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Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham Mass Market Paperback – January 12, 1986


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; Reissue edition (January 12, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345336062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345336064
  • Product Dimensions: 0.4 x 4.2 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Two bewitching fantasies by J.R.R. Tolkien, beloved author of THE HOBBIT. In SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR, Tolkien explores the gift of fantasy, and what it means to the life and character of the man who receives it. And FARMER GILES OF HAM tells a delightfully ribald mock-heroic tale, where a dragon who invades a town refuses to fight, and a farmer is chosen to slay him.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

There was a village once, not very long ago for those with long memories, nor very far away for those with long legs. Wootton Major it was called because it was larger than Wootton Minor, a few miles away deep in the trees; but it was not very large, though it was at that time prosperous, and a fair number of folk lived in it, good, bad, and mixed, as is usual.

It was a remarkable village in its way, being well known in the country round about for the skill of its workers in various crafts, but most of all for its cooking. It had a large Kitchen which belonged to the Village Council, and the Master Cook was an important person. The Cook’s House wand the Kitchen adjoined the Great Hall, the largest and oldest building in the place and the most beautiful. It was built of good stone and good oak and was well tended though it was no longer painted or gilded as it had been once upon a time. In the Hall the villagers held their meetings and debates, and their public feasts, and their family gatherings. So the Cook was kept busy, since for all these occasions he had to provide suitable fare. For the festivals, of which there were many in the course of a year, the fare that was thought suitable was plentiful and rich.

There was one festival to which all looked forward, for it was the only one held in winter. It went on for a week, and on its last day at sundown there was a merrymaking called The Feast of Good Children, to which not many were invited. No doubt some who deserved to be asked were overlooked, and some who did not were invited by mistake; for that is the way of things, however careful those who arrange such matters may try to be. In any case it was largely by chance of birthday that any child came in for the Twenty-four Feast, since that was only held once in twenty-four years, and only twenty-four children were invited. For that occasion the Master Cook was expected to do his best, and in addition to many other good things it was the custom for him to make the Great Cake. By the excellence (or otherwise) of this his name was chiefly remembered, for a Master Cook seldom if ever lasted long enough in office to make a second Great Cake.

There came a time, however, when the reigning Master Cook, to everyone’s surprise, since it had never happened before, suddenly announced that he needed a holiday; and he went away, no one knew where; and when he came back some months later he seemed rather changed. He had been a kind man who liked to see other people enjoying themselves, but now he was himself serious, and said very little. Now he was merrier, and often said and did laughable things; and at feasts he would himself sing gay songs, which was not expected of Master Cooks. Also he brought back with him an apprentice; and that astonished the village.

It was not astonishing for the Master Cook to have an apprentice. It was usual. The Master chose one in due time, and he taught him all that he could; and as they both grew older the apprentice took on more of the important work, so that when the Master retired or died there he was, ready to take over the office and become Master Cook in his turn. But this Master had never chosen and apprentice. He had always said “time enough yet,” or “I’m keeping my eyes open and I’ll choose one when I find one to suit me,” But now he brought with him a mere boy, and not one from the village. He was more lithe than the Wootton lads and quicker, soft-spoken and very polite, but ridiculously young for the work, barely in his teens by the look of him. Still, choosing his apprentice was the Master Cook’s affair, and no one had the right to interfere in it; so the boy remained and stayed in the Cook’s House until he was old enough to find lodgings for himself. People soon became used to seeing him about, and he made a few friends. They and the Cook called him Alf, but to the rest he was just Prentice.

The next surprise came only three years later. One spring morning the Master Cook took off his tall white hat, folded up his clean aprons, hung up his white coat, took a stout ash stick and a small bag, and departed. He said goodbye to the apprentice. No one else was about.

“Goodbye for now, Alf,” he said. “I leave you to manage things as best you can, which is always very well. I expect it will turn out all right. If we meet again, I hope to hear all about it. Tell them that I’ve gone on another holiday, but this time I shan’t be coming back again.”

There was quite a stir in the village when Prentice gave this message to people who came to the Kitchen. “What a thing to do!” they said. “And without a warning or farewell! What are we going to do without any Master Cook? He has left no one to take his place.” In all their discussions no one ever thought of making young Prentice into Cook. He had grown a bit taller but still looked like a boy, and he had only served for three years.
In the end for lack of anyone better they appointed a man of the village, who could cook well enough in a small way. When he was younger he had helped the Master at busy times, but the Master had never taken to him and would not have him as apprentice. He was now a solid sort of man with a wife and children, and careful with money. “At any rate he won’t go off without notice,” they said, “and poor cooking is better than none. It is seven years till the next Great Cake, and by that time he should be able to manage it.”

Nokes, for that was his name, was very pleased with the turn things had taken. He had always wished to be Master Cook, and had never doubted that he could manage it. For some time, when he was alone in the Kitchen, he used to put on the tall white hat and look at himself in a polished frying pan and say: “How do you do, Master. That hat suits you properly, might have been made for you. I hope things go well with you.”

