Poems And Stories, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Admittedly, I had read most of these materials before in other works and while I found them perfectly alright, I was unsure if reading them again would be a bit of a letdown. In general, I found that I received as much enjoyment from these works even having read them before, and one of the stories, “Leaf By Niggle,” struck me as especially poignant because Niggle is a very Nathanish sort of person, a fussy artist who finds doing his duty to his neighbors to be more than a bit of an annoyance and who finds his creativity to be richly rewarded in the world to come. In general, the latter part of the materials are far to be preferred to the beginning materials, and if you can make it through the initial poems there is a lot to be enjoyed here. In fact, if you want a collection of miscellaneous Tolkien writing, and that is always a good thing, this volume makes a fantastic choice for something on one’s library, assuming of course that one likes the shorter writing of Tolkien that is not always connected to the Middle Earth legendarium (although some of this work is so connected, it must be admitted).
The contents of this book fill almost 350 pages and they include both poems and stories as well as some of Tolkien’s writing about them. The first work included is a long poem called “The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil,” a somewhat slight piece of poetry that I did not find particularly enjoyable. Other people may enjoy it more but I consider it a distinctly minor work. After that comes a much more powerful poem, to me, “The Homecoming Of Beohtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son,” which is a melancholy look at the aftermath of the battle of Maldon and a reflection of the grim Anglo-Saxon loyalty to their lords as well as their determination to survive in the face of the Viking onslaught. After this comes the spectacular “On Fairy Stories,” where Tolkien discusses his love for such stories and his thoughts about how they are presented and preserved. Closing this book are three of the exemplary stories of Tolkien, “Leaf By Niggle,” which looks at the life and afterlife of an artist who thought himself a failure only to find his creativity greatly rewarded, “Farmer Giles of Ham,” which is an entertaining look at a commoner hero and his cowardly dog and their adventures in fighting a giant and a dragon, and Smith of Wootton Major, which has an interesting element of fairy to it that I will not spoil.
All in all, these books span a fairly wide set of genres. “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” is clearly comic and lighthearted verse for those who want to read more of the somewhat obscure character from the Lord of the Rings novels. Meanwhile, “The Homecoming Of Beorhnoth…” is an example of poetry that fully belongs with the classics of Old English poetry in its mood and approach. “On Fairy Stories” is an excellent piece of genre criticism. “Leaf By Niggle” is as fine a piece of Christian fantasy as one will ever read, with some definite comparisons to Lewis’ “Til We Have Faces.” The last two stories demonstrate different aspects of fairy tale literature in ways that are pleasing and accomplished. Tolkien was one of those rare but treasured writers who could not only defend a much-maligned genre but also provide some excellent examples of that genre for the reader to enjoy, and that makes this book a cut of above the miscellaneous character that one might assume here. By and large, this is an excellent volume for those who want to read more of Tolkien beyond The Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings.