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Old 07-17-2021, 10:38 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril Minor Works -- 3 - Smith of Wootton Major

Like "Leaf", this tale definitely has autobiographical aspects, "translated" into a story of Faery. It was, however, written late in Tolkien's life, and has a completely different focus. It was published, with Pauline Baynes' delightful illustrations, in 1967.

The story of a human who received a star as his "passport" to the land of Faery was the last story that JRRT wrote and the last work to be published during his lifetime. I have two different editions: in Tales from the Perilous Realm, and a hardback, extended edition volume, edited and commented by Verlyn Flieger. I am using the latter as my primary reference for this introduction to the discussion.

The tale had an unexpected origin, typical for Tolkien! He was writing an introduction for a story by George MacDonald, explaining the true meaning of "fairy" by illustrating it with the outline of a story. Soon the story itself interested him more than the introduction (which was never finished or published).

Flieger very aptly calls this tale "the imaginal realization of the theoretical concept he put forward in his 1939 lecture-essay "On Fairy-Stories"." He shows the realm of Faery to be a perilous place for mortals.

The opening lines of the story are wonderful: "There was a village once, not very long ago for those with long memories, nor very far away for those with long legs."

What does this story evoke in you when you read it? Which are your favourite characters? Which aspects are, in Tolkien's terms, "applicable", not "allegorical"? Do you see any personal applicability to your own life? I look forward to your contributions to the discussion!
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Old 07-17-2021, 11:15 AM   #2
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I love Smith, but have a possibly quite basic question: is there an origin for Tolkien's infatuation with stars on people's brows? Earendil, Elendil, Aragorn, technically Morgoth, Smith... it's a definite theme, and I have no idea whether it comes from anything, or he just came up with the idea and really liked it.

(And is there any connection to Marc Bolan? )

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Old 07-18-2021, 07:01 PM   #3
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Smith is my favorite of everything written by Tolkien, and that's saying something because I love so much of what he wrote.

I remember when I was younger, identifying with 'one of the boys,' who in eating his slice of cake had taken in the Star and it stayed with him without him noticing it. And he gave a coin to the girl sitting next to him who was so disappointed that nothing lucky was in her slice.

One of the great treasures of this story is that there is such an economy in the story telling: everything that is included drives the story home, whether through plot, character, theme, or milieu.

And the evocation is so utterly real. It brings it home, to a place inside of me that I can only fail to describe with any accuracy. This story makes whatever it is that Tolkien evokes, call to me like nothing ever could. Have you ever wanted to laugh and cry at once, not knowing which you would rather do, or could do? This is that story for me.
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Old 07-18-2021, 08:16 PM   #4
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Boots Stars, Smiths and dancing in the woods

Huinesoron— Nimrodel !
“A star was bound upon her brow
A light was on her hair”

Smith of WM reminds me of LMP’s old thread “it feels different near the Shire.” The elf Queen reminds me more of Goldberry than Galadriel. Less remote, more near to the heart—until she is revealed as the elf queen.
Dancing in the woods always sang to me. Music in the forest. Stars through the trees.
But over all the story strikes me as well past Fourth Age— as Sharon would say, seventh age— and the elves are too remote: so sad. Give me first age Beleriand. Or, at least Rivendell.

But back to the Shire. Finding the elf queen dancing in the woods is like finding Gildor in Woody end. Having to surrender the star at the end of the Smith’s tenure— I don’t know. Too sad.
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Old 07-19-2021, 03:57 AM   #5
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Palantir-Green The Baggins of Wootton Major

Quote:
Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
The tale had an unexpected origin, typical for Tolkien! He was writing an introduction for a story by George MacDonald, explaining the true meaning of "fairy" by illustrating it with the outline of a story. Soon the story itself interested him more than the introduction (which was never finished or published).
This development does not surprise me at the least. Also, I have not read that much of MacDonald, but even with that the Smith was one of the first associations I had when I stumbled upon his writings, it very clearly belongs into the same "box".

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The opening lines of the story are wonderful: "There was a village once, not very long ago for those with long memories, nor very far away for those with long legs."
I very much like this as a variant, or elaboration, on the typical fairytale opening phrases.


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Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
I love Smith, but have a possibly quite basic question: is there an origin for Tolkien's infatuation with stars on people's brows? Earendil, Elendil, Aragorn, technically Morgoth, Smith... it's a definite theme, and I have no idea whether it comes from anything, or he just came up with the idea and really liked it.
It is definitely a traceable theme, and I, too, would be interested in a study on its origins. Tolkien paper-writers, here's a prompt for you.

Otherwise: just from the opening couple of paraghraphs, there is a barrage of similarities to other Tolkien's works. There are minor associations this induces, such as the village's position within the landscabe reminding me of Bree and its neighbouring villages (one village on the edge of the wood, another smaller one already in - just like Bree vs. Combe, Archet and Staddle). This may be a minor matter, but as a writer, I know that often images of places in one's imagination overlap and are "reused" - not consciously - and this might very well be the same case.

But there are also bigger similarities. I recall having first read it with "Giles" back-to-back and no wonder some of it has blurred in my mind: both stories start with the description of a local custom of a feast where the Cook makes their Great Project (be it the dragon's tail or the cake) always at a given time, basically around Christmas. There is also the generic setting, the village with its set of characters with their flaws and sort of obliviousness to the magic that is in their midst - that is more similar to the Shire and the Hobbits' attitude towards Bilbo and Frodo. Or to all the pragmatic but awful people in Niggle. The new cook has, to me, some vague resemblance to Mr. Parish.

The most striking in the opening paraghraphs is probably the old Cook's departure, which is without reservation comparable to Bilbo's. "Tell them that I am taking a longer holiday and that I am not coming back" - does this even need to be elaborated on in any way? And I am pretty sure the parallels don't end there. I recall, for one, the scene where Alf intimidates the cook in the same manner as Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.

I have had only time to read a part of the story now and I will have to finish it later. But when I do, especially once I get to the Queen, I am sure that I will still have quite a bit to say. I am actually very curious how I am going to perceive the story now - I must have last read it nearly two decades ago.
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Old 07-22-2021, 04:34 AM   #6
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I have read an article somewhere (Mythlore magazine, or a book?) in which it was speculated that the Great Kitchen and its Master Cook stood in for the Church and its Priest. I don't think I agree, because many villages and towns in real life, like Wootton Major in this story, have some aspect that is expanded and elaborated.

One town in Michigan is 'Christmas all year.' Another has its Oktoberfest with real trebuchets that throw pumpkins in the bay. And those are just two examples within a few hours' drive from where I live.

I think that it's better to view this as a creation for the sake of this story, with plot, characters, theme, and miliue, all of a piece.
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Old 07-22-2021, 11:19 AM   #7
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Do you see any personal applicability to your own life? I look forward to your contributions to the discussion!
Well, when I was on trek to discover/recover some of my maternal grandmother's past, I went to Iron Acton, Glocestershire, where her family was supposed to have lived at Hill House. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that there was a Wootton Road leading out of it. I was tempted to follow that road ....


Yes, yes, I know there is a village of Wootton just outside Oxford, which is probably Tolkien's Wootton. But that's not "my" Wootton.
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Old 07-23-2021, 02:26 AM   #8
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I have read an article somewhere (Mythlore magazine, or a book?) in which it was speculated that the Great Kitchen and its Master Cook stood in for the Church and its Priest. I don't think I agree, because many villages and towns in real life, like Wootton Major in this story, have some aspect that is expanded and elaborated.
Generally agreed that it sounds like one of the generic speculations that sometimes come up, along the lines of "it has four legs, therefore it has to be a dog". However I must say that there is one interesting aspect that makes me wonder whether it may not be at least partly on the right track. In the story, there is the somewhat peculiar description of the Hall once Alf had subtly influenced it to be renewed to the old style, with gargoyles and other decorative elements.

This is first obviously meant to be "a cultural influence of Faery" and perhaps a sort of metaphore for "restoring the old and forgotten, the mythology to its right place", but still, can it be more? Can it be, in broad terms, somehow connected to Tolkien's love for the "old-fashioned look" of churches, perhaps even in the forms of liturgy and so on? (Is anybody aware of Tolkien's view of older forms of Roman Catholic mass as opposed to more modern ones? However I am not aware of there being any "modern" or, contrarily, "restoration" movements at least as far as liturgy is concerned around that time yet, that would fall only towards 1960s and the Second Vatican Council, but perhaps someone specifically well-versed in Roman Catholic history would know whether there had been some minor attempts at changes already back when the Smith was written).
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Old 07-23-2021, 04:32 AM   #9
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Alf Prentice should have been Master Cook, and had to wait for old Nokes to retire, even though he was the one prepared for the role, and no doubt would have performed it even better than his own Master.

The people knew Alf was there, and was the one the Master Cook had chosen, but they seemed completely oblivious to the fact, and they also seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they had no business making the decision that they did. And Alf stood by, and let it happen. I suspect that he could have forced the issue had he chosen, but then perhaps that would have made him no better than the people of Wootton.

Tolkien always does this. The trope is that things were supposed to go this way, but due to people being people, it did not; this happened instead. It happens in Giles, Leaf by Niggle, Wootton, The Hobbit, every story he ever told. Repeatedly.

Every time it happens, I recoil and protest and become angry (there are personal reasons), and wonder what if, pointlessly. Because reality is like this. Always. And Tolkien knew it, and apparently was compelled to mirror this fact of human nature back to us.
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Old 07-23-2021, 12:51 PM   #10
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This is first obviously meant to be "a cultural influence of Faery" and perhaps a sort of metaphore for "restoring the old and forgotten, the mythology to its right place", but still, can it be more? Can it be, in broad terms, somehow connected to Tolkien's love for the "old-fashioned look" of churches, perhaps even in the forms of liturgy and so on? (Is anybody aware of Tolkien's view of older forms of Roman Catholic mass as opposed to more modern ones? However I am not aware of there being any "modern" or, contrarily, "restoration" movements at least as far as liturgy is concerned around that time yet, that would fall only towards 1960s and the Second Vatican Council, but perhaps someone specifically well-versed in Roman Catholic history would know whether there had been some minor attempts at changes already back when the Smith was written).
There was nothing to the same level as the post-Vatican II change of liturgy, but the tinkering started already during the 1960s (traditionalists have had to fix a date of "nothing after which" and 1962 is as close to a consensus for pre/post Old Mass/New Mass changes) so it was already ongoing when Smith was written. Tolkien, though not noted anywhere as a liturgist, would have seen some of the experimentation as a regular Mass-goer (particuarly experimenting with more vernacular) if any of it was going on locally, and would certainly have been read up enough on the news to have heard more in the offing. Certainly, a few years later, when the "Agatha Christie Petition" was circulating, he was vocal about disliking the changes. Smith was published in 1967 and my memory of The Letters--without looking them up!--is that it went from idea to bound paper quickly, so it was definitely written during the welter of Catholic life that was the 1960s.

But it's something Tolkien could have picked up on earlier. Though not the same degree as the 1960s, there was a lot of liturgical tinkering in the 1950s that someone who spoke fluent Latin as an active Catholic might have noticed, such as the revised Holy Week rites.

It was also a time of architectural change--at least on this side of the ocean, the 1950s was already a time of designing "ugly" rather than "timeless" Churches, and if that was true in a cultural backwater like western Canada, I imagine Catholic churches being erected in the same postwar period in England would have had examples of the same.

At the very least, as something very much in Tolkien's world at the time he was writing Smith, changes in ritual--and the lack of necessity in his view for the same--are eminently plausible as the intellectual backdrop of his thinking here, regardless of whether they may be intentional themes or parallels.
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Old 07-23-2021, 03:46 PM   #11
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... I am not aware of there being any "modern" or, contrarily, "restoration" movements at least as far as liturgy is concerned around that time yet, that would fall only towards 1960s and the Second Vatican Council, but perhaps someone specifically well-versed in Roman Catholic history would know whether there had been some minor attempts at changes already back when the Smith was written).
Smith was written in the late 60s, so Tolkien was no doubt aware of Vatican II.

I still hold with my general approach that the plot, them, and characters, and milieu are all of a piece, and this story, like most of Tolkien's writings, steers clear of overt religion.

As you mention, Legate, the gargoyles and such are a cultural element and need not be a religious one.
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Old 07-23-2021, 09:12 PM   #12
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One of the things I have been contemplating as I reread this, is why Fairie has to be limited to just one human with access at a time.

Why does only Smith have access to Fairie and not anyone else? His family knows of it but never joins him. Despite his friendships with the C.B.S. and the Inklings, did he feel that he alone had access to Fairie, no one else?
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Old 07-24-2021, 06:44 AM   #13
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One of the things I have been contemplating as I reread this, is why Fairie has to be limited to just one human with access at a time.

Why does only Smith have access to Fairie and not anyone else? His family knows of it but never joins him. Despite his friendships with the C.B.S. and the Inklings, did he feel that he alone had access to Fairie, no one else?
Given how Smith grew out a small story meant to illustrate something in Macdonald even as it was turning out Tolkien didn't think Macdonald had things right, and given how he quibbled over Lewis's fictions (the Williams influence on That Hideous Strength, all of Narnia), I don't think it'd be inaccurate to guess that Tolkien in the 1960s--long after the TCBS and even the Inklings--did think of faerie as something fundamentally private.

Even in the TCBS days (his greatest experience of literary like-mindedness), I think there's enough in the surviving letters to show that each of the lads had a different literary vision/desire. They were each transfixed by the others' and were privileged to been shared with them, but I think there's ample evidence in the letters that although there was a creative welter from their interactions, each of them who created still created alone--i.e. they were made for their friends and because of their friends, but nothing approaches being co-authored.

And, of course, that's BEFORE the TCBS gets halved and Tolkien goes into his post-war life (and the bulk of his literary career). As an autobiographical bit, I think entering faerie alone is well-supported.
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Old 07-25-2021, 08:28 AM   #14
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One of the things I have been contemplating as I reread this, is why Fairie has to be limited to just one human with access at a time.

