The Tolkien Reader
Cover of the first edition
|Author||J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Genre||Fantasy short stories, play, essay, poetry|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Pages||xvi, 24, 112, 79, 64 pp (contents separately paginated)|
|Preceded by||Tree and Leaf|
|Followed by||The Road Goes Ever On|
The Tolkien Reader is an anthology of works by J. R. R. Tolkien. It includes a variety of short stories, poems, a play and some non-fiction. It compiles material previously published as three separate shorter books (Tree and Leaf, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil), together with one additional piece and introductory material. It was published in 1966 by Ballantine Books in the USA.
Most of these works appeared in journals, magazines, or books years before the publication of The Tolkien Reader. The earliest published pieces are the poems "The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late" and "The Hoard", both of which were first published in 1923. They were reprinted together with a variety of other poems in the bookThe Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 1962, and the entire book was included in The Tolkien Reader in 1966. The section titled Tree and Leaf is also a reprint. It was published as a book bearing the same name in 1964, and consists of material initially published in the 1940s. The book Farmer Giles of Ham was published in 1949, and unlikeThe Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Tree and Leaf, it did not merge previously published material, although unpublished versions of the story had existed since the 1920s. "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" was first printed in an academic journal in 1953.
The “Publisher’s Note” and “Tolkien’s Magic Ring” are the only works in the book which Tolkien did not write. They are also the only parts of the book which were written in the same year that The Tolkien Reader was published.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the works contained within The Tolkien Reader in different contexts and for different purposes. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil began as a single poem, inspired by a Dutch doll belonging to Tolkien’s son, Michael. Tolkien wrote the poem as a form of entertainment for his children, but by 1934 it had been published in The Oxford Magazine. In October 1961, Tolkien's aunt Jane Neave encouraged him to put together a small book which would have "Tom Bombadil at the heart of it." Tolkien took her advice and a year later Allen & Unwin published The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. It contains both older works, such as "Oliphaunt" (1927), and works written specifically for the book, such as "Tom Bombadil Goes Boating" (1662). The collection has connections to Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings. There are a few points in the trilogy where the main characters recite or sing the poems in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Frodo sings “The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late,” during his stay at The Prancing Pony in Bree, and Samwise recites “Oliphaunt” during a battle. The title character of the poems, Tom Bombadil, appears on several occasions in the series, one time being when he rescues Frodo from the Barrow-wights in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Farmer Giles of Ham, a tale about a “semilegendary England,” grew out of Tolkien’s curiosity about the etymology of place-names, particularly the name “Worminghall.” Like The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, it was originally a story which he told to his children, but which was later published. The year of publication was 1949, the same year that Tolkien finished The Lord of the Rings. It is generally considered to be a light, comical read in which Tolkien “laughs good-humoredly at much that is taken most seriously by his epic.” Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon in Oxford at the time, and scholars assert that Tolkien wrote Farmer Giles of Ham as a mockery of the discipline of philology, which was his area of expertise.
Other works, such as “On Fairy Stories” and “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son” were contributions to academia. Tolkien was a professor of English Language and Literature, and “On Fairy Stories” was initially a lecture, delivered in 1939 at the University of St. Andrews. “Leaf by Niggle,” first published in 1945, is a short story that Tolkien wrote to accompany “On Fairy Stories,” and which some have described as an autobiographical allegory.
“The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son” was a submission for the English Association’s Essays and Studies for 1953, which Tolkien wrote while he was teaching at the University of Oxford sometime before 1945.
Peter S. Beagle's five-part introduction "Tolkien's Magic Ring" serves as an accompaniment to works in The Tolkien Reader. Beagle was familiar with Tolkien's writing, having previously collaborated with Chris Conkling on a screenplay for The Lord of the Rings. In "Tolkien's Magic Ring", which was first published in Holiday Magazine in 1966, Beagle gives the reader a short summary of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
|Title||Publication Date||Publication Location||Content||Type|
|"Publisher's Note"||1966||The Tolkien Reader by Ballantine Publishing Group||An overview of the contents of The Tolkien Reader. A short description is provided for each of the works contained within the book.||Overview|
|"Tolkien's Magic Ring"||1966||Holiday Magazine by Curtis Publishing Co.||An introduction to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien by Peter S. Beagle. It provides short descriptions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.||Introduction|
|“The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son”||1953||Essays and Studies for 1953 by the English Association||I. “The Death of Beorhtnoth”: the events of “Beorhtnoth’s Death” are outlined. Following this is an analysis of the Battle of Maldon, which was fought between the English and the Danes in 991.
II. “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son”: Torhthelm, a poet, and Tídwald, a farmer, go to the battlefield to retrieve the body of their slain master, Beorhtnoth. The men search through the bodies until they have found Beorhtnoth, whereafter they put the corpse on a wagon and travel to Ely. As they approach the abbey of Ely, they hear the monks singing a dirge.
|Tree and Leaf||1964||Tree and Leaf by George Allen Unwin Ltd.||"On Fairy Stories: Tolkien discusses the definition, origin and purpose of fairy stories.
