Tolkien Gateway

Smith of Wootton Major

Revision as of 19:20, 23 July 2007 by Narfil Palùrfalas (Talk | contribs)
Smith of Wootton Major
Smith of Wootton Major (edited by Verlyn Flieger).jpg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien, Verlyn Flieger
PublisherHarperCollins
ReleasedSeptember 5, 2005
FormatHardcover
Pages160
ISBN0007202474

Smith of Wootton Major, first published in 1967, is a short story by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Contents

Background

The book grew out of an attempt to explain the meaning of Faery by means of a brief story about a cook and his cake. This would have been part of a preface by Tolkien to George MacDonald's famous faerie story The Golden Key. But the story grew from there and became a tale in its own right.

The book was originally called "The Great Cake", but the title was changed to "Smith of Wootton Major" in an attempt to suggest an early work by P.G. Wodehouse.

The story was first published in the Christmas edition of Redbook magazine, New York on # 23 November 1967 but without the illustrations by Pauline Baynes that appeared in the published book.

It is not definitely connected to the Middle-earth legendarium. Both Faery and Valinor are lands outside of the normal world, but Valinor cannot normally be visited by mortals. There are lesser elven kingdoms that humans can visit and return: Faramir mentions visitors to Lorien.

It is sometimes published in an omnibus edition with "Farmer Giles of Ham", another Tolkien novella with illustrations by Pauline Baynes. The two stories are not obviously linked, though an ingenious person could devise a common framework.

The story

The village of Wootton Major is well-known around the countryside for its annual festivals, which are particularly famous for their culinary delights. The biggest festival of them all is the Feast of Good Children. This festival is celebrated only once every twenty-four years, and the celebrations take the form of a party to which twenty-four children of the village are invited. The highpoint of the party is the Great Cake, which is remarkable for its hidden magical ingredients. Whoever swallows one of these is given the rare gift of an entry into the Land of Faery.

This year the magic star hidden inside the Great Cake was eaten by a blacksmith's son. The boy did not feel any of its magical properties at once but on the morning of his tenth birthday the star fixed itself on his forehead and marked him as one intimate with the Faeryfolk. This boy grew up to be a blacksmith like his father, but in his free time he roamed into the Land of Faery. The star on his forehead protected him from the evils threatening mortals in that land, and the Folk called him Starbrow and told him about their land and its hidden beauties and dangers.

The years passed and it was now time for another Feast of Good Children. Smith had had his precious gift for most of his life now and the time had come for it to be passed on to some other child. So he gave up the star, and the mysterious new Master Cook baked it into the festive cake once more.

Funny, frightening and always fascinating, the book is in part dominated by the character of the earlier Master Cook, a shallow, sly and lazy man called Nokes. He is the foremost among the non-believers, and dismisses all things magical as mere dreams and fancies. In the end it is he who meets the King of Faery and who is told off by him for his greed and indolence.

Genealogy

There is a great amount of genealogical information in the story.

                     Master Cook Rider
                            |
                  Smith  = <:>       __________________
                         |           |                |
                  Smith Smithson = Nell              <:> = Master Cook Nokes
       __________________________|________               |
       |                                 |               |
Tom = Nan                        Ned Smithson     Nokes of Townsend
    |                                                    |
 Tomling                                           Tim of Townsend

The Critical Edition

The most recent edition of Smith of Wootton Major is a critical edition prepared by Verlyn Flieger and published in 2005.

It includes much material that was hitherto unpublished, including fac-similes of manuscripts and typescripts of previous versions, new essays (especially one dealing with the background of the story and the nature of Faëry) and notes by J.R.R. Tolkien, a list of characters, a chronology, ...