Why does only Smith have access to Fairie and not anyone else? His family knows of it but never joins him. Despite his friendships with the C.B.S. and the Inklings, did he feel that he alone had access to Fairie, no one else?
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... I don't think it'd be inaccurate to guess that Tolkien in the 1960s--long after the TCBS and even the Inklings--did think of faerie as something fundamentally private.
I agree with Formendacil about Smith alone having access to Faerie, but I quibble over the word 'private.' Smith didn't have a private privilege or right to Faerie any more than any other citizen of Wootton, even old Nokes. His privilege came by means of the Star.

Hence, what is the Star? It has to be more than symbol. It seems to function like a key, but not only. Without the Star, Smith has no right or access to Faerie. It gives Smith entry and some protection. The Star comes from Faerie. How did Smith get it? It was a gift. Smith is bequeathed the privilege, by no right or skill or characteristic of his own. Who is the giver? Both Alf and the Queen of Faerie, as far as can be told.

Why make such a gift? Do the King and Queen of Faerie care to gift humanity with a taste of the riches of Faerie? Apparently, and why not? We need beauty, and they seem to know it. But with beauty comes heartache, and so the Star comes with a price.

Back to Bethberry's question. I think that some kind of entrace to Faerie is not necessarily singular, one at a time, and not private, but it is a privilege, and the "Star" given to one person may be something other than a star, and that person alone will know it for what it is. I'm speaking more in general as to my experience as a reader and experiencer of Tolkien's gift of a glimpse of Faerie to us all. Our experience feels to be at least at one remove compared to Smith, and maybe more.
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Old 07-25-2021, 08:36 AM   #15
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I agree with Formendacil about Smith alone having access to Faerie, but I quibble over the word 'private.' Smith didn't have a private privilege or right to Faerie any more than any other citizen of Wootton, even old Nokes. His privilege came by means of the Star.
I suppose, without having defined any terms, I can't complain of inciting any quibbling!

By "private," I meant "not shared." Of course, even that it not strictly accurate: the same star is passed on. But to the person in possession of that gift, the experiences it granted is something received alone. This may produce something that can be shared--Smith brings his own changed self back to Wootton and his family, and Tolkien has, of course, shared his own experience of faerie with his vast readership, but at the point of it being an experience for either Smith or Tolkien, it is experienced alone.

Without fully thinking it through, I'm not sure the star IS more than a symbol, but I think as a symbol, it is fairly clear what Tolkien is getting at: experiencing faerie is a gift, not something that people have by right or effort: either they have it or not and gratitude is the best attitude toward it.
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Old 07-25-2021, 08:38 AM   #16
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Thank you both, Form and LMP, for your responses to my queries. (Also for some reason I had been thinking that the Smith was earlier than the 60s, but now that just further makes me think that there indeed may have been some either conscious or unconscious influence on Tolkien and this possible polemic.)

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One of the things I have been contemplating as I reread this, is why Fairie has to be limited to just one human with access at a time.

Why does only Smith have access to Fairie and not anyone else? His family knows of it but never joins him. Despite his friendships with the C.B.S. and the Inklings, did he feel that he alone had access to Fairie, no one else?
This is one of the things I have been wondering about too, a lot. Leaving aside the question about Tolkien himself and focussing just on the "in-story" part, it is perhaps the one thing that I personally find somewhat jarring in Smith.

By that I mean that I am not entirely sure that I side with the "heroes" of this story, at least on the emotional level. On the general level, I of course despise the "materialistic" Noakes and I very much appreciate the message, the value of Faery, the beauty, all that. But the way it is presented, if you take it just as a story, it seems at least to me that both the Smith and Alf are terrible jerks. The Smith spends large part of his life leaving his family and work for travelling somewhere away from them. I mean, no problem with recreation - but I have always wondered, why wouldn't he take his wife or kids with him? Instead, he is all "look, kids! I have visited magical places, isn't it cool!" while the kids have to sit at home and probably live as boring life as the old cook. (And here comes the question - obviously the story makes it clear that the kids didn't have the star, but don't tell me that there wouldn't be a way for the Smith to figure something out during all these years. It would be a completely different thing if they weren't interested at all, but they do not seem to be entirely disinterested. Imagine being able to literally walk for example into Middle-Earth and then just always return home late evening to brag about it to your family.)

And as for Alf, he I find him to be quite a manipulative fellow who is terribly full of himself. He does not speak straight and he just installs himself into the village to manipulate human fates. Sure, that is what fairies in traditional mythology *do*. But the story does not show it as in any way problematic, it still presents as if Alf was 100% in the right, the Smith's response to him is very much "yes sir thank you sir I will do as you say sir". For instance Gandalf was similarly manipulative at times, but he had a clear good agenda and he tried to speak openly to the Bagginses once he knew something.

Did anyone else perceive these things as problematic or was it just me?

EDIT: This is not Werewolf, but I feel that it is notable - in terms of the expected level of activity on the 'Downs - that I have apparently just crossposted with two people!
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Old 07-25-2021, 10:04 AM   #17
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Originally posted by Littlemanpoet
I have read an article somewhere (Mythlore magazine, or a book?) in which it was speculated that the Great Kitchen and its Master Cook stood in for the Church and its Priest. I don't think I agree, because many villages and towns in real life, like Wootton Major in this story, have some aspect that is expanded and elaborated.
As I have a copy of the extended edition of Smith of Wooton Major(edited by Verlyn Flieger) I can tell you that it was Tolkien himself who suggested this, in a note to Clyde Kilby, 1967. ("Genesis of the story")
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...There is no allegory in the Faery, which is conceived as having a real extramental existence. (There is some trace of allegory in the Human part, which seems to me obvious though no reader or critic has yet adverted to it. As usual there is no "religion" in the story; but plainly enough the Master Cook and the Great Hall etc are a ( somewhat satirical) allegory of the village-church, and village parson: its functions steadily decaying and losing all touch with the "arts", into mere eating and drinking-the last6 traces of anything "other" being left to children)
In the extended edition, there is a lengthy essay with notes to the story, by Tolkien himself. I am going to read that again and see if I find something more noteworthy...

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originally posted by Formendacil
it is fairly clear what Tolkien is getting at: experiencing faerie is a gift, not something that people have by right or effort: either they have it or not and gratitude is the best attitude toward it.
I agree very much!
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Old 07-25-2021, 11:23 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
I of course despise the "materialistic" Noakes ...
it seems at least to me that both the Smith and Alf are terrible jerks. The Smith spends large part of his life leaving his family and work for travelling somewhere away from them.

And as for Alf, he I find him to be quite a manipulative fellow who is terribly full of himself.

Did anyone else perceive these things as problematic or was it just me?
I wonder if you are objecting to patriarchal characters in a patriarchal society written by an author with an essentially patriarchal world view? I could imagine similar objections leveled against 'The Arabian Nights,' along the lines of 'how dare that king keep a harem, one wife ought to do for him.'

