Not being one of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth stories, Farmer Giles of Ham is a small adventure fable about an unexpected hero in the reluctant farmer Giles who lives in the middle of Britain in a small town Ham with his wife and dog. Although set in Medieval Britain, it is a fantasy story featuring giants, dragons, and a magic sword.
Farmer Giles tries to live a comfortable life, with a goal to do as little as possible. One night, his talking dog Garm, after being out and about warns Giles about a giant who has accidently stepped on Giles’ cow, causing her death. Giles is encouraged to take care of the giant and brings his blunderbuss. He shots the giant (who is nearsighted and deaf) and hits him in the face. The giant leaves.
Following this the people of the village Ham celebrates their local hero. Even the King who lives in the capital is impressed and sends an old sword as a gift to Giles. The situation is all good until a dragon arrives in the area, a week before Christmas. The villagers encourages Giles to go after the dragon since none of the king’s knights will do it, but the farmer is reluctant and claims he will do it after his chores at home are done. After some persuation and the manufacture of a rough hauberk (iron rings of various sizes sown onto leather) Giles rides to meet the dragon. He is not tricked by the dragon and eventually hunts him towards the village, exhausting the dragon. Even though the plan was to kill the dragon, the dragon persuades the villagers that if they let him live, he will recompense them with his treasure. They give him seven days to return with the treasure. The dragon, Chrysophylax Dives, does not return however.
The King, who wants the treasure sends a party of knights, accompanied by Giles, to find the dragon among the wild hills and retrieve the treasure. The dragon kills the majority of knights. Giles however, manages to bully the dragon into giving him a big part of the treasure. The dragon is then escorted, carrying parts of the treasure, to the village Ham. Giles reputation grows substantially the following years and with the treasure he is able to become a sort of lord. The dragon lives there for a time, being tame under Giles’ supervision, but is eventually allowed to return to his cave and the remaining treasures.
Characters to note
- Farmer Giles – The main character, full name Aegidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo.
- Garm – Giles’ talking dog, who is very afraid and impressed by his owner.
- Agatha – Wife of Giles.
- The King – Namned Augustus Bonifacius Ambrosius Aurelianus Antonius Pius, who wants the dragon treasure himself.
- The Giant – A nearsighted and deaf giant who happen to stroll into the Middle Kingdom.
- Chrysophylax Dives – The Dragon villain
- The Grey Mare – Giles’ horse
- The Blacksmith – Called Sunny Sam, who is quite the pessimist.
- The Parson – Friend of Giles, encourages him to fight the dragon.
- The Miller – Friend of Giles, they’re called bosom enemies.
Features to note
- Ham – The village where Giles lives
- Caidumorax/Tailbiter – the magic sword. Leaves its sheath when a dragon is nearby
I’ve only read Farmer Giles of Ham once before, and that time in Swedish, over ten years ago. So it has been very nice to read the English original text. In my 2014 edition of Farmer Giles the first manuscript version of the tale is also published along with the beginning of a sequel. I will not comment on those here, but I encourage Tolkien fans to read those as well!
This story is quite fun and interesting concerning the aspect of the characters: none of the characters is very sympathetic. The character who influences the events in the book the most are the giant, who by his mere presence gives Giles the opportunity to become a hero, and it is also the words of the giant that leads the dragon to arrive in the area where Giles live. The giant is naive and has no ill intentions in the course of the story, he simply cannot pericieve the world very well, and therefore cause mayhem and provides doubtful information to others. I found the story compelling, because you are not really rooting for anyone in particular.
Have you read this story? Please comment and tell me what you think of it and if you have anything to add!