Smith of Wootton Major by JRR Tolkien

ARTWORK by chic2view from

(mild spoilers)

The moment I saw the bitesize book prompt in an enchanted forest month, I immediately bookmarked it in my mind for JRR Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major.

This novella covers the life of a man named, well, Smith. Smith Smithson. He lives, shockingly enough, in a village called Wootton Major, and receives something that lets him visit the forested realm of faerie. The novella recounts some of the wonders he sees there, briefly but evocatively, as well as the inevitable end to these journeys.

That’s it really. That’s the book. I haven’t done it much justice but you see that thing saying mild spoilers? Well, that’s not the point. The point is why did I immediately think of doing this and how do I do justice to that?

Fantasy is fundamentally about how we deal with the things we do not comprehend on meeting – love, hate, death, war, change and so on – made more entertaining and powerful through taking on the clothes of things that are simultaneously incomprehensible and known bone-deep; impossible myths. Can you write a fantasy that ignores that? Yes, but you’ll find you did it anyway.

Smith of Wootton Major cuts deep to the very core of that while presenting a lyrical, enchanted story. The simplicity of the story doesn’t work for everyone, but it does make it very easy to imagine living this story yourself. Some days I read it but can’t, but on the days I can, it’s as magical as anything. And who doesn’t wish to wander the enchanted woods? Don’t you wish to see the wonders great and small, even though you know it can’t last forever?

You can of course though. You can live as full, as self-enchanted a life as possible. You’ll certainly find the rest of it happening, regardless of what you do, so why not? I think even if you knew nothing of the story behind the book, you’d know this was a story from an old soul who’d lived quite the life. Which Tolkien had. I don’t know whether he knew this would be the last book published in his lifetime, but I suspect he suspected. There is something in the air of Prospero’s closing speech here.

I don’t really hold with the idea of must read books. Here, I am prepared to walk on the borders of that if you can borrow it. It’s so short, easy to read, and human that it’ll cost you little more than the effort of getting it, and if the cost is nothing I think you’ll find the effort worth it. It mightn’t do all that much for you but I suspect one day, one day this journey through the enchanted forest will make all the sense in the world to you.

And if not, it’s a charming little story.

4 thoughts on “Smith of Wootton Major by JRR Tolkien

    1. I only found out about the annotated version when doing this post – my copy is from 1990 – but yes, I very much want to find that version some day.


      1. I know about the annotated version because the Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger is the editor, and I looked up everything she wrote after reading _Splintered Light_, which is excellent. I haven’t actually bought this one yet, though. She’s also one of the editors for the annotated On Fairy Stories. I still need to get a copy of that one, too.

        Liked by 1 person

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