Farmer Giles of Ham

"Farmer Giles of Ham" is a short story written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1937 and published in 1949. The story describes a series of encounters between Farmer Giles and a wily dragon named Chrysophylax. It is set in a fantasy Great Britain of long ago, which has mythical creatures, medieval knights, and primitive firearms; it is not connected to the author's Middle-earth legendarium, apart from the fact that Middle-earth is distantly connected to Great Britain (see The Book of Lost Tales), as both this and Middle-earth are intended to be "English mythology". It is happily anachronistic, and is more like a folk-tale than the sweeping epics which Tolkien is better known for.

The book was originally illustrated by Pauline Baynes.

Plot summary

Farmer Giles (or Ægidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo) was not a hero. He was fat and red-bearded and enjoyed a slow, comfortable life. One day a rather deaf and short-sighted giant blundered on to his land. Farmer Giles managed to scare him away with a blunderbuss shot in its general direction. The people of the village cheered: Farmer Giles was a hero. His reputation spread far and wide across the kingdom. Giles was rewarded by the King of the Middle Kingdom, with a sword named Caudimordax or "Tailbiter", a powerful weapon against dragons.

The giant reports to its monstrous friends that there are no more knights, just stinging flies (actually scrap metal from Giles' blunderbuss), in the Middle Kingdom. This prompts a dragon, Chrysophylax Dives, to investigate the area — and everyone turns to the accidental hero Farmer Giles to deal with it.

The story makes light of the great dragon-slaying traditions. The knights who are supposed to do the job are useless fops more intent on "precedence and etiquette" than on noticing huge dragon footprints littering the landscape; the only 'dragon' they ever see is in the form of an annual cake. Giles is also an interesting commentary on how people react to danger. Heroes aren't simply called for: they are demanded, and hapless farmers can be forced to become heroes.

The Latin names and references imply that Giles is a Briton, a late generation remnant of the old empire after the decline of the western authority of the Romans. All the Giles place-names are supposed to occur relatively close to Oxford, along the Thames or on the route from London to Oxford.

Among the jokes is a question put to "the four wise clerks of Oxenford" (a reference to Chaucer's Clerk; Tolkien had worked for Henry Bradley, one of the four main editors of the Oxford English Dictionary), regarding the definition of blunderbuss,
A short gun with a large bore firing many balls or slugs, and capable of doing execution within a limited range without exact aim. (Now superseded, in civilised countries, by other firearms.)
and then satirizes by applying it to the situation at hand,
However, Farmer Giles's blunderbuss had a wide mouth that opened like a horn, and it did not fire balls or slugs, but anything that he could spare to stuff in. And it did not do execution, because he seldom loaded it, and never let it off. The sight of it was usually enough for his purpose. And this country was not yet civilised, for the blunderbuss was not superseded: it was indeed the only kind of gun that there was, and rare at that.


Farmer Giles of Ham is sometimes published in an omnibus edition with Smith of Wootton Major, another Tolkien novella with illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

Chrysophylax Dives

Chrysophylax Dives is the comically villainous dragon in the classic story Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien. He stands halfway between the classical evil and greedy dragon, such as Smaug, and the modern comical and peaceful dragon, such as The Reluctant Dragon. His name means "Goldward the Rich." His first name, Chrysophylax (Χρυσοφυλαξ), is Greek for "Guardian of Gold," and his last name, Dives, is Latin for "rich".

The dragon's personality is portrayed as similar to a pompous aristocrat--rather vain and arrogant but not actually malicious. Farmer Giles tends to treat him in a manner not unlike Robin Hood's treating the rich men he robbed.

Caudimordax

Caudimordax is the Latin name of "Tailbiter", the sword in J.R.R. Tolkien's short story Farmer Giles of Ham. In the story, the sword cannot be sheathed when a dragon comes within five miles of its bearer's presence. Four generations earlier, the sword belonged to Bellomarius, "the greatest of all the dragon-slayers" in the story's Middle Kingdom. Farmer Giles, the eponymous hero of the story, is rewarded with the antiquated sword--at the time of the story an unfashionable antique--when he wards off a giant from his fields with his blunderbuss. He later uses the sword to capture and control the dragon Chrysophylax Dives.


J. R. R. Tolkien
Bibliography
Fiction: Songs for the Philologists (1936) • The Hobbit or There and Back Again (1937) • Leaf by Niggle (1945) • The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (1945) • Farmer Giles of Ham (1949) • The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son (1953) • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), The Return of the King (1955) • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962) • The Road Goes Ever On (1967) • Tree and Leaf (1964) • The Tolkien Reader (1966) • Smith of Wootton Major (1967)
Posthumous publications : The Father Christmas Letters (1976) • The Silmarillion (1977) • Unfinished Tales (1980) • Bilbo's Last Song (1990) • The History of Middle-earth (12 Volumes) (1983–1996) • Roverandom (1998) • The Children of Hrin (2007) • The History of The Hobbit (2007)
Academic works : A Middle English Vocabulary (1922) • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (trans. 1925) • Some Contributions to Middle-English Lexicography (1925) • The Devil's Coach Horses (1925) • Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meihad (1929) • The Name 'Nodens' (1932) • Sigelwara Land parts I and II, in Medium Aevum (1932-34) • Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve's Tale (1934) • (1937) • The Reeve's Tale: version prepared for recitation at the 'summer diversions' (1939) • On Fairy-Stories (1939) • Sir Orfeo (1944) • Ofermod and Beorhtnoth's Death (1953) • Middle English "Losenger": Sketch of an etymological and semantic enquiry (1953) • Ancrene Wisse: The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle (1962) • English and Welsh (1963) • Introduction to Tree and Leaf (1964) • Contributions to the Jerusalem Bible (as translator and lexicographer) (1966) • Tolkien on Tolkien (autobiographical) (1966)
Posthumous publications : Finn and Hengest (1982) • The Monsters and the Critics (1983) • Beowulf and the Critics (2002)
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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street, Oxford. Source: J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter.
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Smith of Wootton Major

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Author J. R. R. Tolkien
Illustrator Pauline Baynes
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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street, Oxford. Source: J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter.
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SMAUG (Simulated Medieval Adventure Multi-User Game) is a Merc and DikuMUD derived MUD online game program. (Not to be confused with the dragon Smaug found in J. R. R. Tolkien's fiction, which did inspire the backronym.
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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street, Oxford. Source: J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter.
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