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Farmer Giles of Ham: 50th Anniversary Edition
J.R.R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin, 127 pages

J.R.R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born of English parents at Bloemfontein, South Africa, on 3 Jan. 1892 and died in England on 2 Sept. 1973.  He received his education at Oxford University. After graduating in 1915, he joined the British army and saw action in the Battle of the Somme. He was eventually discharged, after spending most of 1917 in the hospital.

Tolkien was a scholar by profession. He worked as a staff member of the New English Dictionary, Reader then Professor of English Language at Leeds 1920-25, Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford 1925-45 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature until 1959.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Poems from The Hobbit
SF Site Review: Letters from Father Christmas
SF Site Review: The Hobbit
The Tolkien Timeline
The Electronic Tolkien Encyclopedia Project
The Last Homely House
Tolkien's Birmingham
Tolkien's Oxford
The Internet Tolkien Book Society Page
The Tolkien Collector Resources Page
The Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor Page
The Halls of Tolkien
The Numenor Chronology

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Farmer Giles of Ham In Farmer Giles of Ham, the reader finds a dumber-yet-luckier than your average-Joe is the hero of this 1949 fantasy. The fictional forward places the text as an early fictional account of British history, adding some humour by the suggestion that any academic could take this as a serious work.

Farmer Giles accidentally runs off a giant with his blunderbuss. His neighbours turn him into a hero. The King gives the sword that will eventually run off a dragon and, later, be used to bring the dragon and his treasure stockpile back to the kingdom. But Giles and the dragon strike a bargain.

Farmer Giles, however, falls short of charming, and the reader labours to the more enjoyable turns of phrase or the occasional snatches of humour that Tolkien provides:

"His wife made a queen of great size and majesty, and she kept a tight hand on the household accounts. There was no getting round Queen Agatha -- at least it was a long walk."
And this passage in which the King has sent Giles an official letter:
"It afforded great pleasure to Giles, and was much admired, especially when it was discovered that one could get a seat and a drink by the farmer's fire by asking to look at it."
Originally written for his children and revised for an adult audience, Farmer Giles of Ham straddles the fence and lacks the richness or texture of The Hobbit. Of course, this was intended as a farce, but the joy in seeing an unsympathetic loser triumph in a longer narrative is difficult to muster -- as reading some T. Coraghessan Boyle novels (as opposed to his stories) will attest. In a narrative progression, sustaining interest in such a character wanes.

On the other hand, a reader can gain much understanding of Tolkien as a writer at work in this edition. The editors have done another splendid job end-noting and informing the reader of the work's place in Tolkien's oeuvre. Plus, the addition of the original draft can teach beginning writers or other interested parties something of the nature of developing character and setting details.

The possibility of this becoming a children's classic is in doubt, but Tolkien aficionados, Tolkien scholars, and aspiring writers should find it worth their while.

Copyright © 2000 Trent Walters

Trent Walters co-edits Mythic Circle, is a 1999 graduate of Clarion West, is working on a book of interviews with science fiction writers.

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