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Farmer Giles of Ham Hardcover – December, 1949
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'A fabulous tale of the days when giants and dragons walked the kingdom' Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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And if "Lord of the Rings" is a seven-course meal, "Farmer Giles of Ham" (in the vulgar tongue) is a pleasant little hors-d'oeuvre whose flavour lingers on the tongue. Tolkien wrote this in a charming, arch style, and seems to have had fun subverting some of the fantasy cliches that he helped create -- particularly that of the dragonslaying hero and the dragon he must deal with.
Aegidius de Hammo (or in the "vulgar tongue," as Tolkien archly tells us, Farmer Giles of Ham) is a pleasant, not-too-bright farmer (a bit like Barliman Butterbur) who leads a fairly happy, sedate life. Until the day his excitable dog Garm warns him that a giant (deaf and very near-sighted) is stomping through and causing mayhem. Giles takes out his blunderbuss and takes a shot at the giant, and inadverantly drives him off.
Naturally, Giles is hailed as a hero. Even the King is impressed, and sends him the sword Caudimordax (vulgar name: Tailbiter), which belonged to a dragonslaying hero. By chance, the not-so-fierce dragon Chrysophylax Dives has started pillaging, destroying and attacking the nearby areas. Can a not-so-heroic farmer drive off a not-so-frightening dragon?
"Farmer Giles of Ham" is one of those Tolkien stories that seems to be aimed at very literate kids, or adults who haven't lost that taste for very British, arch whimsy. It's a fast, fun little adventure story with blundering giants, greedy dragons and unlikely heroes. It's not epic and it's not deep, but it is entertaining -- especially since Tolkien expertly blends the whole high fantasy thing with a wicked sense of humour ("if it is your notion to go dragonhunting jingling and dingling like Canterbury Bells, it ain't mine").
Particularly, Tolkien seems to be gently mocking medieval fables, both as a linguist (the "vulgar tongue" comments) and as a storyteller (he young dragons exclaiming that they always knew "knights were mythical!"). Most particularly, he seems to be mocking the classic heroes who slay dragons or giants, mainly by making both heroes and monsters not quite as threatening as expected. He inserts plenty of humorous anachronisms (the blunderbuss) and clever in-jokes (Caudimordax, a sword which is incapable of being sheathed if a dragon is within five miles of it).
Farmer Giles is a pretty fun character -- he's presented as a fairly ordinary, common-sensical person called upon to do some bizarre and extraordinary things... so, basically a typical Tolkien hero, although he has a talking dog that keeps causing trouble for him. His enemy Chrysophylax is in a sense his opposite, being " cunning, inquisitive, greedy, well-armoured, but not over bold." He's kind of like a funny version of Smaug, minus the destruction of cities.
"Farmer Giles of Ham" is a charming little chunk of Tolkien's minor work -- a relentlessly wry, clever little fantasy story about a most unlikely hero. Enchanting (in the vulgar tongue).
Farmer Giles is a humble farmer who just wants to get on with business at hand, which is to bring in the crops, keep the larder well stocked and get a good sleep at night. His night time peace is broken when his dog, Garm, begins barking and babbling on about a giant that has stepped on his prize cow. So, Giles loads his blunderbuss and goes out to see what's going on...
And what's a blunderbuss?
"A blunderbuss is a kind of big fat gun with a mouth that opens wide like the end of a horn, and it goes off with a terrible bang, and sometimes it hits what you are aiming at." That's a quote from the second version, based on what Tolkien's daughter remembers of her bed time story. This edition contains both versions, as well as an unfinished sequel -- the first few paragraphs and some sketchy notes on how the story would have gone from there.
Back to the giant. The farmer falls over backwards as soon as the giants head appears over the hill, the gun goes off, and a piece of scrap metal from the barrel hits the giant on the nose. Being near-sighted, and having no clue that there are people living in these parts, he thinks it's a stinging fly, so he turns around and goes back home. Garm, the farmer's dog, runs through town announcing that his master has single handedly driven away the giant, and Giles becomes the hero.
That's just the beginning. Next is the story of the dragon, where Giles again becomes the unwilling hero. But hero he is, so he's a hero on his own terms, much to the chagrin of the king and the knights of the realm. Tolkien, a storyteller on his own terms, brings it to a delightfully satisfying "happily ever after".
Among my favourite characters is the dog, Garm. He's exactly what I imagine a dog would be if dogs could talk. The old mare and the dragon are also well cast. In all, it's a great read.
Most recent customer reviews
you know who's name. That John Ronald Reuel Tolkien guy really got
me in as a kid, as he did many...Read more