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.