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Topic: Smith of Wootton Major

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Soldier of Beleriand - Rank 3
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Date: May 26, 2017
Smith of Wootton Major

As I was saying here, I will attempt to start a few topics concerning Tolkien's books that might interest readers. I am posting now a review of 'Smith of Wootton Major', the edition put together by Verlyn Flieger (which I consider the best there is - available on


This book was first published by Allen & Unwin in 1967, in a hardcover edition with illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

 The story talks about the adventures of a man (Smith) in the fabulous land of Faery. The plot is as follows (taken from Wikipedia):





 The edition from this review uses a facsimile of the first edition text, complete with the images by Baynes which make the story all the more delightful. Following the story itself is a short but well-written commentary by Verlyn Flieger, placing the story in a larger context. After this come some texts written by Tolkien himself: an explanation on the beginnings of this story, a rather detailed chronology and genealogy of the characters (things which are not detailed in the story itself, but which, once known, add depth to the text) and also an essay with the same name (Smith of Wootton Major), where Tolkien delves into some of the aspects of the tale: allegory, motifs and character typology. This essay also furthers the knowledge of the story and makes the reader more aware of the deeper layers of understanding which 'Smith...' has. After that comes a reproduction of the first extant version of the text, which was originally written by Tolkien both in typescript and then in manuscript. In this section of the book, Flieger treats the issue in a very elegant way, reproducing the facsimile of the original text on the left page and the transcription on the right page.


 There are some disadvantages with the facsimiles in the last section: since Tolkien used A4 sized paper to write them and the book is roughly in A5 size, it means the reproduction comes across rather small and is pretty hard to read; the second part of the text, which is in manuscript, is even more difficult to make out because of this. On the other hand, a close inspection pays off, because the transcription silently incorporates the changes made to the typescript and manuscript, while on the left page you'll be able to see all corrections made by Tolkien himself (if you can read the small type).


 The final section of the book contains notes: these cover in more detail different issues glossed in the main body of the book (such as names which are just mentioned, or themes, or even language). The only disadvantage with these notes is that they are nowhere signalled in the previous text itself. As such, the reader might not be aware that a certain topic has received a more detailed explanation at the end of the book; and the best solution (albeit somewhat inconvenient) is to glance over the notes when beginning to read each new chapter and see if there are any notes for topics in that chapter, and to what pages they are linked.


 In a nutshell, the quality of the book greatly outweighs the drawbacks, and for a person interested to know more about this little jewel in Tolkien's opus, this edition is perhaps the definitive acquisition.


Here are a few photos of the book:





-- Edited by John Wain on Friday 26th of May 2017 11:38:23 AM

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