Book Review: The Tolkien Reader

The Tolkien Reader
By J.R.R. Tolkien

Published in 1966, The Tolkien Reader is a collection of shorter works by the father of modern fantasy, The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien. I was about ten years old when I bought my copy at a local used book store, the same store where I bought my first copies of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. I have never before nor since seen another copy of The Tolkien Reader, and for several years I felt I had in my possession something rare and special. I have since learned that the book was republished in 1986 and is still available from many booksellers.

The Reader begins with an introduction by author Peter S. Beagle titled “Tolkien’s Magic Ring,” followed by “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son,” Tree and Leaf, “Farmer Giles of Ham,” and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

“The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” is an historical play based on a fragment of epic poetry. Set just after a 991 CE battle between the English and the vikings, the play is a fictional account of two servants’ search for the body of their duke.

Tree and Leaf is a short book originally published in 1964. The first half of the book is an essay titled “On Fairy Stories” and the second half is a short allegory titled “Leaf By Niggle.” “Leaf By Niggle” follows the life of an aspiring painter and his discovery of true happiness. “On Fairy Stories” is an essay by Tolkien discussing the fairy tale as a literary genre.

“Farmer Giles of Ham” is a short story set in a fictional version of medieval Great Britain. It tells the story of several encounters between a farmer named Giles and the dragon Chrysophylax.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a collection of poems, originally published as a separate volume in 1962. Only the first few poems actually have anything to do with Bombadil, but the whole collection is purported to be poetry from Middle Earth and the Shire.

For any Tolkien fan, this book is a must-have. If you are not a fan of plays as a written genre, you probably will not find much of interest in “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son,” but it could also be read as a poem. Much of the poetry in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is silly, but there are a few real gems in the collection and even the silly poems have a sense of artistry. “Farmer Giles of Ham” and “Leaf By Niggle” are both good reads, but my favorite part of the whole volume is the essay. It provides valuable insight into Tolkien’s thoughts on myth and legend and their connection to fiction. I would definitely recommend this book to all Tolkien fans.

This review originally appeared 27 July 2012 on

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