On Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien

I picked up this slim volume for my nephew, 11 years old, thinking that it might make a nice introduction to Tolkien, and of course read it myself first to make sure there wasn’t any pornography in it. It’s a nice fairy tale, although it has nothing do with Hobbits or Rings. There isn’t much to say about the plot except that it involves a few turns that bring Smith in and out of Faery (as I understand it, the spelling signifies the otherworldly realm), and the willing reader with him. The ability to make this journey is given to him as a young boy, and the way it is given is itself an interesting meditation on chance. The story covers most of Smith’s life, and Tolkien has some intriguing ideas about the manner in which gifts and abilities are handed down from one generation to the next. There’s a lot packed into the little story, and yet it reads very easily – at times it resembles the kind of free-form fantasies that George MacDonald wrote. Just the sort of thing for nephews.

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