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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two lovely stories, beautifully read,
This review is from: Smith of Wootton Major / Leaf by Niggle: AND Leaf by Niggle (Audio CD)
These two unabridged stories, written by J R R Tolkien and read by Derek Jackobi are:
Smith of Wootton Major
Tells of the folk of a traditional old rural village who have some contact with the folk of Faerie. One of the village children is secretly passed a gift which has some magical effects on him and allows him to enter and explore the 'perilous realm'. He travels there at will over the course of his life, has many adventures, meets Faerie royalty and learns wisdom of the fair folk, until (now a venerable old fellow) he has to hand his 'passport' on to the next child. He's reluctant to relinquish his gift but finally does so without making a fuss and receives praise and respect for doing so and is allowed a say in who the next child should be to receive the magical object.
Leaf by Niggle
Is a strange little tale, which tells of a painter who wants only to paint a fabulous tree in peace, but is constantly interrupted by neighbours and other people wanting him to do other things. His precious painting is used by 'the authorities' to patch his neighbour's roof and he is sent away on a journey that he's been dreading. He seems to live in some sort of totalitarian society where people have, by law, to help their neighbours. Niggle is incarcerated in a place that he takes to be a hospital, to mend his selfish ways. There, after a long long time, he eavesdrops on a conversation in which his faults are being discussed by, what seem to be, a couple of bureaucrats of the after-life. They finally decide that he's been sufficiently rehabilitated to progress to the next stage of his 'journey' and he takes a train to a place where his marvellous painting has become a reality.
I read both of these stories many years ago when I was a child. I don't think I properly appreciated them then and I certainly didn't remember them very well. Perhaps it's Derek Jacobi's excellent reading that adds an extra touch of magic to them, but whatever the reason, I enjoyed them more than I remember doing first time round. So I recommend them for children of course, but I especially recommend them to those adults who appreciate a bit of fantasy. And if you haven't ever tried listening to an audiobook before, it's a luxury that you shouldn't deny yourself any longer - this is a good place to start.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the way from Daybreak to Evening,
This review is from: Smith of Wootton Major (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. In fact, it's so simple that it barely has a plot -- the vanishing King is the closest it has to conflict or a complete plot.
But Tolkien's writing sparkles with little details of the fey, with only a minimum of description. His glimpses of Faerieland are too brief, but written with the exquisite, haunting quality of his better-known works ("Once in these wanderings he was overtaken by a grey mist and strayed long at a loss, until the mist rolled away and he found that he was in a wide plain"). And he gives the impression of a world of magic far greater than any human could grasp ("... bearing the white ships that return from battles on the Dark Marches of which men know nothing").
And Smith is an odd sort of hero, infused with a kind of otherworldly light and grace that shines from him in the form of "Starbrow." Perhaps it was so stand in for the ability to see the magical and fantastical in the mundane world -- and if so, perhaps Tolkien felt that he himself had been given a fay-star that never left him.
Certainly the beauty and sweetness of "Smith of Wootton Major" suggest that he had one always -- an underrated little tale of magic and faerie, which highlights Tolkien's sublime writing.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful tale by an old man still in love with the world.,
By A Customer
This is a wonderfully crafted and deeply moving book. Not really one for the kids but for every adult who secretly mourns the passing of their childhood. Be warned though, it could bring a few tears to your eyes.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, compact fable,
The summary says it all really - it's a very beautiful, well-crafted and endearing book. It is shorter but just as meticulous and rich in story-telling as other Tolkien prose. Great to have in your bookcase for a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien's farewell to the land of Faery,
This review is from: Smith of Wootton Major (Hardcover)
Smooth of Wootton Major, written between 1964 and 1966* and published in 1967, is a meditation on the gift of fantasy. It originally was to be a very short story to be included to a preface of George MacDonald's famous faerie story The Golden Key. The story soon began a life of its own, and though altogether brief gives an insightful view into Tolkien's life.