"Leaf by Niggle": a painter named Niggle paints an elaborate picture of a tree. Duties and a journey eventually force Niggle to abandon his painting. A small fragment of the picture - depicting a single leaf - ends up in a museum. Niggle travels to the country of the Tree and Forest, the place which he had painted from afar.
|Farmer Giles of Ham||1949||Farmer Giles of Ham by George Allen Unwin Ltd.||Ægidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo, known colloquially as Farmer Giles of Ham, wakes up to find that a giant has killed his cow. Giles manages to drive the giant away but is later forced to take action again when a dragon attacks the kingdom. Giles manages to build an alliance with the dragon and win his hoard of gold. In the end he builds his own “Little Kingdom”, which he rules over.||Short story|
|The Adventures of Tom Bombadil||1962||The Adventures of Tom Bombadil by George Allen Unwin Ltd.||“Preface”: an introduction to the poems which speculates on the poems’ authorship and historical significance within the imaginary world of Middle Earth. Though Tolkien himself wrote the poems, the preface is written in a way that suggests that he is simply an editor who has compiled the works.
1. "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil": in the Old Forest, at the edge of the Shire, lives Tom Bombadil. He spends his days walking in the meadows, singing, and sitting by the waterside. He interacts with characters such as Goldberry, Willow-man, the Badgerfolk, and Barrow-wight.
2. "Bombadil Goes Boating": Tom Bombadil travels down the river to pay a visit to Farmer Maggot. On the way, he comes across hobbits and woodland creatures, and he speaks to them as he rows past. When he arrives at his destination, the Farmer's family greets him warmly, and they celebrate with singing and dancing.
3. "Errantry": a messenger is distracted from his task by the events that unfold around him. His gondola carries him over many rivers, and when he reaches land he walks aimlessly. During his journey, he meets a butterfly, who he asks to marry him. He eventually returns home and remembers what he had meant to do, but when he sets out once more to deliver his message, he forgets his mission again.
4. "Princess Mee": a lovely young princess dances on the surface of a pool. When she looks down at the water, she sees her reflection dancing with her.
6. "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon": the Moon Man lives in a domain full of silver and jewels, but he longs for the earth, which is warm and colourful. He sets out on a quest to experience the earth's wonders, but on the way he falls into the ocean. He is caught by a fisherman and brought to land. At an inn, he trades his riches for a bowl of porridge.
7. "The Stone Troll": a man meets a troll eating a bone; the man recognises it as his uncle's shinbone. They argue about who the bone belongs to.
8. "Perry-the-Winkle": a lonely troll goes on a journey with the purpose of finding a friend. Those who see him are frightened, but eventually he encounters a hobbit who is willing to have tea with him. The hobbit discovers that the troll is skilled at baking bread, and so he begins to visit the troll very Thursday for tea. The hobbit acquires the recipe for the troll's "cramsome bread", which leads to him gaining a reputation as a great baker.
9. "The Mewlips": the reader is warned not to visit the dangerous creatures known as the Mewlips, who hide in the Merlock Mountains and the marsh of Tode.
10. "Oliphaunt": a creature known as an "Oliphaunt" describes itself as big, old and dangerous.
11. "Fastitocalon": sailors express their fear of the giant sea turtle known as Fastitocalon, who lures travellers to their deaths by pretending to be an island.
13. "Shadow-bride": a shadowless man steals the shadow of a lady who comes near. The lady is thereafter forced to live underground, though one night a year she may come to the surface to dance with the man who took her shadow.
14. "The Hoard": a hoard of treasure is passed from hand to hand; each owner is slain by the one that comes next. The hoard eventually passes into the possession of Night, and is lost underground.
15. "The Sea-Bell": a dreamer finds a white shell on the seashore, and the sound he hears coming from within induces him to sail across the sea. The people, whose voices are the ones he can hear in the shell, make it clear that he is not welcome in their land. He is banished to a forest, where he grows old. He then returns to his own country, but finds that he does not belong there or anywhere else.
16. "The Last Ship”: the mortal woman Fíriel watches a ship leaving Elvenland. She wishes to join the elves in their ship and go to Elvenhome, but because she is a human, she can not. The ship leaves, and Fíriel resumes her daily life.
“On Fairy-Stories” has received both praise and criticism from scholars. Tom Shippey describes the essay as “Tolkien’s least successful if most discussed piece of argumentative prose” and as coming “perilously close to whimsy”. J. Reilly proposes that the essay can be used as a guide for understanding Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings. He makes the case that “the genre and the meaning of the trilogy are to be found in his essay on fairy stories.” Another scholar, Tanya Caroline Wood, calls attention to the similarities between Tolkien’s “Of Fairy-Stories” and Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy. She qualifies both writers as “Renaissance Men,” based on her observation that both of their works demonstrate elements of Renaissance philosophy.
“The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son” has also received scholarly attention. Shippey praises the work, arguing that Tolkien’s interpretation of The Battle of Maldon is one of the few to correctly identify the poem's main message.
In his essay “J.R.R. Tolkien and the True Hero,” George Clark writes about how works like “Homecoming” demonstrate Tolkien’s fascination with Anglo-Saxon literature. He points out what he believes to be an incongruence between Tolkien’s Catholic faith and his obsession with narratives that have “no explicitly Christian references”.
Radio adaptations of Farmer Giles of Ham and Leaf by Niggle were included in the BBC Radio 5 series Tales from a Perilous Realm. The recording was released in 1993. These two works have also been made into theatrical dramatisations in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Among similar collections of Tolkien's minor works are Poems and Stories (Allen & Unwin 1980, illustrated by Pauline Baynes) and Tales from the Perilous Realm (HarperCollins 1997, without illustrations; revised edition illustrated by Alan Lee, 2008).
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