Farmer Giles of Ham, by J R R Tolkien

Review published on December 31, 2012.Reviewed by J J Redfearn

It has recently come to my attention that AEgidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo, or AEgidius de Hammo as he was known, though not perhaps by the village miller, has somehow been omitted from the lists of ancient English Kings. The red-bearded Giles, his name as rendered into English from the original Latin, was a farmer and had a dog. He lived in the Thames valley, or more properly the Tame valley, in the times after the Romans but before Arthur.

Garm, his poorly educated dog, could not speak Latin but only the common tongue, and liked to go exploring by night. One night he fell in with a rude and uncultured giant that accidentally trod on poor Galathea, Giles’ favourite cow, and squashed her flat. To cut a short story shorter, Garm the terrified roused Giles, skillfully avoided the bottle Giles hurled at him from the window for making so much noise deep in the night, and Giles nervously saw off the giant.

The king sent Giles a nice letter and a dusty old sword to reward him for his brave action. The giant, not in fact knowing he’d been seen off, went home and told everyone about the lovely rich farmland he’d visited. Word reached Crysophylax Dives. Crysophylax the Rich, from an ancient dragon lineage, cunning, greedy, well-armoured and very, very hungry. Crysophylax went visiting.

Shortening the tale yet further, Giles searched and searched and strived and strived to find good reasons, any reason would have done really, why it was quite impossible for him to ignore his responsibilities and go to seek the dread dragon. The helpful miller ensured that all objections were overcome and Giles, a trifle reluctantly, went dragon hunting. On his old grey mare who, with an inkling of what was coming, became lamer and lamer as the hunt progressed. With his dusty sword Caudimordax, Tailbiter, the sword that would not stay sheathed when a dragon was near.

The rest is history. Giles overcame Crysophalax, took some of his treasure and went home. The king wasn’t best pleased, he’d have liked the treasure himself, but what can a king do when faced by a stout and obstinate farmer, his talking dog and a fiery great dragon? Run away seemed like the best bet.

Tolkein at his very, very best.


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