This story grew out of a foreword to George McDonald’s story “The Golden Key”. Tolkien intended to explain the concept of “fairy” and ended up creating a story. It developed into its own tale about the connection between the humans and the faery.
Every twentyfourth year a grand festival, the Feast of Good Children, is held in the village Wootton Major. The biggest event of the feast is the Great Cake which is to be shared by the selected children attending this feast. It is the Master Cooks who bake the cake. When this story starts, the Master Cook has recently left the village with only a young, newlycome apprentice (named Alf) to handle things, so the village selects grumpy villager Nokes as Master Cook. Together they make the Great Cake. Added to the cake is a magical star which is swallowed by the Smith’s son.
When the boy turns ten, the star place itself on his forehead. The magical abilities of the star lends him a connection to the folk of faery and when he is not working as a blacksmith, he is traveling the land and is granted access to the land of faery. He is protected from harm. The people there calls som Starbrow. He meets the Queen of Faery who asks him to tell the King that “the time is come”. Smith do not understand this completely.
A new Feast of Good Children is getting near. On his travel home Smith meets Alf, the apprentice (who is now Master Cook). Alf ask Smith to give up the star, because it should be passed on to a new bearer. The star is then baked into a new cake. Alf is revealed as the King of Faery. Old Nokes is still not beliving in magical things. The star however passed onto his grandson, Tim.
Characters to note:
- Smith/Starbrow – The main character who ate the star in the beginning of the story.
- Rider – The character who was Master Cook just in the beginning of the story, who was a traveler and who left just before Nokes became Master Cook.
- Alf/Prentice/The Faery King – Someone appearing as a young boy from another village who came to Wootton Major with Rider, and stays for over 50 years. He starts as an apprentice to Rider and then to Nokes before he become the Master Cook. All this time he has been the Faery King in disguise.
- Nokes – A grumpy, all together unpleasant person who don’t believe in magic or faery. He dislikes Alf.
- Queen of Faery – A powerful person in the land of Faery. Smith meets her without knowing who she is.
Features and places to note:
- Master Cook – An important persona for the public life in the village, who organizes feasts and such in the Great Hall.
- Feast of Good Children – The Twenty-four Feast, it is held every Twenty Four year for a group of selected children in the village. The Great Cake is the main feature of the feast.
- Faery – Mainly a land of the folk who are magical, it is reasonable to compare them with the elves of Middle-Earth. Faery could also be used to describe the magic itself.
- The Star – The one who holds the star, is admitted to the land of Faery without being one of the faery. The star is given by the King.
I read the Smith of Wootton Major Extended Edition (the 2015 Harper Collins reissue), which contain the wonderful illustrations by Pauline Baynes (it also features her later, redrawn illustrations). I think that this story is incredibly typical Tolkien – every ounce of this story just breathes Tolkien. The story spands over a very long time in quite a few pages, one of the themes present is heritage as it follows some generations of village people and the connection between them. It was such an enjoyable read and especially the essay at the end of the book was very interesting to read: I would recommend any fan of Tolkien not to skip reading that part.
Have you read this story? Please comment and tell us what you think of the story Smith of Wootton Major!