Goodreads: Farmer Giles of Ham
Farmer Giles of Ham lives a life of happy contentment until the day a giant blunders into his fields. Then suddenly he’s a local hero for getting rid of the fellow. Farmer Giles enjoys the attention well enough, but he is less pleased to find the villagers now expect him to deal with all the neighborhood monsters. When a dragon wanders into the vicinity, Giles puts on his homemade armor and ventures forth to slay the beast, but there may be more than one way to deal with a dragon.
Farmer Giles of Ham may come as a bit of surprise to those familiar with Tolkien only as a writer of epic fantasies. Rather than celebrate the glories and heroics of a bygone era, it subjects knights, battles, monsters, and even Tolkien’s beloved high language to some good-natured ridicule. It is a playfully anachronistic tale offered to readers in a spirit of fun and not above seemingly laughing a bit at the author (and his fancies) a bit as well.
The title is the first suggestion that this is not the fantasy you might have been expecting from the author of Middle-earth. Immediately it positions a humble farmer, more fond of drink and hearth than of quests, as the hero. And he is no Hobbit. Somewhat lazy and a bit cowardly, Farmer Giles does not show forth many positive traits when put to the test, though he is shrewd enough to wriggle his way out from some tight spaces. Indeed, one gets the sense that he does nothing without seeing some benefit, so that even when he acts kind or generous there is not much temptation to admire him. All of this combines to form an extremely clever ‘anti-knight’– a man base-born, selfish, and afraid who yet manages to save the day.
Other unexpected, but hilarious, elements include the knights who keep excusing themselves from facing the dragon, the king who carelessly gives away family heirlooms, and the dragon who is wily but desires desperately to avoid giving battle. In fact, just about everyone in this tale comes across as silly, selfish, arrogant, and cowardly–and it is a magnificent arrangement. The classic knight vs. dragon tale becomes a satire and the laughter never ends. And, just to keep things Tolkienian, the story inserts some language jokes, as well.
Farmer Giles of Ham is a lighthearted tale sure to amuse and entertain not only fans of Tolkien but also lovers of all things fantastical, medieval, and pseudo-historical. The original illustrations by Pauline Baynes add to the charm, bringing the characters to life in all their ridiculousness. Altogether, reading this story is the perfect way to spend an hour or two.