Farmer Giles of Ham

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"Farmer Giles of Ham" is a Medieval fable written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1937 and 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 a fantasy Great Britain of long ago, with mythical creatures, medieval knights, and primitive firearms. It is only tangentially connected with the author's Middle-earth legendarium: both were originally intended as essays in "English mythology".

The book was originally illustrated by Pauline Baynes. The story has appeared with other works by Tolkien in omnibus editions, including The Tolkien Reader and Tales from the Perilous Realm.

Contents

Plot summary

Farmer Giles (Ægidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo, "Giles Bronze-beard Julius Farmer from Ham") 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 recognizes the danger, and resents being sent along to face it. But hapless farmers can be forced to become heroes, and Giles shrewdly makes the best of the situation.

Linguistic humour

Tolkien, himself a linguist, sprinkled several linguistic 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 for Oakley, Buckinghamshire, near to Thame.

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