Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kernel's Library: Some Essential J. R. R. Tolkien Reads

Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham by  J. R. R. Tolkien Book 00068: Smith of Wootton Major &
Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien

- Smith of Wootton Major
- Farmer Giles of Ham

First Publication:
- 1967 by Allen & Unwin / 1949

- Smith of Wootton Major began as an attempt to explain the meaning of Faery by means of a story about a cook and his cake. This was intended to be part of a preface by Tolkien to George MacDonald's famous fairy story "The Golden Key".
- Smith of Wootton Major was originally called "The Great Cake", but the title was changed in an attempt to suggest an early work by P.G. Wodehouse.
- Caudimordax is the Latin name of "Tailbiter", the sword of Farmer Giles. The sword cannot be sheathed when a dragon comes within five miles of its bearer's presence.

I can't say anything more about J. R. R. Tolkien's books as they are my all-time favorite (along with the Harry Potter series).

Plot Summary of Smith of Wootton Major

The village of Wootton Major was well-known around the countryside for its annual festivals, which were particularly famous for their culinary delights. The biggest festival of all was the Feast of Good Children. This festival was celebrated only once every twenty-four years: twenty-four children of the village were invited to a party, and the highlight of the party was the Great Cake, a career milestone by which Master Cooks were judged. In the year the story begins, the Master Cook was Nokes, who had landed the position more or less by default; he delegated much of the creative work to his apprentice Alf. Nokes crowned his Great Cake with a little doll jokingly representing the Queen of Faery. Various trinkets were hidden in the cake for the children to find; one of these was a star the Cook discovered in the old spice box.

The star was not found at the Feast, but was swallowed by a blacksmith’s son. The boy did not feel its magical properties at once, but on the morning of his tenth birthday the star fixed itself on his forehead, and became his passport to Faery. The boy grew up to be a blacksmith like his father, but in his free time he roamed the Land of Faery. The star on his forehead protected him from many of the dangers threatening mortals in that land, and the Folk of Faery called him "Starbrow". The book describes his many travels in Faery, until at last he meets the true Queen of Faery. The identity of the King is also revealed.

The time came for another Feast of Good Children. Smith had possessed his gift for most of his life, and the time had come to pass it on to some other child. So he regretfully surrendered the star to Alf, and with it his adventures into Faery. Alf, who had become Master Cook long before, baked it into the festive cake once again for another child to find. After the feast, Alf retired and left the village; and Smith returned to his forge to teach his craft to his now-grown son.

Plot Summary for Farmer Giles of Ham

Farmer Giles ("Ægidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo") is not a hero. He is fat and red-bearded and enjoys a slow, comfortable life. But a rather deaf and short-sighted giant blunders on to his land, and Giles manages to ward him away with a blunderbuss shot in his general direction. The people of the village cheer: Farmer Giles has become a hero. His reputation spreads across the kingdom, and he is rewarded by the King with a sword named Caudimordax ("Tailbiter") — which turns out to be a powerful weapon against dragons.

The giant, on returning home, relates to his friends that there are no more knights in the Middle Kingdom, just stinging flies — actually the scrap metal shot from the blunderbuss — and this entices a dragon, Chrysophylax Dives, to investigate the area. The terrified neighbors all expect the accidental hero Farmer Giles to deal with him.

The story parodies the great dragon-slaying traditions. The knights sent by the King to pursue the dragon are useless fops, more intent on "precedence and etiquette" than on the huge dragon footprints littering the landscape. The only part of a 'dragon' they know is the annual celebratory dragon-tail cake. Giles by contrast clearly recognises the danger, and resents being sent along to face it. But hapless farmers can be forced to become heroes, and Giles shrewdly makes the best of the situation.

Grade: A