Smith of Wootton Major

From Tolkien Gateway
This article is about the story. For the essay of the same name, see Smith of Wootton Major (essay).
Smith of Wootton Major
Wootton Major 1967.png
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
EditorVerlyn Flieger (2005 edition)
IllustratorPauline Baynes
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Released9 November 1967 (UK)
FormatHardcover; paperback

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

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.

Overview[edit | edit source]

The book began as an attempt to explain the meaning of Faery by means of a story about a cook and his cake, and Tolkien originally thought to call it The Great Cake. It was intended to be part of a preface by Tolkien to George MacDonald's famous fairy story The Golden Key.[1] Tolkien's story grew to become a tale in its own right.

Smith of Wootton Major is not connected to the Middle-earth, except by the thematic "Faery" motif of the traveler who journeys to a land that lies beyond the normal world and is usually beyond the reach of mortals. (Smith can thus be likened to Beren in the realm of Thingol, or Eärendil journeying to Valinor, or Ælfwine's visit to Tol Eressëa.)

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

The village of Wootton Major was well known around the countryside for its annual festivals, which were particularly famous for their culinary delights. The biggest festival of all was the Feast of Good Children. This festival was celebrated only once every twenty-four years: twenty-four children of the village were invited to a party, and the highlight of the party was the Great Cake, a career milestone by which Master Cooks were judged. In the year the story begins, the Master Cook was Nokes, who had landed the position more or less by default; he delegated much of the creative work to his apprentice Alf. Nokes crowned his Great Cake with a little doll jokingly representing the Queen of Faery. Various trinkets were hidden in the cake for the children to find; one of these was a star the Cook discovered in the old spice box.

The star was not found at the Feast, but was swallowed by a blacksmith's son. The boy did not feel its magical properties at once, but on the morning of his tenth birthday the star fixed itself on his forehead, and became his passport to Faery. The boy grew up to be a blacksmith like his father, but in his free time he roamed the Land of Faery. The star on his forehead protected him from many of the dangers threatening mortals in that land, and the Folk of Faery called him "Starbrow". The book describes his many travels in Faery, until at last he meets the true Queen of Faery. The identity of the King is also revealed.

The time came for another Feast of Good Children. Smith had possessed his gift for most of his life, and the time had come to pass it on to some other child. So he regretfully surrendered the star to Alf, and with it his adventures into Faery. King of Faery, who had become Master Cook long before, baked it into the festive cake once again for another child to find. After the feast, Alf retired and left the village; and Smith returned to his forge to teach his craft to his now-grown son.

Extended edition[edit | edit source]

In 2005, an extended edition of Smith of Wootton Major was published, edited by Verlyn Flieger.[2]

In addition to editorial notes and commentary, the extended edition includes much material that was previously unpublished, including facsimiles of manuscripts and typescripts of the earlier versions, as well as notes by J.R.R. Tolkien.[3] The edition also includes Tolkien's draft introduction to The Golden Key, a note to Clyde Kilby concerning the story's origins, Tolkien's Time Scheme and Characters concerning the chronology, geneologies, and histories within the story, Tolkien's Suggestions for the ending of the story, and a long essay concerning the nature of Faerie, the politics between Wootton Major and the nearby villages, and the motives of various characters. The edition also contains Tolkien's earlier drafts of the story.

On 26 February 2015, the expanded edition was reissued by HarperCollins as a pocket hardcover, with an additional gallery displaying the illustrations redrawn by Pauline Baynes for appearance in the 1980 deluxe edition of Poems and Stories.[4]

Publication history and gallery[edit | edit source]

Earlier editions
1967 hardcover  
1967 hardcover alternative cover  
1975 hardcover  
1983 paperback  
1990 hardcover  
1990 paperback  
Expanded editions
2005 hardcover  
2015 hardcover  

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
  2. "Smith of Wootton Major. 2005", (accessed 2 March 2015)
  3. Mythus (Verlyn Flieger's website), as of 18 August 2010
  4. "New Book Releases" dated 26 February 2015, Tolkien Collector's Guide (accessed 2 March 2015)
Tales from the Perilous Realm
Farmer Giles of Ham · The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · Leaf by Niggle · Smith of Wootton Major
Roverandom (since 2008) · On Fairy-Stories (since 2008)
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