So Alf is indeed a king; kings tend to have cause to be as full of themselves as their social and political position allows, and then throw in Faerie on top of that.

As for Nokes, he is described as qualitatively different from the other villagers. They are guilty of overlooking Alf as the duly appointed next Master Cook. Nokes is guilty of something other: vanity. Thinking more of himself than is his due. And thinking less of Alf than is Alf's right. So I find it interesting Tolkien speaks of the villagers' wrongfulness matter of factly, in a sense of 'these kinds of things happen all the time and people are just like that.' Whereas with Nokes, Tolkien takes time to especially condemn the man's presumptuous vanity. What does Tolkien, I wonder, find particularly despicable about this kind of vanity as compared to the villagers' presumptuous inconsideration?
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Old 07-25-2021, 11:57 AM   #19
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Posting some general thoughts in reply to everyone posting on the issue of who can enter Fairie.

It is true that Tolkien's thoughts about what a proper fairy story is developed in response to his attempt to write an introduction to MacDonald's "The Golden Key", which Tolkien no longer found as satisfying as he once did. However, that does not mean that Tolkien's "Smith" imitates or follows MacDonald's story or as a story owes specific intertextual details.Other than the woods of course, but they are plentiful in fairy stories anyway.

MacDonald's Golden Key involves two protagonists, Tangle and Mossy. Both are "sent" into fairy. Several of MacDonald's other fairy stories also involve several protagonists, Princess Irene and Curdie.

And of course one of the original stories of Tolkien's Legendarium involves Beren and Luthien.

So there is quite a bit of evidence that fairie in other stories is not limited to a sole protagonist.

Sorry, RL calls me away, with just a stunted post. Au revoir.
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Old 07-25-2021, 12:21 PM   #20
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And of course one of the original stories of Tolkien's Legendarium involves Beren and Luthien.

So there is quite a bit of evidence that fairie in other stories is not limited to a sole protagonist.
I take your broader point about entry into faerie as not being a journey made alone in all cases (though I think that Tolkien's own journey is better characterised as alone than as with companions and that that is relevant here, given that Smith is somewhat autobiographical*) but now it is my turn to quibble, because I do not think Beren and Lúthien supports that point at all: Beren enters faerie alone and never does quite return to the realm of Men. Lúthien is, after all, of faerie herself.




*Actually, given the autobiographical elements of Smith is it perhaps a wistful comment on Tolkien's own children that none of them--including Christopher--have received the Star?
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Old 07-25-2021, 01:49 PM   #21
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I wonder if you are objecting to patriarchal characters in a patriarchal society written by an author with an essentially patriarchal world view? I could imagine similar objections leveled against 'The Arabian Nights,' along the lines of 'how dare that king keep a harem, one wife ought to do for him.'
Well, I guess you can put it that way, but I do not recall having problems like that with any other Tolkien's stories. That is why it struck me as particularly unusual with the Smith.

I also agree with what you said about Alf, indeed he's a king and an "alien" one at that; maybe that covers it (but for example the king in Farmer Giles is put under quite heavy and obvious scrutiny by the author; yet nothing like that happens to Alf. Is it that Tolkien did not consider it his place to argue against the King of Faery?).

But my main beef is with the Smith himself and I would have expected Tolkien to show perhaps a little more, hmmm, empathy, in the sense that: it is awfully unempathetic of the Smith to just go adventuring and leave the family behind.

Unless...
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*Actually, given the autobiographical elements of Smith is it perhaps a wistful comment on Tolkien's own children that none of them--including Christopher--have received the Star?
...unless this. I guess the only way out is if we say that the Smith is autobiographic through and through, and that the Smith goes alone simply because Tolkien did. (That however then DOES make the Smith a 100% allegory - say goodbye to your principles, Mr. Tolkien!) So the Smith's treks to Faery that he makes alone are the direct allegory of Tolkien's own treks to Middle-Earth that his wife did not take part in. (But how about the kids? Or is the final discussion of the Smith with his son a sort of explanation of that? The son however still seems to remain a bit "out"; he does not seem particularly knowledgeable of where exactly his father had been going or particularly enthusiastic.)

And anyway, this does not "exonerate" the Smith, it only makes Tolkien himself look worse, if we apply the Smith's tale and what I consider his shortcomings to Tolkien himself.

But yes. Perhaps it is, like you said, LMP, the sort of patriarchal head of the family who is the free man to go and enjoy his hobbies as long as his wife is waiting at home with the meal. I am only disappointed in that case because I sort of expected more.

This is actually related to another thing I would like to mention, but perhaps I'll do it a bit later since we seem to be having a good conversation going on here as it is...

Also looking forward to the continuation of Bethberry's post, because I very much like (and second) the questions and ideas posed there...

Oh, and I still wanted to comment on this:

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Originally Posted by littlemanpoet View Post
As for Nokes, he is described as qualitatively different from the other villagers. They are guilty of overlooking Alf as the duly appointed next Master Cook. Nokes is guilty of something other: vanity. Thinking more of himself than is his due. And thinking less of Alf than is Alf's right. So I find it interesting Tolkien speaks of the villagers' wrongfulness matter of factly, in a sense of 'these kinds of things happen all the time and people are just like that.' Whereas with Nokes, Tolkien takes time to especially condemn the man's presumptuous vanity. What does Tolkien, I wonder, find particularly despicable about this kind of vanity as compared to the villagers' presumptuous inconsideration?
I did not mention it but I also very much empathise with the feeling you reflected in one of your earlier posts; that of it being "unfair" of Prentice being skipped over and disregarded by the village and all that. It is in fact so much obviously unfair to me that I considered it unnecessary to mention it. But I very much agree.

I personally always read it the way that the satisfaction eventually demonstrated on the character of Nokes is sort of substitutionary for the whole nameless mob of villagers who had been ignoring Alf. They were doing so possibly to a lesser degree than Nokes himself - I'd say rather passively by letting Nokes hog the spotlight than actively; although not that it is objectively any better, maybe even worse. Or who is worse, the actively bad people, or the people who see them and do nothing...
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Old 07-25-2021, 09:43 PM   #22
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I take your broader point about entry into faerie as not being a journey made alone in all cases (though I think that Tolkien's own journey is better characterised as alone than as with companions and that that is relevant here, given that Smith is somewhat autobiographical*) but now it is my turn to quibble, because I do not think Beren and Lúthien supports that point at all: Beren enters faerie alone and never does quite return to the realm of Men. Lúthien is, after all, of faerie herself.


*Actually, given the autobiographical elements of Smith is it perhaps a wistful comment on Tolkien's own children that none of them--including Christopher--have received the Star?
Well, I am going to have to disagree with you about Beren and Luthien.

Largely because I was referring to the entire concept of Beren and Luthien, that started with "The Tale of Tinuviel" which we have in BOLT 2. The evolution of the narrative is fascinating. Beren is originally an elf--well, "gnome", or Nordor elf. In Christopher Tolkien's index, under Beren, there are five listings for Beren as man or elf.