The story is about Smith, who is a normal boy of all accounts. In his village are great feasts, and the Feast of Twenty Four is held. A star, little more than thought a Trinket by the Master Cook, is placed within tie cake, and he eats it unknowing. Then beauty comes upon him, and after he grows up begins to wonder in Faery. This is much the life of Tolkien. Born in South Africa in 1892, he was a little British boy that came to live in England. He became immersed in two things: mythology and language. Soon, so in love with language, he began inventing his own. In the end, he wished to have people speak his languages, to have a history behind it: thus arose Middle-earth. Then, as time went on, just as Smith, Tolkien explored the fantastic worlds, and was accustomed to strange lands.
In the story it is stated he spoke little of it to anyone OUTSIDE of his family. This is also true of Tolkien. Although his (deeply loved) wife was not real involved in his writing, he shared his stories with his family, and it is not to far to say that had it not been for his four children The Lord of the Rings would never have been written. (To understand this statement, one must first realise who The Hobbit was written for. It was written for his children. This, along with Farmer Giles, the other story in this book, Roverandom (newly published), the Father Christmas Letters, and Mr. Bliss, his children's picture book personally illustarted by him. Unwin, his publisher wanted a sequel to The Hobbit, so he began The Lord of the Rings, a much less serious work in the beginning than at last evolved too. So without these we would not have gotten his adult masterpiece).
Then old age approached. Although his mind was not dimmed, his body decided to act like an old body, and not work as well as in his youth. He realised that he was a mortal, and even though he had had a passport to Faery, it did not grant him eternal physical life. Tolkien was sad about this, and wished to finish The Silmarillion. But life is life, and Tolkien knew his life was drawing to an end. Just like his beautiful little people who also knew morality, the hobbits, he died in 1973, 2 September, just shy of dying ten years after his friend C. S. Lewis (who died the same day as Auldous Huxley and JFK). Tolkien, just as Frodo and Biblo, went on the great ships into Paradise, Heaven. He took sick with a gastric ulcer, and developed a chest infection, dying.
Tolkien was of melancholy temperament, and they are notorious for being prone to depression. Tolkien was of the great artistic class, and he knew depression well. It was depression that this story was borne of. In the very last letter in LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, he tells his daughter as something of a P. S. "It is stuffy, sticky, and rainy at present - but forecasts are more. favourable". As far as my knowledge goes, that is the last thing he wrote, being four days before his death. There is much hope in that statement, even though Tolkien had no way of knowing how much relevance that to that moment in his life.
This is the closest thing of autobiography he has written. This, along with his marvelous short story Leaf by Niggle, are essential of you want to read and understand this Godly man's life. Tree and Leaf, a small book containing the short story aforementioned and his classic essay On Faerie Stories, along with this, will enlighten you greatly on his views of Faerie. These three are essential to understand this man. Leaf By Niggle is him venting his frustration, and then him expressing great hope for his work. It also reflects his Catholicism, as Niggle goes thru purgatory.
*This is deduced from LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN. In letter 262, Tolkien accepts the invitation to write a preface to The Golden Key, the short story by MacDonald. It was here, in that abandoned preface, that he began Smith, of what was to be a very short story. It had a life of its own, and grew to present length. In letter 270, dated 20 May 1965, Tolkien is talking to Rayner Unwin, his publisher (and as a child reviewed THE HOBBIT for publication, who received, if my memory serves me correctly, ten shillings for reading and writing a little report over it for his father Stanley.) The typescript of this story had been submitted for publication.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you have an hour to spare...,
... Read this book!
It is no wonder that Tolkien is loved the world over, no wonder that Jackson's retelling of the Trilogy spawned a legion of new and loyal fans, no wonder that New Line and MGM struck an unprecedented deal to make sure that The Hobbit got the green light!
Smith of Wootton Major is a superb mini-ethereal adventure into the landscape of Tokien's vast imagination. Whilst most authors have struggled to shake off the shadows of their most celebrated works, Tolkien has weaved a beautiful and magical tapestry. There is no pretence from which one might expect, no desperate clinging on to Middle Earth but simply a thoughtful and humbling tale that allows us all to take a step back and consider everything that is around us, why it is there and to ultimately remember sometimes we must just let go of those things which we possess and hold dear to us for the greater good.
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Smith of Wootton Major by J. R. R. Tolkien (Hardcover - Nov. 1967)
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