More About the Author

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892.1973), beloved throughout the world as the creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, a fellow of Pembroke College, and a fellow of Merton College until his retirement in 1959. His chief interest was the linguistic aspects of the early English written tradition, but even as he studied these classics he was creating a set of his own.

Customer Reviews

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JRR Tolkien is a wonderful writer.
Joyce Woodward
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy or who has read The Lord of the Rings.
A. Andrew Joyce
These are very entertaining "short" stories.
Lizard Stix

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Farmer Giles of Hamm is a hilarious tale in the spirit of the lighter passages of The Hobbit. The Little Kingdom of this story has much in common with the Shire where Bilbo Baggins wandered. It should be read for the shear pleasure of the journey.
Smith Of Wooten Major is something else entirely. Though once again we travel to an ancient England that has much in common with Middle Earth, here we find a tale for grown ups. Though most reviewers say that the tale is about what the gift of fantasy adds to the life of those who receive it, I believe that it really speaks of the rewards that come to those who choose to live life on a deeper level. What makes the book difficult to describe is that in story form Tolkien paints a picture or an illustration of the faith and the grace that were such an integral part of who he was as a person. Travelling with him you feel that you have encountered something more deep and wonderful than words can tell. The journey is not for everyone, but for those of you who take it and begin to glimps its meaning, like Smith's magic star, it will become an integral part of who you are.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 18, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Even though "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" are what J.R.R. Tolkien was best known for writing, they were by no means his only works of fantasy. Two relatively little-known books he wrote are the novellas "Farmer Giles of Ham" and "Smith of Wootton Major," cute little fantasy stories now in one book.
"Farmer Giles of Ham" (or, in the non-vulgar tongue, Agidius de Hammo) is a pleasant and unheroic farmer who unexpectedly becomes a legend when he shoots a giant with his blunderbuss (Tolkien provided the explanation for what a blunderbuss was). And when the rather non-threatening dragon Chrysophylax arrives and starts eating people and livestock, it's up to Farmer Giles to vanquish him.
"Smith of Wootton Major" is more serious and ethereal than "Giles." In the town of Wootton Major, a cake is baked with a bunch of little charms inside -- including a little faery star, which a boy swallows, accidently exhales, and then slaps onto his forehead. It gives him the ability to wander into the Faery Realm, where he is known as Starbrow, and where he learns that the Faery King is missing.
These two stories are very different. "Farmer Giles" is a more openly comedic tale, with young dragons saying that knights are just myths, language in-jokes (Tolkien archly telling us what various Latin names meant in "vulgar" translation), Chrysophylax the rather innoffensive dragon, the excitable dog Garm, and the likable Farmer Giles himself. (He's a bit like Tolkien's Barliman Butterbur, a likeable but somewhat thick "ordinary" person) This might be the first real comic fantasy story ever. "Smith," on the other hand, has a slightly melancholy tone to it, with its haunting prose and the theme of the little star, which bestows a beautiful voice and light to anyone who has it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tuor on May 28, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book contains two complete stories, each of which illustrate a fundamental aspect of all good fantasy: to inspire and entertain.
'Farmer Giles of Ham' is a fanciful story of a farmer who, through no fault of his own, is embroiled in a series of Adventures. It is a story of wit, humor, and wry commentary that any lover of 'The Hobbit' will appreciate and enjoy.
'The Smith of Wootton Major' is about many things. It is about the love of Beauty, of those things both higher and deeper than ourselves. It is about humility, honor, and, in the end, courage, sacrifice, and loss. It is about loving something so much that you let it go. It is a simply told story -- an autobiography -- yet no less deep and moving for its simplicity.
Some may wonder that two such different stories were bound together in the same spine, but each of these stories represents a necessary part of Fantasy and together they brilliantly illustrate why fantasy is a necessary and proper part of human existance.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Taras Tkatchenko on January 14, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Yes, I really do wonder why, because the stories are as different as one can imagine. Basically, "Farmer Giles of Ham" is a rather simple, fun story filled with good sense of humor. It's a fine parody on great legends of kings, knights, dragons and generally ceatures of myths Tolkien was so fond of. The magic sword in the story is quite unique, and I should note the typical for Tolkien wonderful play with words. One would be hard pressed to find any deep meaning here, however; looks like Tolkien was just having fun. Still, the result is hilarious.
As for the "Smith of Wootton Major", the whole thing is completely different. I value this relatively short novel very highly and place it on the pedestal together with "The Lord of the Rings" and "Silmarillion". It is highly symbolic and extremely beautiful; actually, it is filled with wisdom even deeper than the most of "The Lord of the Rings", for the latter is full of politics, wars, adventures, etc., which somewhat cloak the main message. It is fine that such elements are present there, but the deep meaning becomes apparent slowly, in no hurry, and the great in size no less than in content book such as LOTR can afford it. In the "Smith of Wootton Major", Tolkien compresses his ideas considerably without crushing them, so to speak, and the result is the masterpiece of enormous beauty, sadness and hope. It is way better than fun and nice, yet childish "Hobbit", of course, and if they looked carefully, readers would find in the text many a piece of ideas later fully developed in LOTR and "Silmarillion". What else can I say? Buy it, read it, cherish it.
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