In the index to John Garth's "Tolkien and the Great War", there are 10 listings for "Beren (Elf, lover of Tinuviel" and on for Beren as mortal, as befits his extensive analysis of Tolkien's early writing, pp. 261-265.

Ultimately of course Tolkien went for "mortal". But central to the narrative, throughout its evolution, is the essential aspect of the male being enchanted by the elf maid. This is a constant in fairy tales, starting with Thomas the Rymer, whose gift of prophecy is link to his talents as a poet. (This personage and the story belongs to legend, pseudo-history, and medieval verse romance.) Thomas is carried off by the Queen of Elfland but eventually returns to the mortal world with her gift. The story also borrows motifs from the fairy tale Rapunzel, as well as Greek mythology.

What specifically happens through the iterations of their story changes to suit Tolkien's narrative purpose, but the place of the lovers within traditions of fairie remains constant. SoWM seems to pick this up with Smith's dancing with the elf queen. What was one of the astounding developments in the evolution of the tale of Beren and Tinuviel was the increasing strength and power and agency of Luthien, from passive elf girl to woman who is not afraid to use her powers. But that Luthien seems to have disappeared from SoWM and we have Smith alone, who quite surprisingly is given the job of iron monger, as task not previously depicted in the Legendarium as an elvish skill.

But as to the question of autobiographical elements or allegory, it is worth while to recall what Tolkien wrote to Christopher after Edith's death, in Letter #340.

Quote:
For if as seems probable I shall never write any ordered biography – it is against my nature, which expresses itself about things deepest felt in tales and myths
.

So perhaps in SoWM Tolkien was moving away from the very personal aspect of the Beren and Tinuviel narrative and more towards his influences in literary art. I note also that Niggle is a single male while Parish is seen as encumbered with a wife.

There is a new biography of Edith Bratt coming out I think in September from Walking Tree Publishers, "The Gallant Edith Bratt", which provides fascinating new evidence for the influence Edith had in Tolkien's early years of writing.
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Old 07-26-2021, 04:36 AM   #23
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As I have a copy of the extended edition of Smith of Wooton Major(edited by Verlyn Flieger) I can tell you that it was Tolkien himself who suggested this, in a note to Clyde Kilby, 1967. ("Genesis of the story")

In the extended edition, there is a lengthy essay with notes to the story, by Tolkien himself. I am going to read that again and see if I find something more noteworthy...
It all comes back now. Thanks, Guinevere, for that.

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Originally Posted by Legate
But my main beef is with the Smith himself and I would have expected Tolkien to show perhaps a little more, hmmm, empathy, in the sense that: it is awfully unempathetic of the Smith to just go adventuring and leave the family behind.
This story seems autobiographical even if Tolkien would gainsay it. Could it be that Tolkien was partially blind to the 'leaving behind' of his wife and his children? On the other hand, Christopher was deeply involved with Tolkien's creative process, so what of that? Did Ned inherit his father's business? It would be a surprise if he didn't. But that's different from being bequeathed the Star, as Formendacil points out.

But what you have been saying got me to thinking as I began to doze off last night, what if Smith's and Nokes' characters were switched out? What if it had been a Nokes who ate the Star in the cake, and kept the coin instead of giving it to Nell, and then got into all kinds of mischief in Faery? And what if Smith had been Master Cook instead? It would be a different story, and I wonder how much to Tolkien's point?
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Old 07-26-2021, 08:59 AM   #24
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Well, I am going to have to disagree with you about Beren and Luthien.

Largely because I was referring to the entire concept of Beren and Luthien, that started with "The Tale of Tinuviel" which we have in BOLT 2. The evolution of the narrative is fascinating. Beren is originally an elf--well, "gnome", or Nordor elf. In Christopher Tolkien's index, under Beren, there are five listings for Beren as man or elf.

In the index to John Garth's "Tolkien and the Great War", there are 10 listings for "Beren (Elf, lover of Tinuviel" and on for Beren as mortal, as befits his extensive analysis of Tolkien's early writing, pp. 261-265.

Ultimately of course Tolkien went for "mortal". But central to the narrative, throughout its evolution, is the essential aspect of the male being enchanted by the elf maid. This is a constant in fairy tales, starting with Thomas the Rymer, whose gift of prophecy is link to his talents as a poet. (This personage and the story belongs to legend, pseudo-history, and medieval verse romance.) Thomas is carried off by the Queen of Elfland but eventually returns to the mortal world with her gift. The story also borrows motifs from the fairy tale Rapunzel, as well as Greek mythology.

What specifically happens through the iterations of their story changes to suit Tolkien's narrative purpose, but the place of the lovers within traditions of fairie remains constant. SoWM seems to pick this up with Smith's dancing with the elf queen. What was one of the astounding developments in the evolution of the tale of Beren and Tinuviel was the increasing strength and power and agency of Luthien, from passive elf girl to woman who is not afraid to use her powers. But that Luthien seems to have disappeared from SoWM and we have Smith alone, who quite surprisingly is given the job of iron monger, as task not previously depicted in the Legendarium as an elvish skill.
What I find interesting is that Tolkien actually divorces his tale from the usual motifs about how mortals encounter Faery, which is, as you referenced, Faery Abduction, and the examples such as Thomas Rhymer, Tam Lin, or the stealing and replacement of mortal infants with fairies in their cribs (a folk description of stillbirths) are just a few of many.

There are also numerous citations for Breaking Faery Taboo, or mortal incursions on the Faery realm which are punished, like entering a fairy ring or stumbling onto a faery rade or in the case of Rip Van Winkle and the Irish tale of Oisín, where they return to the mortal world aged beyond recall.

Nowhere that I can recall in folklore are mortals gifted an entrance to Faery. That seems more Tolkienesque than true to folklorish motifs.
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Old 07-26-2021, 05:28 PM   #25
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What I find interesting is that Tolkien actually divorces his tale from the usual motifs about how mortals encounter Faery, which is, as you referenced, Faery Abduction, and the examples such as Thomas Rhymer, Tam Lin, or the stealing and replacement of mortal infants with fairies in their cribs (a folk description of stillbirths) are just a few of many.

There are also numerous citations for Breaking Faery Taboo, or mortal incursions on the Faery realm which are punished, like entering a fairy ring or stumbling onto a faery rade or in the case of Rip Van Winkle and the Irish tale of Oisín, where they return to the mortal world aged beyond recall.

Nowhere that I can recall in folklore are mortals gifted an entrance to Faery. That seems more Tolkienesque than true to folklorish motifs.
Of course he would. That's why he's the writer he is and not some and not some second or third string hack or pulp.

