Revisiting Tolkien Short Stories Part Two: Farmer Giles of Ham


By: Mary Rakas

Farmer Giles of Ham is another old classic written by J.R.R. Tolkien, which was originally published in 1949. Farmer Giles is a gem in the author’s collection of short stories. Fantasy, comedy, colorful characters, and teachable moments come together to create an unforgettable reading experience.

The Cast

The story contains a diverse range of personalities. The characters are a perfect blend of those you might meet in real life and those of a fantastical nature.

Farmer Giles: The reluctant hero of the story, the farmer is an average Joe perfectly happy with the ordinary, everyday life of home.

Garm: Giles’ troublesome dog. He’s good at spreading gossip but entirely useless in fixing the trouble that comes of it. Mostly he tries to wheedle out of bad graces with Giles.

King Augustus Bonifacius: Ruler of the Middle Kingdom whose life goal is to avoid the ‘rustics’ in neighboring villages. They simply aren’t worth the king’s notice.

The mare: Giles’ loyal steed. The horse is arguably the smartest resident of Ham. She uses common sense, and a bit of trickery, to save Giles from an untimely end.

Chrysophylax Dives: The dragon who attacks the village of Ham. He wreaks some havoc, but isn’t quite the villain you would assume.

The narrator: Though not actually taking part in the story, the narrator is so alive as to warrant being listed separately. The narrator is practically a standup comedian, and nearly steals the show from the main characters.

The Comedy

The best part of the book is the comedy. The tale is loaded with snark, sarcasm, smart remarks, and unforeseen plot twists that have the reader laughing aloud. Some of the antics border on the ridiculous, keeping the reader engaged and looking for what happens next.

Though every character has facetious lines, they are most prominent in the narrator. Being the embodiment of humor, the narrator also serves as a bridge, flawlessly linking together the fantasy and entertainment elements with the moral of the story.

The use of the narrator is an ingenious concept. The remarks read as an eyewitness account of the story. The slight personal bias injected into such observations give readers a unique and immensely enjoyable perspective.

The Premise

The quiet days of Giles and Garm are shattered when a lost, nearsighted, deaf giant comes blundering through Ham. According to the narrator’s speculation, the giant has few friends because of his deafness and stupidity.

Garm sees the giant and calls for help. Agatha nonchalantly suggests her husband Giles should drown the dog, but the farmer loads his blunderbuss with random items, shoots the giant (quite by luck) to scare him off, and becomes a local hero in the Middle Kingdom.

The king sends Giles a sword as a way of showing mock appreciation, which he hopes will enable him to stick to his adage of avoiding the village at all costs. Since the sword is out of fashion at court, the narrator describes it as the perfect gift for a ‘rustic.’ With it, of course, comes unexpected trouble. Thinking the village was devoid of residents, the giant spreads a story of unguarded livestock. With a hard winter coming on, the dragon Chrysophylax Dives attacks the Middle Kingdom.

The knights of the king’s court have no desire to help the village. They make excuses, even to the king himself, of why they cannot hunt the dragon. The narrator is much more understanding of the knights’ positions. The narrator vehemently agrees, in tones dripping with sarcasm, with the legitimacy of the excuses.

The villagers push an unwilling Giles into hunting the dragon when they discover his sword once belonged to a legendary dragon-slayer. The miller calls Giles more courageous than knights, to which the villagers respond with an uplifting ‘no.’ The farmer eventually goes, in turn dragging a reluctant Garm along with him.

The dog runs away when he, Giles, and the mare stumble on the dragon. Giles’ sword, Tailbiter, lunges at Chrysophylax, cutting his wing and preventing him from flying. The dragon is chased through the village and cornered, but buys his life with the promise of gold, one he has no intention of keeping. A month goes by and the dragon does not return.

The king takes an interest in Ham so as to usurp the treasure. He claims he deserves it because he’s the suzerain of the mountains, a title the narrator calls debatable. The king forces Giles and a few knights into a second dragon hunt. The parson advises Giles to bring some rope. The farmer decides against using the rope to hang himself and takes it with him for the journey.

Chrysophylax attacks the party and kills some of the knights, but immediately becomes tame upon spotting an unlooked-for Giles. The dragon brokers a new deal, offering to help Giles keep the treasure from the king in return for being able to keep some of his hoard. The farmer agrees. He returns to Ham, ignoring the king’s summons, and shares the treasure among the villagers.

The dragon holds to his words this time. When the enraged king challenges Giles to a duel, Chrysophylax springs from his hiding place and chases him off for good. The farmer later rises to become king himself, and the dragon stays in his service for a few years before being released.

Farmer Giles of Ham is clever, amusing, and whimsical. As with all Tolkien books, it teaches a lesson while providing the reader the highest degree of entertainment. Unlike the king, who is ruled by greed and a callous attitude toward his subjects, Giles, albeit reluctantly at first, helps the villagers when no one else will. He freely shares his wealth, acknowledges the hard work of others, and shows gratitude to those who offered him support. Though not an important person, the farmer uplifts others and is rewarded for it. Farmer Giles continues Tolkien’s trend of demonstrating the importance of even the smallest person.

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