Sunday, May 11, 2014

J. R. R. Tolkien, Part Two - The lesser known Tolkien

In my previous post about J.R.R. Tolkien, I wrote about The Hobbit and how it began what eventually became a deep love of faerie and fantasy stories. I was originally planning on writing about The Lord of The Rings next, but lets face it, everyone writes about Lord of The Rings and what more could be said on the subject. I will get around to writing my impression eventually but today I would like to look at his less well known work. I say less well known but really that's only to the world at large and not to Tolkien fans. Fans of his work know these stories as well as they do The Hobbit or Lord of The Rings.

The stories I want to write about today are Farmer Giles of Ham, Leaf by NiggleThe Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and Smith of Wootton Major. They are different in style and purpose than The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. They hold a mirror up  to the world and tell you to take a look.

My personal favorite is Leaf by Niggle Which I re-read all the time. It's considered to be an allegory though not simply one of life, death, purgatory and Heaven, but also of Tolkien's own life and creative process. Every time I read this story I am struck by the complexity of what appears on the surface to be such a simple story. I relate to Niggle and his determination to do right by the leaf, you should see how many times I write, edit, re-write and edit again these posts before I publish them. It amazes me I ever publish anything. The older I get though the more I relate to the time or lack of it that we all spend sometimes unwisely. If you read nothing else I write about today, please read Leaf by Niggle I know you will get as much out of it as I did.

Farmer Giles of Ham is a humorous look at medieval England, with small funny nods to MiddleEarth and other stories. For example Farmer Giles sword is named Caudimordax and is commonly known as Tailbiter which I take as a queue to Orcrist (biter) the Goblin Cleaver from The Hobbit. The interplay between Giles and Chrysophylax Dives (the dragon), heck the whole story, pokes fun at the classic dragon-slaying story. While humor is blended into everything Tolkien writes, Farmer seems to be more straight up funny than anything else I have read so far. Besides, any story with a dragon in it is worth reading.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a mostly inaccurately named collection of poetry by Tolkien. Tom is only in 3 of the poems, but the collection is great. I know a lot of your are thinking "Poetry? not for me..." but you should read this. First, this is the origin of Tom Bombadil who makes a MiddleEarth appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring and the other poems are enjoyable for anyone. This is Tolkien after all and if there is a better wordsmith out there, then someone tell me who it is. I will admit, the books of poetry I have read (outside of literature classes) can be counted on one hand but I wouldn't have missed this book for anything.

Smith of Wootton Major began as a preface to another story (The Golden Key) but grew into a full story as most great ideas do. It's a tale about Faerie and one boys travels there, oh and the Great Cake. Trust me, you need to read this one because I wouldn't do it justice trying to summarize it here. I always find someone I can compare the characters in Smith to every time I read it. Especially the Master Cook of whom I know a number of people I could compare. Next to Leaf by Niggle this is my favorite and I would recommend it to anyone.

You can read all of the stories I listed in the collection Tales from the Perilous Realm along with Roverandom, which I will write about in another post, and Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories. In On Fairy-Stories Tolkien talks at length about the world of Faerie and the creation of stories and I can only imagine what it was like to be in the room that night and to listen to Tolkien give that lecture. There are recordings of Tolkien reading some of his books and each one is absorbing, live and lecturing had to be even more incredible. Tales from the Perilous Realm is also available in e-book which makes all of these stories much easier to access than trying to find paper copies of them or even The Tolkien Reader which included some of the same material.

I know I only breezed through these stories, and given the time I would go on and on about each one.What I didn't want to do was retell each story, to take the discovery out of your first reading of them. Once you have read them though, share your opinions, your insights into them. Go on, I'll wait.

I can't begin to properly express the pleasure I get from reading great stories like these. Each one brings a depth, an better understanding, a sense of wonder to the world around us. Looking at our world through the lens of Tolkien's fiction makes everything just a little less chaotic and a lot more enjoyable.

Take a step outside The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, experience everything that J.R.R. Tolkien has to offer. I promise you will not be disappointed.

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