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Old 04-21-2021, 10:16 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Sting Minor Works -- 1 - Farmer Giles of Ham

Introduction

Farmer Giles of Ham is one of the few fictional works of Tolkien published during his lifetime. Like the Hobbit and Roverandom, it has its origins in a story that JRRT told to his children. The first manuscript was narrated by "Daddy", details were personal, and the sophisticated tone of the printed version we know was missing. A later version, the first typescript, added some details and changed the narrator to the "family jester".

In 1938 Tolkien revised and enlarged the story, adding philological jokes, Latin words, names, and scholarly allusions, then reading it in lieu of a paper on fairy stories to the Lovelace Society in Oxford - which was apparently very amused! He offered it to Allen and Unwin for publishing; they considered it too short on its own and decided to add illustrations. Those were provided by Pauline Baynes and highly approved of by Tolkien. Along with his "mock" Foreward, the tale was then complete and the book published in 1949.

The above information comes from Hammond and Scull's Introduction to the 50th anniversary edition (HarperCollins, 1999), which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to know more! It also includes the first manuscript version of the story, as well as the incomplete sequel Tolkien began writing later.

Let's begin the discussion with Tolkien's satirical Foreward - even if you don't normally read forewards, this one is short and amusing, so please do, and let us know what you think of it. In one to three days (depending on the volume of posting about the Foreword) we will move on to the actual story.
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Old 04-21-2021, 05:01 PM   #2
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Well! I have to confess it was only around five years ago that I read this story for the first time. I got it with a paperback also containing Smith of Wooten Major.

I like immediately the tone set by Tolkien. He lets the reader know that the story was
Quote:
derived not from sober annals, but from the popular lays to which its author frequently refers.
We have the scene set in England, but in a time that cannot be precisely set, much like Middle-earth (but much less removed).

Overall, it reminds me quite a bit of The Hobbit.
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Old 04-22-2021, 08:18 AM   #3
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I do love that Giles' dog is named Garm after the fierce and bloody guardian of Hel's Gate in Norse myth, who was loosed during Ragnarök and battled to the death with Tyr. In Tolkien's tale, Garm is neither fierce nor bloody, and certainly prone to tuck tail and flee.

In regards to the Forward, when Tolkien references the "Little Kingdom" I believe the conjecture is that he was referring to Surrey or Frithwuld's Surrey, a 7th century sub-kingdom of Mercia. Let the anachronisms begin with Giles' blunderbuss.
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Old 04-22-2021, 09:26 AM   #4
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I'll back up a bit and start with the Introduction by Hammond and Scull, it being a serious bit of scholarly history concerning the text. Their information reminds us of how important Tolkien's oral storytelling to his children was in his development as a writer. Roverandom and Farmer Giles began as stories to entertain his children, as well of course as The Hobbit. (Tom Bombadil has a nod to the children's affairs as well.) As much as philology and the creation of languages inspired Tolkien, so also was the impulse of oral storytelling. Of course, as Hammond and Scull point out, Farmer Giles was developed far beyond this original oral piece of entertainment with its satire, but remembering Tolkien's original audience for his stories is helpful in understanding the power of his later tales.

Tolkien's Foreward satirises scholarly concerns at the time over the origins of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. King Coel is non other than a reference to the children's nursery rhyme about Old King Coel, who was a merry old soul, who called for his pipe and his bowl and his fiddlers three. There had been much scholarly ado trying to discover which historical character is referred to in the nursery rhyme but scholars came up empty handed (or dry penned?) Sir Walter Scott even joined the speculation There were attempts to link Coel with Arthur's legends. So all in all this little satirical reference shows Tolkien's own interest in the legends and possibly the mythology of his little island, an interest which produced what we now know as The Book of Lost Tales, while providing, significantly, a satirical slight on the study of nursery rhymes not as art or story or entertainment but as historical content
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Old 04-22-2021, 02:30 PM   #5
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It's been a very long time since I last read Farmer Giles. I have to confess I didn't particularly like it then, nor did I like it as a kid when I was first acquainted with it. I'm curious what my verdict will be this time. Also, I'm a little saddened I only have the book in Finnish; while the translation is good, the story is so English that it seems already after the introduction that one is losing quite a bit by not reading it in the original. I'll cope, I guess!

That being said, I feel like one would also greatly benefit from being more familiar with English mythology and history. I feel like you can't really appreciate Tolkien's writing as much "just as a story", without a greater context. Now that I think of it, it's rather fascinating how he often wrote - in a way - for scholars and children at the same time, which is not really a common combination.

As for the foreword itself, two things stood out to me - two very trademark Tolkien things that we see in his major works too. One is that his love for and knowledge of linguistics is evident; how many other authors would say their story is just an explanation for odd place names? Or how many others would bother to establish what language the story is written, and what they're telling us it was translated from? And the trope of the somewhat unreliable translator-narrator passing on an old story, obscuring the truth of what "really happened," is of course the second thing. It is very much like the whole narrative framing of the Red Book of Westmarch.
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Old 04-22-2021, 05:44 PM   #6
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Tolkien

The Foreword is appropriately brief--two pages in my edition of Tales from the Perilous Realm, which is the text I have readiest to hand, though I first encountered it in a very dusty, unassuming copy of The Tolkien Reader on my Dad's bookshelves--a not-quite-standard collection of some of Tolkien's minor works. There are several of these, not all quite lining up in terms of content.

