Farmer Giles of Ham is a short story written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1937, first published in 1949.
The story describes the encounters between Farmer Giles and a wily dragon named Chrysophylax, and how Giles manages to use these to rise from humble beginnings to rival the king of the land. It is cheerfully anachronistic and light-hearted, set in Britain in an imaginary period of the "Dark Ages", and featuring mythical creatures, medieval knights, and primitive firearms. It is only tangentially connected with Middle-earth.
The book was originally illustrated by Pauline Baynes. The story has appeared with other works in compilations, including The Tolkien Reader, Poems and Stories, and Tales from the Perilous Realm.
Farmer Giles is not a hero. He is fat and red-bearded and enjoys a slow, comfortable life. But a rather deaf and short-sighted giant blunders on to his land, and Giles manages to ward him away with a blunderbuss shot in his general direction. The people of the village cheer: Farmer Giles has become a hero. His reputation spreads across the kingdom, and he is rewarded by the King with a sword named Caudimordax ("Tailbiter")—which turns out to be a powerful weapon against dragons.
The giant, on returning home, relates to his friends that there are no more knights in the Middle Kingdom, just stinging flies—actually the scrap metal shot from the blunderbuss—and this entices a dragon, Chrysophylax Dives, to investigate the area. The terrified neighbours all expect the accidental hero Farmer Giles to deal with him.
The story parodies the great dragon-slaying traditions. The knights sent by the King to pursue the dragon are useless fops, more intent on "precedence and etiquette" than on the huge dragon footprints littering the landscape. The only part of a 'dragon' they know is the annual celebratory dragon-tail cake. Giles by contrast clearly recognises the danger, and resents being sent with them to face it. But hapless farmers can be forced to become heroes, and Giles shrewdly makes the best of the situation.
Tolkien, by profession a philologist, sprinkled several philological jokes into the tale, including a variety of ingeniously fake etymologies. Almost all the place-names are supposed to occur relatively close to Oxford, along the Thames, or along the route to London. At the end of the story, Giles is made Lord of Tame, and Count of Worminghall. The village of Oakley, burnt to the ground by the dragon early in the story, may also be named after Oakley, Buckinghamshire, near to Thame.
50th anniversary edition
The 50th Anniversary Edition was published in 1999, edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond.
This edition reproduces the text and illustrations of the First Edition of 1949 in facsimile, including the colour plates. It also includes: an introduction and notes by the editors, the first written (manuscript) version of the story, drafts for an unfinished sequel, and a map of 'The Little Kingdom' by Pauline Baynes.
In 2009, the 60th Anniversary Editon was published, limited only to 500 copies. It has the same content as the 50th Anniversary Editon.
Publication history and gallery
- Earlier editions
1975 large print edition
- 50th Anniversary and later editions
2009 limited edition
2014 edition (pocket)