In addition to his epic "Lord of the Rings" and the surrounding mythology, JRR Tolkien wrote a lot of brief, often light little fantasy novellas.And if "Lord of the Rings" is a seven-course meal, "Farmer Giles of Ham" (in the vulgar tongue) is a pleasant little hors-d'oeuvre whose flavour lingers on the tongue. Tolkien wrote this in a charming, arch style, and seems to have had fun subverting some of the fantasy cliches that he helped create -- particularly that of the dragonslaying hero and the dragon he must deal with.Aegidius de Hammo (or in the "vulgar tongue," as Tolkien archly tells us, Farmer Giles of Ham) is a pleasant, not-too-bright farmer (a bit like Barliman Butterbur) who leads a fairly happy, sedate life. Until the day his excitable dog Garm warns him that a giant (deaf and very near-sighted) is stomping through and causing mayhem. Giles takes out his blunderbuss and takes a shot at the giant, and inadverantly drives him off.Naturally, Giles is hailed as a hero. Even the King is impressed, and sends him the sword Caudimordax (vulgar name: Tailbiter), which belonged to a dragonslaying hero. By chance, the not-so-fierce dragon Chrysophylax Dives has started pillaging, destroying and attacking the nearby areas. Can a not-so-heroic farmer drive off a not-so-frightening dragon?"Farmer Giles of Ham" is one of those Tolkien stories that seems to be aimed at very literate kids, or adults who haven't lost that taste for very British, arch whimsy. It's a fast, fun little adventure story with blundering giants, greedy dragons and unlikely heroes. It's not epic and it's not deep, but it is entertaining -- especially since Tolkien expertly blends the whole high fantasy thing with a wicked sense of humour ("if it is your notion to go dragonhunting jingling and dingling like Canterbury Bells, it ain't mine").Particularly, Tolkien seems to be gently mocking medieval fables, both as a linguist (the "vulgar tongue" comments) and as a storyteller (he young dragons exclaiming that they always knew "knights were mythical!"). Most particularly, he seems to be mocking the classic heroes who slay dragons or giants, mainly by making both heroes and monsters not quite as threatening as expected. He inserts plenty of humorous anachronisms (the blunderbuss) and clever in-jokes (Caudimordax, a sword which is incapable of being sheathed if a dragon is within five miles of it).Farmer Giles is a pretty fun character -- he's presented as a fairly ordinary, common-sensical person called upon to do some bizarre and extraordinary things... so, basically a typical Tolkien hero, although he has a talking dog that keeps causing trouble for him. His enemy Chrysophylax is in a sense his opposite, being " cunning, inquisitive, greedy, well-armoured, but not over bold." He's kind of like a funny version of Smaug, minus the destruction of cities."Farmer Giles of Ham" is a charming little chunk of Tolkien's minor work -- a relentlessly wry, clever little fantasy story about a most unlikely hero. Enchanting (in the vulgar tongue).
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