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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
31


VINE VOICEon 17 March 2008
"Farmer Giles of Ham" was written by JRR Tolkien in 1937, and was first published in 1949. It's set in Ham, a small village in England - sometime after the arrival of the Romans, but before Arthur's time. The book was originally illustrated by Pauline Baynes, who also illustrated CS Lewis' Narnia books.

Giles in married to Agatha, has a dog called Garm and is fond of his ale. Nothing of note had happened in Ham for a long time, something that Giles was perfectly happy about - neither Giles, nor his dog had ever given any thought to life beyond their borders.

Unfortunately , there is a troublesome giant living nearby. He doesn't appear to be a deliberately malicious sort - but he is larger and ruder than most of his fellow giants, as well as being short-sighted and deaf. Unsurprisingly, he manages to cause a lot of - quite possibly inadvertent - damage when he goes out for a walk. One day, he gets lost when he goes out for a walk and finds himself in Ham - a trip that sees him accidentally squashing Giles' favourite cow, Galathea. The giant is first spotted by Garm, who naturally runs off to tell his master all about it. (Although somewhat lacking in courage, Garm can apparently talk). Giles luckily has a blunderbuss, a top-of-the-range weapon for the time - he loads it up and manages to shoot the giant in the face. It doesn't do the thick-skinned giant any great damage, but - thinking he's stumbled across an unhealthy area and that he's been stung by a nasty dragonfly - turns around and leaves.

Giles as a result becomes a bit of a celebrity and - when the King hears of it - he receives a regal letter, a belt and what turns out to be a very famous sword called Tailbiter. Initially, Giles enjoys his fame - though it later comes to rue it a little. Nevertheless, the sword comes in useful when a dragon called Chrysophylax arrives. The dragon's arrival had, in part, been caused by the giant's tales of the easy pickings there were in Ham. A hard winter led to a lot of hungry dragons...and Chrysophylax becomes hungry enough to put the stories to the test. With the King's Knights coming up with one excuse after another, the villagers inevitably look towards Giles...

A short and easily read book - it's one, I think, that will appeal to more than just the Middle-Earth fans.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 February 2006
In addition to his epic "Lord of the Rings" and the surrounding mythology, JRR Tolkien wrote a lot of brief, often light little fantasy novellas.

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).
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on 8 April 2011
This little jewel of a story could be seen as a slender, more humorous companion volume to 'The Hobbit'. Tolkien was at his slyest and most playful in this very English fairy story, where dragons and giants are anachronistically attacked with blunderbusses, and a craggy farmer outwits millers and kings.

The story follows the fortunes of one Ægidius Agricola de Hammo (Farmer Giles of Ham), as he reluctantly battles a very sly and conniving dragon called Chrysophylax Dives. Tolkien, the philologist, brings his language skills subtly into play throughout the book, and we learn the 'true' origins of familiar place names like 'Thames'.

The book contains wonderful pseudo-medieval illustrations by Pauline Baynes, embellishing the good-humoured seriousness of this not-quite-mock heroic epic.
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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2012
The first half of this slim volume is a story, 'Farmer Giles of Ham' about an ordinary farmer called on to do Brave Deeds - much against his will. Very nicely illustrated by Pauline Baynes, this is a short story that anyone who loves the Hobbit will like.
The second, though sounding much more exciting, for me was less so. Short poems and rhymes, also with illustrations by Pauline Baynes - but these are much less well reproduced, as if photocopied several times! Some of the rhymes are nice, resonating to any Tolkien reader, I would think; some are a bit twee, and not very exciting. A mixed lot.
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on 9 December 2001
I first read this book 32 years ago. Now I am buying it as a present for a teenager.
It was a delightful read the first time, full of gentle humour. However, I frequently re-read it, often finding something new. Having developed a passion for classical history, I discovered many lingustic and historical jokes, puns and allusions hidden in the text. For example, "Sunny Sam" the Blacksmith's true (Latin) name is Fabricius Cunctator - "Fabricius the delayer", a clear pun on the name of the famous Roman general Fabius Cunctator, who got his cognomen by delaying battle with Hannibal. There are many more absolute gems like this. If you don't recognise them it's still a charming story, but if you do, it enriches the experience even more and is potentially very educational. This book is a joy!
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on 5 February 2004
I managed to find a copy of this book at my local secondhand bookshop. I've read some of Tolkien's work before - The Lord of The Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion.
What captivated me with this (short) story is the fairy-tale nature of it. It's neither ambiguous nor difficult to read. In fact, it very much reminds me of the sort of story that a teacher would read to primary/junior-school kids. It's witty, touching, light-hearted and a breeze to read. I especially like Farmer Gile's dog; Garm. What also appealed to me is that it shows how common sense can endure and overcome most scenarios (including battles with dragons!) and that even the lowest person in society can make a difference. A MUST READ.
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on 29 June 2006
How a simple but cunning farmer got to be king of his world is told by Tolkien in classically simple style. So different to Tolkien's great works, this is nevertheless a miniature gem. It's a great story for telling to children, but, as always in the best childrens' tales, there are plenty of subtle jokes and sly digs to amuse the teller.

Tolkien was one of the great experts on Dark Ages history and tales -- especially English folktales -- and his wide knowledge is reflected in the setting and background to the story. The characterisation is simple yet true to life, and the plot twists in delightful ways. If you like historical novels, you will also enjoy the detail and the 'in jokes' in this short tale. Full of amusement yet so authentic in its feel, 'Farmer Giles of Ham' almost makes me wish that this story WAS dug up from among musty manuscripts in a forgotten archive to confound some dull scholar!

I read it first in the original edition, again to my children some 20 years ago, to their great delight, and yet again recently; it remains as fresh as the first time.

By the way, have you tried "Leaf by Niggle"? This is another little Tolkien beauty!
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on 1 July 2000
How a simple but cunning farmer got to be king of his world is told by Tolkien in classically simple style. This is a great stoty for telling to children, but, as always in the best childrens' tales, there are plenty of subtle jokes and sly digs to amuse the teller. Tolkien is, of course, one of the great experts in Dark Ages history and tales and his wide knowledge is reflected in the setting and background to the story. The characterisation is simple yet true to life and the plot twists in delightful ways. If you like historical novels, you will also enjoy the detail and the 'in jokes' in this short tale. Full of amusement yet so authentic in its feel, 'Farmer Giles of Ham' almost makes me wish that this story WAS dug up from among musty manuscripts in a forgotten archive to confound some dull scholar! I read it first in the original edition, again to my children some 15 years ago, to their great delight, and yet again recently; it remains as fresh as the first time. By the way, have you tried "Leaf by Niggle"? This is another little Tolkien beauty!
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on 14 October 2014
I have only read the intro so far and it went on to long --- I might get to the story soon
Hopefully it will be enjoyable.
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on 24 March 2001
When his village is threatened by a giant, Farmer Giles acts out of fright and coincedentally the giant leaves. A gift from the King follows and when the village is threatened again, this time by a dragon, Farmer Giles is called upon to hunt it down. What happens next is unconventional yet amusing all the same, making Farmer Giles of Ham a quaint, traditional fairy tale.
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