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Smith of Wootton Major Hardcover – 2005

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Editorial Reviews

A new, expanded edition of one of Tolkien's major pieces of short fiction, and his only finished work dating from after publication of The Lord of the Rings; it contains many previously unpublished texts. In 1964 J.R.R. Tolkien was invited to write the preface to a new edition of "The Golden Key" by George MacDonald. Accepting the invitation, Tolkien proposed the preface would explain the meaning of Fairy through a brief story about a cook and a cake. But the story grew, and took on a life of its own, and the preface was abandoned. Tolkien eventually gave it the title, "Smith of Wootton Major", to suggest an early work by P.G. Wodehouse or a story in the Boy's Own paper. It was published in 1967 as a small hardback, complete with charming black and white illustrations by Pauline Baynes.Now, almost 40 years on, a facsimile of this early illustrated edition is being republished, but in addition to this enchanting story the new edition includes: / Tolkien's own account of the genesis of the story / Tolkien's Time-Scheme and Characters / Tolkien's discussion of the shadowy but important figure of "Grandfather Rider" and a lengthy, 10,000-word essay on the nature of Faery / Early draft versions and alternative endings / Foreword by the editor, containing a brief history of the story's composition and publication, and its connection to Tolkien's other published stories Contained within "Smith of Wootton Major" are many intriguing links to the world of Middle-earth, as well as Tolkien's other tales, and in this 'extended edition' the reader will finally discover the full story behind this major piece of short fiction.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; Enlarged edition edition (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007202474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007202478
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 8.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,967,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While most of his genius went into the world of Middle-Earth and its fantastical history, JRR Tolkien produced a number of smaller stories during his life.

And though he disliked allegory, the enchanting "Smith of Wootton Major" is a bit of an oddity among his writings -- a beautifully fantastical little fable that drips over with Tolkien's love of real, deep fairy tales. And unlike many a story of elves or faeries since, Tolkien keeps that sense of mystery and magic in the world of the supernatural.

It takes place in a little town "not very long ago for those with long memories, not very far away fro those with long legs." The Master Cook of that village takes a vacation, and returns with an apprentice in tow. But something odd happens at the Feast of the Cake -- the cook stirs in a "fay-star" with little trinkets in the cake, and it's accidentally swallowed by a boy there.

The boy (later called Smith) is changed by the fay-star, which sparkles on his forehead. When he grows up, Smith ventures into Faery itself, and even meets the Faery Queen herself. The message she gives him is for her mysterious, missing husband, the King -- who turns out to be the last person anybody in Wootton Major would have expected.

"Smith" is a fairy tale in the best sense. Don't expect cackling witches or convenient loopholes in spells here; Tolkien was too skilled for that. Instead we have majestic fey and sparkling magic, woven with a tidy medieval town (consider the custom of naming people after their jobs -- Smith, a smith, capisce?). Never once does it become precious or cutesy, only more enchanted as it goes along.

It's also among Tolkien's simpler writings, especially since it is effectively a short story.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Thomas on November 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
J.R.R. Tolkien's short work, "Smith of Wooten Major," which he wrote late in life, has already appeared in several fine editions, both by itself and in combination with other pieces by Tolkien, and most of us Tolkien enthusiasts already have it on our shelves. So why another one now, and why should we buy it? There are several compelling things about this book that make it highly attractive to those seeking a deeper understanding of Tolkien as a writer and thinker, and I'll only mention four here. First, this extended edition includes an important never-before-published essay by Tolkien on the story and on Tolkien's views of the nature of Faery, of its importance to him, of faery tales, and of the role of allegory in stories of this kind. It is a fascinating piece that provides new insight into Tolkien's thought as an artist trying to capture glimpses of Faery in his writing. The essay is in some ways an echoing companion piece for his famous earlier essay "On Fairy Stories," in which, among other things, Tolkien outlines his theory of sub-creation that he executed so successfully in "The Lord of the Rings." Second, the book contains never-before-published early notes and draft manuscripts for Smith, several pages of which are reproduced in the book itself in their original hand-written form with helpful transcriptions on the opposite page. These papers not only show Tolkien actively creating and revising his story and the history of its characters, but they also show Tolkien's working methods as a writer and so demonstrate, in a microcosm, the methods he used on such a large scale for "The Lord of the Rings." Third, Flieger's editorial contributions are very helpful.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By William Timothy Lukeman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 1, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This short, lovely, late tale by Tolkien is not only a fine fairy tale, but a poetic meditation on the craft and Art of the fantasy writer - the Myth Maker. Enjoyable simply as a story for readers of any age, it offers quiet and rich rewards to those who wish to read more deeply. If possible, look for the earlier edition with the original Pauline Baynes illustrations. A reminder that true fantasy ultimately deals with the Mysteries ...
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jason Fisher on November 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This new extended edition, edited by the estimable Verlyn Flieger, is a must-have for students and admirers of Tolkien. Of course, most of you will already have Smith of Wootton Major on your bookshelves, either in its own volume or in one of the several collections in which it has been reprinted -- so why get another copy?

Because Verlyn Flieger has included several additional (and essential) pieces to the Smith puzzle that have never been available before. These include: Flieger's introduction and afterword on Smith; Tolkien's Note to Clyde Kilby on the Genesis of Smith; his draft preface to a proposed new edition of George MacDonald's The Golden Key, from which kindling the story of Smith was struck -- though the preface was abandoned and the edition of The Golden Key never published; a long essay by Tolkien on the internals of Smith; a timetable and cast of characters with never-before-published details; and most interestingly, the entire draft of Smith, in both typescript and manuscript, reproduced in facsimile.

This is invaluable material for anybody interested in the development and meaning of Smith of Wootton Major. Prior to this edition, Verlyn Flieger quoted from some of these unpublished pieces in her 1997 volume A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie, and even Tom Shippey (in The Road to Middle-earth) acknowledged the advantage she had in having seen this material. Now, it's available to all of us.

My one complaint about the book is that it is poorly produced (by HarperCollins, Tolkien's British publisher). The production quality -- and sadly, this is typical of British-made books of the past several decades -- is rather low. The spine is glued, rather than sewn, and it creaks and cracks, threatening to break any time the book is opened.
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