - they retreated from a hostile world into exile accross the sea in Kotirion which was the new capital of the fairies. Kotirion was his earliest concept of the Lonely Isle (which was then the island of Britain) and Kotirion was supposed to be Warwick.

But I'm digressing as Garth's insight applies to Tolkien's later concepts too.

Garth mentions two kinds of 'fairyland' traditions in old tales. In some stories fairyland is an 'Otherworld' like the Welsh Annwn and the Irish Tir-na-Nog. Men can find their way there but it is not part of our world and never has been. In other tales fairyland flourished openly in our mortal world but has now faded from view. Tolkien neatly explains both. There is an elvish otherworld in Valinor and there are elves in exile (or who never went) who lived in the same world as men but who have either since left or have declined into shadows.

I'm still not sure where the Land of Faery in Smith of W-M fits into this but it seems to me more like Smith has a passport to the Otherworld like Annwn or Irosh Tir-na-Nog rather than an ability just to see the fading fairy world that still exists around him.

I'm probably the only person that's pariticularly interested in this :lol: .
0 x
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Sun Aug 19, 2007 6:51 pm

Yes, finally! :D

I'm not an expert in this, obviously, but it seems that Tolkien has his feet firmly planted in a sort of Victorian concept of Faery. But I, for one, am glad that this world kind of 'grew up' in his mind. Compare the Faery King or even the Elves in the beginning of The Hobbit (always giggling and singing!) to Elrond or Galadriel. I think Tolkien grew into thinking that if 'Faery' were to actually mean anything in the real world, other than a superficial kind of escape, it would have to include wisdom and morality and spirituality as a basis for the beauty and creativity.

Of course, he made all this explicit in the context of Christianity and the importance of eucatastrophe in the Faery essay. But it seems to me that much of the content of the essay is missing from Smith and Farmer.
0 x
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.

Gil
Posts: 82
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2007 4:19 pm
Location: England

Postby Gil » Mon Aug 20, 2007 12:19 pm

Merry I agree with you so much!


I was brought up on old books of fairy stories, Grimm, Anderson and Lang and several of them had Victorian Fairys as illustrations. I hated them even as a child - I could not see what these cutesy fairys, with wings, hovering over bluebells had to do with the stories, they were just inappropriate.

Later I read "On Fairy stories", and it was like a light going on in my mind. I wanted "Faëry" not "Fairys" and like JRRT "I desired dragons with a profound desire". This was what I'd been hoping to find in the Fairy stories, purpose and strength and evil and wisdom..

I think this somewhat explains why I have never liked the Hobbit as much as LOTR. If elves have a purpose it must be more than just sitting in trees giggling!

Merry knows that I do not share her view of Christianity in these books. I think that the genius of the books is that they appeal to all people, whether or not they happen to be Christian or even religious. I accept that JRRT did have Christian morality in mind when writing but he himself tried hard to keep an overtly Christian message from appearing in his "histories".

The Faëry in Smith seems to me to be to be something different to that in LOTR more like a fable than a history. Here the "Fairys", for want of a better word, are both more remote - you have to have a passport to be allowed to find them at all and more present. Can you imagine Elrond working a as Master Cook in a small village for many years? This book reminds me more of Mediaeval Mystery Plays, where ordinary people are faced with magic, where there are dragons to be fought and simple folk can become heros. Yes there is a moral, people gain or do not gain wisdom, they move on but it's not exactly a history! I can see a link with Christianity more clearly in this book than in LOTR.
0 x

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Mon Aug 20, 2007 9:46 pm

Oh, I think just the opposite, Gil! (of course! :wink: ) I think Farmer and Smith don't have much about Christianity about them at all, just magic. I find much more Christianity in LOTR. (And, by the way, I agree that Tolkien tried hard to keep his religion implicit rather than explicit in LOTR: he did want it to have universal appeal and to reach us on the sort of subconscious level of mythology.)

So what of Christianity do you see in Farmer and Smith? I can see your point about gaining wisdom, but it seems to me that any Hero's Journey tale contains that, right? An enlightened Christian might find some similarities with the non-violence in Farmer. But that's all I can think of . . .
0 x
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.

Gil
Posts: 82
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2007 4:19 pm
Location: England

Postby Gil » Wed Aug 22, 2007 5:50 pm

What about the idea of sacrifice for someone else's good? Or somewhere out of this world with beautiful singing? Or the idea of good being associated with the light? Or Smith bringing back a gift of white lillies (symbol of the resurrection) for a new baby?

Reading that paragraph I see you could make a case for all of these themes also being in LOTR, (if you include Tom Bombadil talking about lillies white!). Maybe I'm as much influenced by the Baynes illustrations as by the actual text - which place it firmly in a mediaeval context, and if I'm thinking mediaeval then Christianity simply is an integral part of any English text! JRRT loved Baynes' illustrations (as someone said previously) so doesn't that suggest that he had a kind of mediaeval background in mind?
0 x

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Wed Aug 22, 2007 7:41 pm

I guess I can see what you mean, Gil, although I think those themes have really 'grown up' in LOTR.

A bit of a tangent: I think the drawings are really attractive and fun, too! I wonder if one of our resident artists would comment on them so we could have more insight? Or would this belong in the art and artists thread?
0 x
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.

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Wed Aug 22, 2007 8:24 pm

I'd love to talk about Baynes and her illustrations for these two works on the art thread, but it's so hard to find them to look at! I've seen her cover to Farmer Giles - the one with the dragon - and another cover or frontispiece which is a line drawing done like a medieval manuscript (it can be seen on Beren's site). I once found one of the inside pages on the net and very beautiful it was too, although it was a tiny reproduction and I couldn't appreciate all the detail. When we created this thread I tried to find it again but it had vanished who knows where.

It's been a source of great frustration for weeks :roll: ! You've no idea how long I've spent looking for it.....
0 x
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Thu Aug 23, 2007 2:22 am

Iolanthe, my new paperback edition of Farmer and Smith, with the PB illustrations, was quite inexpensive! :wink: Think it is available across the sundering sea?
0 x
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.

Iolanthe
Uinen
Posts: 2339
Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Postby Iolanthe » Fri Aug 24, 2007 3:48 pm

It's not long since I bought my un-illustrated copy :lol: . I was hoping to avoid getting another. I suppose I could buy another one without too much guilt and use the old one for notes...
0 x
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
Varda
Posts: 3263
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 7:01 am
Location: Middle-west

Postby Merry » Sat Aug 25, 2007 3:10 am

Or perhaps you could illustrate your first copy yourself! :wink:
0 x
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.


Return to “Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest