A Tolkien Miscellany


This synopsis will contain spoilers!

A Tolkien Miscellany is, as the title implies, a diverse collection of stories, poems, essays, and translations by Tolkien. I will summarize each in turn.

"Smith of Wooton Major" - In the town of Wooton Major it was tradition for, every twenty four years, to have the Master Cook produce a Great Cake for twenty four lucky children. One year, the Master Cook decided to leave before he had fully prepared his Apprentice (Prentice) to take over. A local man took the Cook's place, and soon had to prepare a Great Cake. Finding a star in the ingredients in the store room, he decided to add it, among other things, to the Cake. Prentice warned him that the item was from faerie, but Cook added it anyway.

No one found the star, but not because it was left out but because it was swallowed, by one of the boys at the feast. Sometime later, when he was 10, he began to sing and the star came out, and he slapped it to his forehead, where it stayed as he grew up. As he grew, he continued to sing beautifully, and people found him fare. He began to take journeys into Faerie, where he believed he had safe passage thanks to the star.

One time, he came across some fair maidens, one of whom warned him that he was becoming bold, travelling so far without knowing if he has the Queen's leave. He returned home slightly more cautious of Faerie. Many years (2 feasts) later he was summoned back to Faery, where he was taken to the Queen. It was the maiden of so many years before. She told him, should he come across the King, to deliver him a message. He did come across a man, on his way home, who said he knew the King well and could pass the message along. Smith did so, only to realize when they returned to the village that is was Alf (formerly Prentice and now the Master Cook).

Back at the village, Alf asked Smith if it might be time he gave up the Star on his brow. Smith agreed to, removing the star and returning it to the box in the store room where it was originally found. Then, he and Alf decided to give the star to a nephew of Smith's who would be attending the next 24 year feast. Alf leaves, after the feast, but not before it is revealed that he was the King of Faery.

"Farmer Giles of Ham" - A small village is attacked by a giant. Farmer Giles, realizing he must do something to protect his farm, takes his musket and fires on the giant. The giant, thinking it was just a stinging insect, heads back to his home. On his way, he spreads the word that the area of the village is ripe for the picking. Meanwhile, the villagers all think Giles is a hero, and the local King even learns about him. As a reward for his courageous act, the King gives Giles a sword from his vault that no one was using.

A dragon, Chrysophyalax Dives, hearing what the Giant had said decides to head to Ham to find some easy food. As the dragon makes its way, it begins to destroy lots of land, until the King sends for Giles to fight the dragon. Giles, postponing as long as he can, eventually does. Fortunately, the sword he was given was a great dragon slaying sword, and it literally leaps from its sheath when near a dragon. With it, he is able to drive the dragon off, but not before the dragon promises to give the village all of his gold.

When he doesn't ever return with their gold, Giles is asked to go hunt the dragon, and to get their money back. He does, eventually, and thanks to Tailbiter, he is able to capture the dragon and bring him back to the village. The dragon carried backed as much of his treasure as he could. He also agreed to serve Giles. Thanks to the dragon, Giles was able to keep all his treasure from the King, and he himself became the Lord of the region. Eventually, he let the dragon go, who returned to yell at the giant who had thought it was just stinging flies, and not a weapon, all along.

"On Fairy-Stories" - In this essay, Tolkien investigates the history, as well as the literary and cultural worth of fairy stories and the fantasy genre in particular. It is difficult to summarize, but a major component centers around the idea that, as beings created in the image of a creator God, one of the greatest forms of art we can attempt is our own "sub-creation" through the logical, consistent development of a fantasy world. If done correctly, this sub creation (or secondary world) will result, not in the suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but in the belief in something new, and wholly reasonable, at least in respect to itself.

"Leaf by Niggle" - Niggle, a painter who lives by himself, spends his life working on a masterpiece. At its center, it consists of a tree, with very detailed leaves (Niggle's favorite thing to paint). As he worked on it, it began to expand to include more scenery around it. Niggle, realizing he must work hard to finish it before going on a long expected journey, gets frustrated when his neighbor asks for help to get supplies to fix a whole in his roof and to call a doctor for his sick wife.

Niggle eventually agrees to go, in spite of the rain. He calls on the doctor, who comes in a day or two, but the builder never comes. Niggle gets sick from the journey. Soon people arrive to take him away; he stays in a hospital like environment, working non-stop. He is eventually approved to move on to a new place, which turns out to be the place from his painting. His neighbor arrives to help, and they make it perfect. Niggle leaves to go to the mountains, but the neighbor stays until his wife comes.

We hear two people talking about how Niggle's land helps people prepare for the journey to the mountains. We also hear from two people who used to live in Niggle's town talking about him now that he's dead. One finds a leaf from the great painting (which was destroyed after he dies) and puts it in a museum with the caption "Leaf by Niggle".

Next there is a collection of poems from The Read Book some of which are about Tom Bombadil, others just about Middle-earth in general. It is not worth or appropriate to summarize them.

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" - During the Christmas/New Year's celebration at the round table, a giant green knight comes into the court and issues a challenge: he wants someone to use his axe to strike at him, once. Then, in one year, he gets to return the blow on New Year's Day in his own court. Gawain agrees to the challenge to protect Arthur from having to do so. He takes the Green Knight's axe, and cuts his head off. The Knight picks his head up, tells Gawain he lives at the Green Chapel, and then heads home.

Towards the end of the next year, Gawain heads off, not knowing where the Green Chapel is. A few days before the New Year, he comes across a castle, and he is welcomed warmly. The King tells him the Green Chapel is just a few hours away, so he tells Gawain he must remain until the appointed day. In the meantime, Gawain must stay in the castle each day while the king goes hunting. They will then trade their spoils for the day when the king returns.

Each day the king hunts and gets some impressive game, while Gawain stays behind. The Queen tempts him each day to sleep with her, but he refuses, allowing her only to kiss him. He gives the King a kiss each day as he spoils for the day. On the third day, she also gives him a green belt that will protect him from harm. He does not give it to the king.

The next day he is guided to the Green Chapel. The Green Knight appears, and feigns two strikes. The third lands softly on Gawain's neck, drawing a little blood. He then reveals that he was the king, and his queen was tempting him on purpose. The nick was for the slight transgression of not giving up the belt on the third day. Gawain is ashamed of his failure to give the belt to the king, but he returns home where he is welcomed as a hero.

The collection this has a poem called "Pearl" and "Sir Orfeo", thought to be by the same author as "Sir Gawain". I did not read either.


A Tolkien Miscellany - Paperback

On the whole this was an enjoyable collection, with the first half being particularly good. The three short stories ("Smith of Wooton Major", "Farmer Giles of Ham", and "Leaf by …

- Sept. 10, 2010


"Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?"

J.R.R. Tolkien in A Tolkien Miscellany

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1967

Paperback edition:

307 pages - Jan. 1, 2002

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