Farmer Giles of Ham is a minor work written by JRR Tolkien, one of the most well-known and beloved writers of the twentieth century.
Farmer Giles of Ham was written in 1946-47 and published by George Allen & Unwin in 1949, in a rather limited print run. At that time Tolkien was still working on his great epic The Lord of the Rings, the first book of which would not be published until 1954.
Farmer Giles of Ham is a much shorter and more lighthearted story, and one can assume that it may have been a welcome temporary break from the more serious work of The Lord of the Rings.
Unlike many of Tolkien’s other early works, Farmer Giles is completely unrelated to his “Middle Earth” mythology of writings, such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
The narrative is set in a rather fantastic pre-medieval England, “after the days of King Coel maybe, but before Arthur and the Seven Kingdoms of the English” (FGOH p. 67). It concerns the exploits of a Farmer Giles, who lives in the rural village of Ham, and the dragon Chrysophylax Dives, “cunning, inquisitive, greedy, well-armored, but not overly bold” (FGOH p. 89).
The plot covers some familiar Tolkienesque ground, including mythical creatures, the heroic actions of those forced into dangerous situations, and an exploration of linguistic roots – “the light that it throws on the origins of some difficult place names” (FGOH p. 66).
Tolkien had a high regard for “Fairy Tales” and mythology, and the narrative contains elements of both. The tone of the story is often light and humorous, reminiscent in many ways of The Hobbit.
I will not go into plot detail here and ruin the story for those who have not read it. While Farmer Giles of Ham may not satisfy the hunger of those looking for more of Tolkien’s Middle Earth writings, it is in itself a tiny gem of a fairy tale, complete with the wit, beauty, and attention to detail that made Tolkien’s more famous works so wonderful.
Farmer Giles of Ham is often published in an omnibus edition with Smith of Wootten Major, another of Tolkien’s lesser known “fairy tales”.