Farmer Giles has never felt quite Middle-earthen to me, which makes him stand stand out from both Roverandom and The Hobbit, which are its nearest comparisons in his catalogue. Where he draws nearest to Middle-earth might actually be here: this Foreword reminds me strongly of the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings: it's the same pseudo-scholarly voice.

It occurred to me, reading the Foreword this time, that it's a shame that Hobbitus Ille was the first official Tolkien-to-Latin translation, because this would have been a more appropriate attempt--possibly also more challenging, since it would be best to render it as "very insular Latin." My own Latin would not actually be up to the challenge of reading it, but I would still have been deeply amused by the gesture.
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Old 06-06-2021, 05:58 AM   #7
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The Discarded Image

I've been meaning to post about this for a few days. I've been thinking about Tolkien's treatment of animals in FGoH, which has been commented on by others on this thread.

When Tolkien wrote and published Giles, it was the time between Darwin and Goodall, when the scientific viewpoint was that animals were little more than machines. We may forget how much this viewpoint dominated intellectual opinion.

Tolkien's evocation of the Mare and Garm with so much personality was a radical departure from the norm, and for him I think that it was natural because of his Catholic sensibility.

Although Lewis' The Discarded Image was not published until 1964, I think the evidence is clear that Tolkien and Lewis shared the viewpoint of that image, which can be called "Incarnational."

That the evocation appeared in a comical work like Giles may have given leave to Tolkien's listeners to regard the animal personalities as 'of the times,' but I don't think Tolkien regarded it so. We know that he loved horses from experience, having worked with them during WW1. His knowledge and love of dogs is shared by most of us.

So I just wanted draw attention to Giles as a radical departure from the accepted norm of how one might write about animals. I have not looked into how other writers of Tolkien's time wrote them, which would be an interesting comparative study. Maybe it has already been done.
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Old 06-12-2021, 01:18 PM   #8
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My desire to reply to this topic hasn't been delayed so much as my reading has! The anticipation of Progeny #2 somehow left less reading time than his appearance has, so I am now caught up on Farmer Giles. Two different things stood out to me between holding the infant and being fussed at by the small child.

1. The first is this sentence:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Farmer Giles of Ham
Garm was both proud and afraid of Giles, who could bully and brag better than he could.
It's a somewhat filtered description: this is Garm's view of Giles more than being strictly the narrator's, but I'm not sure that it's discordant with Giles as we come to know him. I'm of two minds here: on the one hand, Giles is presented as very much a "people's hero": practical, down-to-earth, reluctant to face the dragon, and much more a haggler than anyone else. Is he really then a bully and a braggart?

I wonder a bit about how much is Garm and how much is "true," not least given that both "bully" and "braggart" are words that do not have a positive connotation--certainly not in 2021, but I don't think they were exactly the words to describe a hero in 1930. And while Giles' threatening words every time Garm turns up (though, notably, never doing anything) might suggest that he has a less-than-enlightened attitude toward animals, perhaps the point here isn't that Giles IS a bully or a braggart, but that a very foolish dog thinks he is. The counterpoint for any bullying is Giles relationship with the Old Grey Mare (and maybe even with Chrysophylax).


The other thing that occurred to me was less of a question mark topic than that--more of an observation. Tolkien is sometimes identified as being a rather idealistic dreamer who wanted to return to some medieval vision and who is therefore not quite "Modern" or up-to-date. Certainly, his own stated preference in the Letters for anarcho-monarchism and various statements of being generally conservative in his biases do play into this. However, his view of the kings and knights in this story should be weighed heavily before taking that as unthinking idealism.

While it is certainly included as part of the humour of the tale, I don't think that the money-focused king or the etiquette-driven driven knights are JUST humour. Tolkien is undercutting the fairytale/Arthurian romantic view of how things were as much as he is also drawing on it. In this sense, even in this smaller, comedic story there's a recognition of human nature, a Denethor to go with Giles's Aragorn (a Master of Laketown to go with Giles's Bard). It is idealistic, but more in the sense of being aspirational--i.e. of knowing that it's not the norm than of thinking it ever was.
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Old 06-12-2021, 02:37 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
Certainly, his own stated preference in the Letters for anarcho-monarchism and various statements of being generally conservative in his biases do play into this. However, his view of the kings and knights in this story should be weighed heavily before taking that as unthinking idealism.
I've always read that as resignation on Tolkien's part that all systems are each failures in their own way and that anarcho-monarchism was, in his view, the least bad rather than being particularly good because no system meets the standard of being "good."

A point of view I am not unsympathetic toward...but, taking a grim view of the world is practically de rigueur for being a true diehard Tolkien fan.

Congratulations and commiserations on Progeny #2.
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