What Tolkien does is transform motifs in fairy tales (and elsewhere). In so doing, he does not dismiss fairie but instead expands it. SoWM is all the more intriguing when readers can see how he transforms (and I use that word in a Genette manner) the received tradition.

btw, the gift to mortals from fairies is likely a technical issue. It's not like Tolkien could just have Smith run off and become enchanted with the Fairy Queen and then just saunter home to wife, not after the romance and love of Beren and Tinuviel. The dancing has to be elevated by the Fairy Queen having a Fairy King, a couple who work together to educate the mortal. It also reverses the gift from Thomas the Rhymer, which was given when he departed Fairy.
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Old 07-27-2021, 04:23 AM   #26
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I can't find the quote from one of you, who mentioned Smith's occupation as mere ironmonger. Did Tolkien perhaps choose his occupation because of the possible pun of himself being a 'word-smith?' Reading the descriptions of Smith's faerie-blessed works in that light, it seems that Tolkien may be saying that his own craft of word-smithy was enriched by Faerie. And this could be taken in the sense of his philology as well as being a writer of stories.

To expand upon Guinevere's evidence that the Village Hall and Kitchen and Master Cook are a play on the village church and parson, the reversal of gift draws attention to itself. Gift given without merit, as described in SoWM, is known as grace. It seems to me that Tolkien's description of the King and Queen of Faerie as essentially benevolent cuts across the grain of the tradition of Faerie as well, and in this he seems to follow George MacDonald instead of the larger tradition. Faerie seems to partake of spirituality in some sense. And thus SoWM has in some ways the feel of a parable, not unlike George MacDonald's work.
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Old 07-27-2021, 08:55 PM   #27
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I can't find the quote from one of you, who mentioned Smith's occupation as mere ironmonger. Did Tolkien perhaps choose his occupation because of the possible pun of himself being a 'word-smith?' Reading the descriptions of Smith's faerie-blessed works in that light, it seems that Tolkien may be saying that his own craft of word-smithy was enriched by Faerie. And this could be taken in the sense of his philology as well as being a writer of stories.

To expand upon Guinevere's evidence that the Village Hall and Kitchen and Master Cook are a play on the village church and parson, the reversal of gift draws attention to itself. Gift given without merit, as described in SoWM, is known as grace. It seems to me that Tolkien's description of the King and Queen of Faerie as essentially benevolent cuts across the grain of the tradition of Faerie as well, and in this he seems to follow George MacDonald instead of the larger tradition. Faerie seems to partake of spirituality in some sense. And thus SoWM has in some ways the feel of a parable, not unlike George MacDonald's work.
Well, originally it was Verlyn Vlieger.
Quote:
It is worth noting that while Niggle is an artist, Smith is an artisan, a blacksmith who works with iron, traditionally an element inimical to fayery. That Tolkien should have chosen this medium for his central character I find quirky and perplexing. But then, nobody ever said Tolkien was an easy read. (I certainly never did.)
in her essay which examines many of the contradictions in Tolkien's comments and his writing, https://dc.swosu.edu/mythlore/vol38/iss1/3/.

That edition which Guinevere recommends, the one edited by Flieger, has some very interesting comments from Tolkien about SoWM. I'll quote a few passages which pertain to our discussion, of course with the provisio that I don't think an author's comments necessarily are the last word on his or her art.

Tolkien's essay opens with
Quote:
This short tale is not an 'allegory', though it is capable of course of allegorical interpretations at certain points. It is a "Fairy Story", of the kind in which beings that may be called 'fairies' or 'elves' play a part and are associated in action with human people, and are regarded as having a 'real' existence, that is one in their own right and independent of human imagination and invention. It is cast in an imaginary (but English) country-side, before the advent of power-machinery but at a time when [community prosperity] had begun to have an effect in making many of them vulgarly self-satisfied, and coarser. pp. 111-112
Quote:
While Nell and his daughter Nan were probably themselves elf-friends and even walkers in Outer Fairey, Ned was dependent on his father: he could receive 'Fairey' only through the lore and companionship of the older Smith. p.141
Quote:
But (as in my stories generally) it will be observed that there is no religion. There is no church or temple.... In a story written by a religious man this is a plain indication that religion is not absent but subsumed: the tale is not about religion or in particular about its relation to other things. p. 142
I'm not sure if this helps or hinders us, but it does add piquancy to the soup. And nice punning about wordsmith and a blacksmith.
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Old 07-28-2021, 07:36 AM   #28
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Tolkien

Just a side remark about "mere ironmongers": I am sure we are all aware that smiths and their craft in other Tolkien's works are the most important craft of all, at least in terms of their impact on the world. They are given prominent place. Rings, Silmarils, swords (Andúril)... Fëanor, Celebrimbor AND Sauron. Aulë and his making of the Dwarves gets a separate story and is the closest anybody got to actual creation. In the terminology of Tolkien from On Fairy Stories, Aulë is the subcreator - par excellence. And it is his former Maiar and "apprentices" who are responsible for every great and problematic in Arda's history.

The Silmarils, the Rings... Things of great beauty and power but also of great danger. Just like Faerie itself. It seems to me that it is not a coincidence that it was the Smith who gained the access to Faery. The association of smithcraft and faery appears too often in all his works not to be a pattern.

For clarification, I do not think Tolkien thought the smithing skill to be somehow inherently "magical" like the early-Post-stone-age cultures often did; I simply think that the had that association in his mind, somehow. And that explains why he does not see Iron as the traditionally "anti-faery" metal, but quite the opposite, THE faery metal.
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Old 07-28-2021, 11:28 AM   #29
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I hadn't read The Smith in ages, perhaps never (it was read aloud to me as a child) and I had really no idea what I was getting into. All in all, I quite enjoyed it. Unlike Legate, I wasn't disturbed by the Smith's keeping the Faery to himself because - sorry Professor - I saw the story as deeply allegoric. It seemed to me indeed that you could just as well say that Nell, or Nan, or Ned, or even old Noakes had their own Faery where they could travel and see marvellous things of their own (well maybe Noakes would not be interested, but theoretically). Faery is fantasy, and fantasy is private - even if Tolkien's children visited Middle-Earth with him, it wasn't quite the same place as it was for him. It's not the same for anyone; we all have our private imaginations no one else can ever fully enter. To me, the story is a lot about this.

Also, about how the Smith's extensive journeys in Faery, as wonderful as they are, put a distance between him and the rest of the village, even his family. When he comes home in the end, you can see how his son Ned is relieved that his father will now spend more time with his family and be there for him and teach him things, as well as being there for his daughter and little nephew and his wife. I know Tolkien advocated fantasy as a means of escapism, but this story seems to say, too much is too much. You have to come back to real life, there are people who need you.

All that being said, I loved how faery itself was described. The Elf-Queen, very much like both Goldberry and Galadriel, the Elven party reminiscent of King Thranduil's forest feast, the fearsome Elven warriors with their ships, the magical flowering tree with the fruit... it's all very Middle-Earth, and very beautiful. There are rather unsettling things too, such as the lake that is not made out of water but of stone. Everything in Faery is very atmospheric and it was a joy to read.

Lastly, it is interesting to hear the cooks were an allegory. I have to say I was wondering about them the whole time. I have never heard of a medieval custom of there being a cook in a village that cooks for everyone (in a castle yes, but in a village?), yet that seems to be the arrangement in the village in the Smith. I wonder if there is any historical precedent of this, or if it's simply there for the allegory.
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Old 07-28-2021, 11:47 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
Just a side remark about "mere ironmongers": I am sure we are all aware that smiths and their craft in other Tolkien's works are the most important craft of all, at least in terms of their impact on the world. They are given prominent place. Rings, Silmarils, swords (Andúril)... Fëanor, Celebrimbor AND Sauron. Aulë and his making of the Dwarves gets a separate story and is the closest anybody got to actual creation. In the terminology of Tolkien from On Fairy Stories, Aulë is the subcreator - par excellence. And it is his former Maiar and "apprentices" who are responsible for every great and problematic in Arda's history.

The Silmarils, the Rings... Things of great beauty and power but also of great danger. Just like Faerie itself. It seems to me that it is not a coincidence that it was the Smith who gained the access to Faery. The association of smithcraft and faery appears too often in all his works not to be a pattern.

For clarification, I do not think Tolkien thought the smithing skill to be somehow inherently "magical" like the early-Post-stone-age cultures often did; I simply think that the had that association in his mind, somehow. And that explains why he does not see Iron as the traditionally "anti-faery" metal, but quite the opposite, THE faery metal.
Well argued, Legate.
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Old 07-28-2021, 02:01 PM   #31
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Well argued, Legate.
Thank you.

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Faery is fantasy, and fantasy is private - even if Tolkien's children visited Middle-Earth with him, it wasn't quite the same place as it was for him. It's not the same for anyone; we all have our private imaginations no one else can ever fully enter. To me, the story is a lot about this.
That is very nicely phrased, and absolutely true. That way, I can absolutely get behind it. My personal disturbance stemmed mostly from the fact that I exactly did not read it as allegory - being too much forewarned by Tolkien himself that he absolutely would never write one. You cheated us, Master, yess, yess. Wrote nassty allegoriessess.

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I know Tolkien advocated fantasy as a means of escapism, but this story seems to say, too much is too much. You have to come back to real life, there are people who need you.
On the other hand, I have to point out that this is actually not true. Meaning the first part of the first sentence. Tolkien very much argued against fantasy being escapism in the sense of "running away from the world" and his whole On Fairy Stories is about that. Simply put, he says that one enters fantasy to get refreshed, which has clear benefits for the real world and for interacting with people around you. Also, after coming back to the real world, it enables one to see the world in a slightly different light. Every glade can become the glade where Elves can dance, any everyday object or unremarkable place can become a place of wonder because you have glimpsed their likes beyond the borders of Faery.

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All that being said, I loved how faery itself was described. The Elf-Queen, very much like both Goldberry and Galadriel, the Elven party reminiscent of King Thranduil's forest feast, the fearsome Elven warriors with their ships, the magical flowering tree with the fruit... it's all very Middle-Earth, and very beautiful.
I agree that there are a gazillion similarities. The Elven ship, for one - the only thing remaining is that the Elves should set it on fire and we'd be all set. And the Queen is a ridiculous Galadriel. Unlike those that argued otherwise, I definitely see her as more Galadriel than Goldberry. If you read her description, Goldberry is the merry, unnaturally beautiful but ultimately humble lady, gorgeous as summer itself, but she is only the spirit of one small river. The Queen in Smith is Galadriel, or perhaps more: Melian; but her description is that of Galadriel, all white and radiant. She sees into the Smith's heart, they speak without words (didn't we have the thread on Osanwë somewhere on this forum?).

I concede that she may appear a little more Goldberry-ish when she meets the Smith the first time, but there she also reminds me of just a common, tra-la-la-lley girl from Rivendell. But the second time, she is definitely Galadriel/Melian. Her giving the gift of the strange blossom to the Smith (that they later keep in a box) also reminds me of Galadriel's gift to Sam (also flower - seeds - and also in a box).

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There are rather unsettling things too, such as the lake that is not made out of water but of stone. Everything in Faery is very atmospheric and it was a joy to read.
This actually prompts me to speak about something else that has been on my mind. Just like it has been pointed out, the Smith reflects many of the theoretical themes of Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" in practice. One of these theorems is that the Land of Faery is dangerous. This brings me to another, perhaps not entirely expected (and for some perhaps controversial, but nevertheless undeniable) similarity: to that of H.P. Lovecraft's Dream-Cycle (famously especially in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath").

One Lovecraft's story in particular seems very similar thematically to the "Smith", and that is "The Silver Key". There, the protagonist loses the key to his dreams that he had owned when he was a child, and that allowed him to visit strange places of forgotten beauty and see majestic kings and marvellous vistas. And that land, too, was beautiful yet dangerous.

Lovecraft is obviously one level "darker", I would say: but the border is close. The beautiful places in Lovecraft's Dreamlands are such that could exist in Tolkien's Faery, and the dark places in Lovecraft seem like they might be akin to what is hinted at in Tolkien, where his heroes never go. There is the fundamental difference that Lovecraft can be raw and naturalistic, "ugly" in a way Tolkien never would: he describes things like cannibals, which Tolkien could mention in passing - we know that the trolls wanted to eat the Dwarves, but he would not elaborate. Lovecraft might.

More importantly, despite nearly 100% overlap between the looks and feel of Faery and Dreamlands, there is a fundamental difference, testified already in the name. Lovecraft's Dreamlands are the stuff of dreams that in the worst case turn into nightmares. Dreamlands is not the product of a creative imagination, but the projection of wild subconsious. And the protagonist of "The Silver Key" does not enter the beautiful faraway lands the way the Smith does, there is the use of narcotic substances involved, however poetically described.

Nevertheless, the feel is very similar and I felt like I should point it out. (It is also of note that both writers published around the same time - Lovecraft a little earlier - although I sincerely doubt that there was any mutual influence; more like common influence from other literature that was popular at that time - for instance the abovementioned MacDonald. Some English/American literature experts would probably be able to speak in a more informed manner.)
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Old 07-29-2021, 03:30 PM   #32
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Ned

"You look like a giant, Dad," said his son, who had not spoken before.

The concluding phrase in this sentence seems strange. It sticks out to me. We know that the son had not spoken in this particular conversation before, we can tell ourselves because it's the first time he's given words, obviously. Which leaves me to wonder, is this the first time that this lad has spoken at all? Is this what Tolkien means? If not, fine, but show me how this is not so. If so, why add it to the story? Is the boy's tongue loosened by Faery?
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Old 08-02-2021, 04:38 AM   #33
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"You look like a giant, Dad," said his son, who had not spoken before.

The concluding phrase in this sentence seems strange. It sticks out to me. We know that the son had not spoken in this particular conversation before, we can tell ourselves because it's the first time he's given words, obviously. Which leaves me to wonder, is this the first time that this lad has spoken at all? Is this what Tolkien means? If not, fine, but show me how this is not so. If so, why add it to the story? Is the boy's tongue loosened by Faery?
Rather interesting take. I personally never saw anything strange to it. Exactly quite the opposite: the son's tongue had been "taken away" by Faery in that particular conversation, he was so stupefied by Dad's sudden "glowy" appearance that he could not speak. Only after a long while, he managed to stutter out, or put into words the feeling he had.

That always seemed rather straightforward to me, although one can read it in different ways, just like anything.

