Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Farmer Giles of Ham Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hero on his own terms

Lovers of Tolkien's books on Middle Earth could do well to take a break and relax with a story that he told to his children at bedtime. This story takes place in the "Middle Kingdom" of old England, when the Island was divided between various small kingdoms, dragons and giants ruled the north, and choices of a weapon ranged from enchanted swords to a blunderbuss. Oh yes -- and dogs could talk, though their vocabulary was generally restricted to the vernacular.

Farmer Giles is a humble farmer who just wants to get on with business at hand, which is to bring in the crops, keep the larder well stocked and get a good sleep at night. His night time peace is broken when his dog, Garm, begins barking and babbling on about a giant that has stepped on his prize cow. So, Giles loads his blunderbuss and goes out to see what's going on...

And what's a blunderbuss?

"A blunderbuss is a kind of big fat gun with a mouth that opens wide like the end of a horn, and it goes off with a terrible bang, and sometimes it hits what you are aiming at." That's a quote from the second version, based on what Tolkien's daughter remembers of her bed time story. This edition contains both versions, as well as an unfinished sequel -- the first few paragraphs and some sketchy notes on how the story would have gone from there.

Back to the giant. The farmer falls over backwards as soon as the giants head appears over the hill, the gun goes off, and a piece of scrap metal from the barrel hits the giant on the nose. Being near-sighted, and having no clue that there are people living in these parts, he thinks it's a stinging fly, so he turns around and goes back home. Garm, the farmer's dog, runs through town announcing that his master has single handedly driven away the giant, and Giles becomes the hero.

That's just the beginning. Next is the story of the dragon, where Giles again becomes the unwilling hero. But hero he is, so he's a hero on his own terms, much to the chagrin of the king and the knights of the realm. Tolkien, a storyteller on his own terms, brings it to a delightfully satisfying "happily ever after".

Among my favourite characters is the dog, Garm. He's exactly what I imagine a dog would be if dogs could talk. The old mare and the dragon are also well cast. In all, it's a great read.

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