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VINE VOICEon 4 June 2015
The night after I finished reading this delightful little book, I started reading it to my 5 year-old. He was nearly as enchanted with it as I was. It is a lovely story that accomplishes (at least it did for me) all that Tolkien believed Fairy-Stories ought to accomplish in their readers. Absolutely delightful!

The essay included in this small volume is a real gem--a great addition to Tolkien studies. It's a condensed and more focused presentation of the ideas Tolkien explores in "On Fairy Stories," benefiting from decades of continued thought aft OFS was written, revised, revised again, and published. The essay alone is worth the price of the book. But add in the story itself, the original illustrations, and the touched-up illustrations and you have a bargain of a book here. Worth every penny.
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on 30 October 2015
Excellent quality, arrived extremely quickly.
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on 27 April 2017
Very pleased with the appearance of the book looking forward to reading it
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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.

Two of the best-known examples: "Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham," which pairs together a beautifully fantastical fable that drips with Tolkien's love of fairy tales.... and a wacky story about a not-very-frightening dragon and the hapless hero who is after him. While these two novellas are very different in style, they have Tolkien's love of mystery and magic, language and humor.

"Smith of Wootton Major" 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.

And in "Farmer Giles of Ham," 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?

While these aren't Tolkien's deepest or most intricate stories, they do show the range of his writing. One is a robust little comedy of fantastical proportions, and one of them is a delicate, crystalline piece of moonlit prettiness. They have almost nothing in common, except that British-country atmosphere that Tolkien brought to every hero's home.

Specifically, "Farmer Giles of Ham" is wacky and arch, 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"). And he has some fun little linguistic jokes woven in, along with the gentle parody of high fantasy cliches that HE CREATED (Caudimordax, a sword which is incapable of being sheathed if a dragon is within five miles of it).

"Smith of Wootton Major" is not humorous, but it is beautiful. 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").

The characters of "Smith" are somewhat less developed and memorable, though Smith himself is a fascinating little allegorical figure -- the fairy star is the creative spark, and Smith the one who can see the Fairyland that inspires great art. Farmer Giles is a little easier to like immediately, being a good-hearted, somewhat thick "ordinary" person with an excitable dog and a rather inoffensive dragon.

"Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham" pairs together two shining gems of early fantasy -- one an enchanted fable, the other a tongue-in-cheek comedy of errors. For those seeking more Tolkien, these are a must.
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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.
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on 16 May 2010
... 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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on 1 December 2012
Smith 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, 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, time had worked its decay on his body, and much of his strength was sapped. 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 Bilbo, 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
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Notes on the Extended Edition, edited by Verlyn Flieger

The extended edition (which is the definitive version), features a good deal of extra material.

There is brief one page forward by Flieger, where Flieger in accordance to Tolkien's clear wishes as demonstrated in the abandoned Golden Key preface states "Reader, meet SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR".

It includes an Afterword by Tolklien scholar Verlyn Fledger where she examines the SMITH in relation to Tolkien's other short fiction (ROVERANDOM, MR. BLISS, FARMER GILES OF HAM, and LEAF BY NIGGLE).

This is the newly published material by Tolkien himself exclusive to the extended edition

"Genesis of the Story". A note to Clyde S. Kilby (author of the criminally underated minimalist book TOLKIEN AND THE SILMARILION) where Tolkien discus his dislike of George MacDonald and how SMITH is his answer to THE GOLDEN KEY and serves as an anti-George MacDonald tract.

"Tolkien's Draft Introduction to The Golden Key": by far one of the most interesting segments in the entire book, as SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR famously began life as a preface to MacDonald's fairy tale THE GOLDEN KEY but was never completed. Tolkien examines fairy tales and then begins a short story in the preface itself, where the work breaks off, forever incomplete and unfinished (as a preface anyway).

"The Great Cake Time Scheme and Characters": originally hte work began as "The Great Cake" and this is just a brief inventory of characters. The characters sheet is about a page and a half. Tolkien, being Tolkien, then gives a chronology by year (think the Tale of Years in LOTR) of the events in the story.

The fourth item is "Suggestions for the ending of the story" where he debates on how to end his new fiction.

"Smith of Wootton Major" is easily the most important piece in the book with the exception of the main work itself. This piece (whose title does not distinguish itself from the main story) is an essay Tolkien wrote about what he meant (and did not mean) by the work and how this relates to his ideas of Faery.

The next piece is "[Hybrid draft and transcription of `The Great Cake']" which is a manuscript/typescript hybrid of the original draft of the story. This has a facsimile of Tolkien's manuscript and type script on the left side and the printed text [transcript] on the right side.

The last piece is "Lake of Tears drafts and transcriptions" which are draft sections of SMITH.
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This review was written April 12, 2000, just a few months shy of twelve years ago. (That does not include the notes and information about the extra content in the extended edition, which was written December 14, 2011). I left the review unreleased as it started out as a joint review of the FARMER GILES/SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR combo volume but soon became solely focused on SMITH. I did release this on the Amazon.co.uk site back in 2001, as it hasn't lived a permanently isolated life on my hard drive like some of my other unreleased/unfinished Amazon reviews have done, living a cloistered existence.
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on 15 October 1998
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.
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VINE VOICEon 28 March 2000
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.
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on 16 June 2001
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.
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