BooksOfTheMoon

Farmer Giles of Ham/The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 3 stars

This volume collects two of J. R. R. Tolkien’s short books:  Farmer Giles of Ham and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. I’ve already read the latter, and have reviewed it under another edition here, so I’ll concentrate on the former here. This is a fairly short story, aimed at a younger audience, about the titular Farmer Giles and how an encounter with a giant led to a series of increasingly heroic events. Even in this short volume, Tolkien can’t resist epic world-building, with the story being a foundation myth for something else (although set in what would become England, and not connected to Middle-Earth at all).

There are some lovely medieval-style “illuminated” illustrations to go along with the story (artist not credited in my edition) which really add to the atmosphere. I can’t say the same about the illustrations with The Adventures of Tom Bombadil though. Those are pixelated and low resolution, which is a shame because the originals (in colour in my other copy) are lovely.

Book details

ISBN: 9780048231253
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin
Year of publication: 1949

The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 5 stars

It’s difficult to know what to say about The Hobbit that hasn’t already been said. I don’t remember now, to be honest, if I read it before I read The Lord of the Rings. I vaguely seem to recall that I did, but that could just be my faulty memory. Certainly, for me, it’s a much simpler, more straightforward tale than its illustrious successor but there’s still a lot to enjoy. Between Bilbo’s hasty departure from Bag End, without even a handkerchief, to the adventure in Mirkwood, the dealings with Smaug and the way that he handles the Dwarven obsession over gold, the story flows swiftly and cleanly. And, of course, the famous ‘riddles in the dark’ with Gollum. Reading it, with the full knowledge of what is to come, that chapter was an especially enjoyable read.

It’s a shame the Dwarves don’t get much in the way of characterisation, or things to differentiate them from each other. I haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s films of the book, but I imagine that must have been a fairly major challenge to fill out thirteen characters. The lack of characterisation is certainly something that’s repeatedly levelled against Tolkien, but it’s not really something that bothers me. Bilbo is our hero and our protagonist. We see the world through his eyes, as he grows and develops during the course of his adventure and I’m happy to leave it at that.

It’s always fun to look out for hints of things to come in the deeper, more complex works as well. Even though it’s only a couple of sentences, there was a thrill to be had in reading about the White Council expelling the Necromancer from Mirkwood, mentions of the fathers of men and the doings of the Dwarves and of Moria.

Definitely a great introduction to Tolkien’s world and one that I shall be distributing amongst my nephlings and children of my friends over the next few years.

Book details

ISBN: 9780395873465
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year of publication: 1937

The Lord of the Rings

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 5 stars

I love The Lord of the Rings. I first read it in my early teens and have re-read it every few years since then. I acknowledge and appreciate the various flaws and weaknesses that it has – being a foundational work of the genre, it’s had more than its share of critical attention – but I will always love it, despite those. Yes, it has effectively no women characters with agency; yes it’s a very conservative book; yes, it portrays entire races as evil and could be regarded as mildly racist, but I still love it.

I love the adventure, I love the world-building, I love the Hobbits and the great love between them (and choose to ignore the modern snark over the relationship between Frodo and Sam). These days, I even love the poetry and Tom Bombadil!

Each time I read the book, I find something new. The latest (2019) read made me aware of just how pastoral Tolkien’s world must have been. He lived in a time where it was perfectly normal to walk for miles a day, across fields and large grasslands because there were no roads. Or, at least, there was a strong collective memory of such a world that he was able to to use to create Middle-Earth. From the urban 21st century, where I would worry about climbing a Scottish hill if there isn’t a clear path, this seems more alien than Orcs, Rings and Nazgul! (Also, everyone in this world always seems to know where north is, and to give and receive cardinal directions without a compass.) The descriptions, especially early in the book, of the Shire, almost make me nostalgic for a world long-gone (almost!).

I’ve never worn the One, but The Lord of the Rings has me in its grasp as surely as the Ring had Gollum.

Book details

ISBN: 9780261102309
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Year of publication: 1955

The Children of Hurin

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 4 stars

This book, condensed from notes and unfinished manuscripts by JRR Tolkien’s son Christopher is set deep in the history of Middle Earth in the First Age in the midst of the Noldor’s war with Morgoth to reclaim the Silmarils. The story is covered in brief form in The Silmarillion but Christopher Tolkien explains in the introduction that, from the start, his father had intended it to be told in greater detail.

Húrin, of one of the three great houses of Men, leads his men, alongside the Elves, in battle against Morgoth in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, which the Elves and Men lose terribly and he is captured. In punishment, Morgoth (who is a god, remember) curses his children and then sets him upon a mock throne and forces him to witness their suffering from afar.

This is pure tragedy from start to finish. Like its Greek counterpart, there is the interference of the gods in the affairs of men, the noble hero who does great things, but with a sting in the tail that turns all his achievements to dust.

The writing feels like Tolkien and once I got over my distrust of any “new” book by a dead author I enjoyed it immensely. It does feel much more like The Silmarillion than The Lord of the Rings and although I’m not hugely familiar with historical epic myths, I suspect that’s what it was closed to in tone, with focuses on particular events in the hero’s life and then a couple of “linking” sentences to indicate that some period of time has passed (in some cases, years).

And that takes me to one little niggle about the book. Well, about the title anyway. Although it’s titled “The Children of Húrin”, the book is mostly about Húrin’s son Túrin, with his daughter Niënor only making an appearance quite late in the book and then to mostly progress Túrin’s plot. That and the huge canvas (with its background being the whole Silmarillion and beyond) meant that I had to make pretty frequent use of the genealogy and glossary of names at the back.

But this is an epic story that feels very much like it was written by JRR Tolkien and only polished a little by other hands. Recommended for Tolkien enthusiasts, but probably not for the casual reader.

Book details

ISBN: 9780618894642
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year of publication: 2007

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 5 stars

A book that I’ve come back to again and again since I first read it in my early teens. Setting the template for everything that was to come after it for so long, it’s a classic of the genre. Hell, it pretty much established the genre! I have come to love so much about this story (I even have a soft spot for Bombadil these days!) including its epic scale, beautifully drawn landscapes and improbable characters.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007123810
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 1955

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of Tolkien’s poetry, in Hobbit style, taken from Bilbo’s Red Book. Only the first two poems refer to Bombadil, the others being general verses from Middle-Earth, and a couple of them are familiar from The Lord of the Rings.

If you like Tolkien’s poetry (and I do), you’ll enjoy these (mostly) simple poems, which can be read quite quickly.

Book details

ISBN: 9780395576472
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Juv)
Year of publication: 1962

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