This slender novella was one of Tolkein’s last works that he saw published during his lifetime. It is a cross-generational fable about creativity, fortune, and loss. It is very effective when read aloud; I had the pleasure of having it read to me by my Other Reader over the course of three sittings.
Smith is unoriginal in the best possible way for a modern fairy-tale. I was reminded strongly of Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, but some of the episodes in Faery in the middle of the book exhibit the sort of psychedelic reverie that I associate more with the work of George MacDonald. Sure enough, the wikipedia article on Smith of Wootton Major gives Tolkein’s story its origin in an attempt at a preface to MacDonald’s “The Golden Key.” Tracing the line of influence the other direction, I believe that Susanna Clarke must have read this book.
The Pauline Baynes illustrations are lovely, and really capture the spirit of the thing. [via]
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