Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham

J.R.R. Tolkien
345 336 062
Random House
Number of pages: 
156 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Tolkien has a habit of making stories that are just plain fun to read. And a sneaky little tendency to make them exceedingly rich too - offering many levels of interpretation and withstanding rigorous study by philosophers, theologians, philologists and anyone else. But all the time they remain delightful - and offer a healthy dose of poetic knowledge even to the most superficial readers. Both of these stories are 'old-fashioned' in style. If I were a scholar of medieval literature I would probably recognize them as astonishing models of the style (Tolkien himself was a scholar of medieval literature and I don't doubt at all that they are pristine examples).

This volume contains two stories. I will take them one at a time.

Smith of Wooton Major is a faery tale in the most literal sense. It is a pleasant little story not burdened with trying to teach you a lesson or even a moral. However, it will teach you lessons, remind you of good morals and make you laugh. Smith is a bright little boy who is invited in a special way to learn about faeries. To his neighbors he is special, talented, touched or pixelated - to use a variety of terms. Through a brief story of his life we learn: he is happy, he does excellent smith work, he raises a happy family. But there is more to him than meets the eye. It is the faeries. And it is his interaction with the faeries that makes him more circumspect and benevolent than most of his neighbors. It is an easy and enjoyable read - not to mention short! Use this story as a reward for intermediate readers. And as a reward to yourself just open the book and read the first paragraph - it is a marvel of Tolkien's ability to write and a refreshing reminder of what good writing looks like.

There was a village once, not very long ago for those with long memories, nor very far away for those with long legs. Wootton Major it was called because it was larger than Wootton Minor, a few miles away deep in the trees; but it was not very large, though it was at that time prosperous, and a fair number of folk lived in it, good, bad and mixed, as is usual.
(First Paragraph Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Farmer Giles of Ham is a tale of a reluctant hero. Just a farmer, he meets the trials thrust upon him with less than perfectly heroic enthusiasm. In fact he would rather avoid the two great trials of the book had he been able. But chance and fate combine with his degree of wit and sense of duty to raise him to a merited degree of fame and power. This book cannot hide it's lesson. In being a story of a rather ordinary man who becomes great it is obviously a lesson to those who are just beginning to find out how to use reason to direct their wills (and those of us who need occasional reminders). Life sends you tough circmstances. What you do with them is what makes you better or worse than average. Make your decisions and realize that making the right decisions (the right activities) makes you a great person. Period. This story is a must read for teens just finding their feet. Follow this up with community service activities to reinforce the ideas. Then make them read it again so they recognize how they have been living it.

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