Speaking of that particular experience - maybe this is the moment to mention my last strange impression from the whole story, vaguely related to my misgivings about the Smith leaving his family behind while he runs away to have fun in Faerie.

I remember that when I read it the first time, I was somewhat disturbed by the scene where the Smith dances with the Queen. She gives him the flower, then he comes back home and everyone, including his wife, is slightly puzzled. Back then, I wondered whether it was some very suspicious cipher for marital infidelity. The Smith keeps going somewhere away, and when he comes back, his wife asks: "Where have you been? And where did you get this flower?" Which was given to him by another woman. I remember being especially upset on his family's behalf because they clearly had no clue where he had been going and he never told them.

The impression was in my mind combined also with the fact that the Queen flirts (as I had read it) with the traveller, but the King is nowhere to be seen. I think I even interpreted Alf's initially somewhat reserved attitude towards the Smith later on as a way of saying "I know you have been visiting my wife, but I am not saying anything".

To be fair, now that I was rereading it, I did not see it there so much - but it is hard for me to judge it objectively, because the knowledge that I had read it as such still somehow influences my perception of it. I'd be interested if anyone else got a similar vibe. It is quite obvious (especially from the son's discussion as discussed above) that the intent was different, but I wonder whether anyone else got the impression that there is a bit of that in there.
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Old 08-05-2021, 03:46 PM   #34
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I wondered whether it was some very suspicious cipher for marital infidelity.
This never occurred to me before your unpacking of it. After all, Smith, being autobiographical, is a metaphor for 'going somewhere' while not actually going there.

What did it mean for Tolkien to 'go to Faerie?' What does it mean for any of us to do so?

It is not to literally leave our family and go to a far country where we will dally with the folk of that land. Instead, it is to go where our imaginations take us, whether through a book, a painting, some other work of art, some new form of tech, or through our own fantasizing, or writing our own work of fantasy or at least story.

But how is this 'leaving one's family?' As Formendacil said, 'we go there alone.' We can't take others with us into our own heads, into our own imaginations.

And yet, when we 'come back' from wherever we have been, our close family may ask us, 'where have you been to?' - and it is a legitimate question: where have we been in our imagination? Is it a 'place' that can be described? a state of mind that can be related?
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Old 08-08-2021, 11:37 AM   #35
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The Last Word

"He's gone at last! And I'm glad for one I never liked him. He was artful. Too nimble, you might say."

So Nokes gets the last word.

I had thought that it was also that way in 'Leaf By Niggle,' but no, there is a later section after Tompkins, Perkins, and Atkins have their say: the Two Voices have the last word.

So why do you suppose Tolkien gives the last word to Nokes?
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Old 08-08-2021, 03:39 PM   #36
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So why do you suppose Tolkien gives the last word to Nokes?
Perhaps to show that Nokes was so far gone in his own cocksureness and love of comfort that he was simply beyond learning anything from his experience with Smith, who in reality was indeed both his "elder and better".

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Old 08-29-2021, 03:52 AM   #37
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But my main beef is with the Smith himself and I would have expected Tolkien to show perhaps a little more, hmmm, empathy, in the sense that: it is awfully unempathetic of the Smith to just go adventuring and leave the family behind.
Well, perhaps Smith wasn't absent from his family such a very long time. In Tolkien's essay on SoWM I found this interesting detail:

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But it is also necessary that Faery and the World (of men), though in contact, should occupy a different time and space, or occupy them in different modes. Thus though it appears that the Smith can enter Faery more or less at will (being specially favoured), it is evident that it is a land, or world of unknown limits, containing seas and mountains; also it is plain that even during a brief visit (such as one on an evening walk) he can spend a great deal longer in Faery than his absence counts in the world; on his long journeys an absence from home of, say, a week is sufficient for exploration and experiences in Faery equivalent to months or even years
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Old 08-29-2021, 08:03 AM   #38
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Well, perhaps Smith wasn't absent from his family such a very long time. In Tolkien's essay on SoWM I found this interesting detail:

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But it is also necessary that Faery and the World (of men), though in contact, should occupy a different time and space, or occupy them in different modes. Thus though it appears that the Smith can enter Faery more or less at will (being specially favoured), it is evident that it is a land, or world of unknown limits, containing seas and mountains; also it is plain that even during a brief visit (such as one on an evening walk) he can spend a great deal longer in Faery than his absence counts in the world; on his long journeys an absence from home of, say, a week is sufficient for exploration and experiences in Faery equivalent to months or even years
A very interesting idea, in which I see a connection with Lothlórien.
Mortals entering the realms of the immortal briefly partake of the difference the effect of time has upon those who aren't subject to the passing of years.
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Old 08-29-2021, 07:21 PM   #39
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Closer than some might think, because when Tolkien wrote the Lorien chapters, no time passed in the outside world while the Company was in the Naith. When Sam was puzzled by the new moon a week after leaving, and surmised (still in FR) that "it's almost as if we didn't spend no time in there at all," it was literally true: the Fellowship crossed Silverlode on January 14 and left on - January 15.

He changed his mind about this, but not until five years later. Why he did is a mystery; I haven't found any note, scrap or jotting which gives a clue as to his reasons.

It's interesting though that Tolkien seems to have inverted the traditional "time is different in Faerie" trope. Much more usual is that found in everything from Thomas the Rhymer to The King of Elfland's Daughter to Tolkien's own The Sea-Bell: a few days inside equals decades outside, and the poor wanderer emerges to find all his loved ones long in their graves. Even Washington Irving tapped into this- although he has Rip van Winkle sleeping for 20 years rather than feasting in Elfland, it happened because Rip had partied with fay-creatures and passed out for 20 years as a result of drinking their booze.
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Old 08-29-2021, 07:31 PM   #40
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Closer than some might think, because when Tolkien wrote the Lorien chapters, no time passed in the outside world while the Company was in the Naith. When Sam was puzzled by the new moon a week after leaving, and surmised (still in FR) that "it's almost as if we didn't spend no time in there at all," it was literally true: the Fellowship crossed Silverlode on January 14 and left on - January 15.

He changed his mind about this, but not until five years later. Why he did is a mystery; I haven't found any note, scrap or jotting which gives a clue as to his reasons.

It's interesting though that Tolkien seems to have inverted the traditional "time is different in Faerie" trope. Much more usual is that found in everything from Thomas the Rhymer to The King of Elfland's Daughter to Tolkien's own The Sea-Bell: a few days inside equals decades outside, and the poor wanderer emerges to find all his loved ones long in their graves. Even Washington Irving tapped into this- although he has Rip van Winkle sleeping for 20 years rather than feasting in Elfland, it happened because Rip had partied with fay-creatures and passed out for 20 years as a result of drinking their booze.
The same can be said of the Gaelic tale Oisin in Tir na nÓg, when Oisín returns from the Land of the Young after 300 years and has a famous debate with St. Patrick, and Oisín, who becomes ancient and dying once he steps on mortal land, stubbornly refuses to be converted to Catholicism, much to the dismay of Patrick.
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