Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

POEMS AND STORIES

A collection by J.R.R. Tolkien (1992, Harper Collins)

A collection of poems, an essay, and three fantasy stories by Tolkien, including Farmer Giles of Ham (pictured at right).

 

 

2 stars

Read February 7th to 12th, 2000  
    This book is composed of six parts.  Two sets of poems, an essay, and three fantasy stories. 

  The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are so named, only because he is the focus of the first two poems in this sequence.  He also makes a brief appearance in one other.  But the rest are supposedly from the Shire, though I'd say they were just fantasy, so Tolkien created a place for them.  Some, Bilbo sang at Elrond's house. I did like the ones about the man in the moon, but passed through the others quite quickly.  No stars from this portion.

  The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth is the tale of an English warrior who failed miserably in his task of defending a riverbank from the Vikings.  It seems that the Viking leader asked for a fair fight, and so Beorhtnoth allowed his crew to come over the river, where they slaughtered the English.  The poem seems to be a couple of people searching for his body, while criticizing his sense of honour, for allowing the Vikings over the water.  There is a little commentary to go along with it, but I was very happy to get over this part.  No stars from this one, either.

  On Fairy Stories is an essay that was published in Tree and Leaf, which I had read once before.  I didn't enjoy it then, and I didn't enjoy it now.  Tolkien explores what a fairy story is, what are its origins, its audience (children or adults), and asks questions about fantasy and escapism.  Maybe interesting to an academic, but not to me.

  Leaf by Niggle was the "leaf" part of Tree and Leaf.  I didn't remember anything about it from the last time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it this time around.  Niggle is great at painting leaves, but not much else.  He neglects his duties to try and paint a grand picture of nature.  He does, however, help his neighbour out all the time.  He ends up leaving on a trip, having to abandon the painting.  It is never told what the trip is about, but that doesn't matter.  For his negligence, he is forced to dig, and do carpentry, and so on, until he starts thinking about how he should have helped out more.  Then he is sent to live in his painting, where he touches it up, and invites his neighbour to do gardening there, to help make it perfect.  He is at last satisfied, and is permitted to travel beyond the mountains.  I'm not sure what the story was about, really, but it was fun.  I guess it is about helping others out, taking breaks from your work, and refreshing perspective before continuing on.

  Farmer Giles of Ham I've also read, a long time ago.  I don't remember enjoying it back then.  But this time, I really did.  It was fun, and witty, and with a reluctant hero who wins in the end.  It is written in a style that lets us know it is a myth, with the patient storyteller narrating.  Giles was a farmer, whose farm was overrun by a giant one day.  He took out his gun-like weapon, and shot the giant in the nose.  The giant went away, thinking it was a stinging insect.  Giles was cheered as a hero, and quite enjoyed his fame.  Until the dragon showed up.  The giant had spoken to the dragon, saying he had not seen any knights with swords, though he was quite near-sighted.  The dragon went on a feasting rampage across the countryside, but the king's knights did nothing, because they were more interested in tournaments, and less interested in dying.  So the town sent Giles out to confront the dragon, and he caught the dragon and demanded a ransom from him.  The dragon promised to return, but never did.  The king heard about the ransom, and sent his knights after the dragon.  But the dragon killed most of them, but Giles inadvertently held his ground.  He returned with lots of treasure, which he did not share with the king.  Eventually, he took the king's place, and the center of power moved to the growing village of Ham. 

  Smith of Wooten Major was a story that really did nothing for me.  I didn't really like it, but it didn't make me impatient for the end, either.  It was just there.  It is about being kind, and sharing, and knowing when to give up the gifts that you have received.  It starts off telling about the baker, who bakes great cakes.  The man retires, and leaves an apprentice to do the work.  However, the town appoints a new Head Cook instead.  This man puts trinkets in his cake, including a fairy star.  A boy swallows the star, and gets to roam around the land of fairy, protected.  He dances with the queen, even.  But eventually he has to give up the star, and return to his existing life.  The star will then go to another boy, in a new cake, baked by the old apprentice, who knows about the lands of fairy.

  The whole book is not worth having, when I only enjoyed two of the stories, and really disliked three parts of it.  Tolkien's style is different from a lot of fantasy writers.  He uses a tone that is kind of tongue-in-cheek, so that it looks as if he is a narrator to children's tales.  Some of it was fun, others not.  Not a keeper book, but if I find Giles again alone, I might think of getting it.

 

 

2 stars

FARMER GILES OF HAM (One fantasy story included in the above collection)
Read on June 30th, 1991
 

 

2 stars

TREE AND LEAF, (The essay and the story Leaf by Niggle from the above collection)
Read July 3rd to 5th, 1991
 
   

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