I first read Tolkien in the Summer of 1965. The ace paperbacks came out around that time, and this was before the authorized Ballentine edition appeared. I was amazed, as I was expecting something like a long Jack Vance novel. Instead, I entered Middle Earth, and I have been going back over and over again. There was a time, when I kept count, that I figured that I had read the books 75 times. I have read them many more times since. In the late 1980s I bought the BBC Audio version of the Hobbit and LOTR and when the unabridged cassettes appeared, I found The Fellowship at a flea market and eventually obtained the other books. I have been listening to the Audio books two or three times a year ever since. I have The Simarillion and The Hobbit on tape now, and I listen to them once or twice a year.
Tolkien wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Roverandom and several other books. I have read most of them, including the letters and Christopher Tolkien’s extensive analysis books. I particularly like The Treason of Isengard.
I loaned out my copy of Farmer Giles of Ham and Other Stories around 1970 and I have not seen it since. I found an unabridged audio version of these stories at http://www.bookcloseouts.com and I got the last one. (Check the fantasy and SF sections at bookcloseouts frequently; they get in onesies and twosies that sell out quickly.)
The first story, Farmer Giles of Ham, takes up all of the first tape, and is very similar in tone to the beginnings of both The Hobbit and LOTR. It continually reminded me of the language that Tolkien used to describe the Hobbits and their relations, especially Bilbo’s birthday party. The story is fun to read for the characters, and would be a wonderful story for children. Tolkien proves that he is a good story teller, even on a simple children’s tale.
Smith of Wootton Major is very similar in setting,tone, plot, and theme to Lord Dusany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, although much better written. The dream-like quality of the land of Faerie is beautifully captured. The plot drags on through too many characters, but Tolkien wraps it up well, ending with the beginning as he always does.
Leaf by Niggle is a beautiful little tale, not so suitable for very small children, but will make adults smile.
The Tolkien tradition of writing stories to read to his children is nowhere better represented than here. These stories were meant to be read aloud, and Derek Jacobi does a wonderful job. He captures the inner voice of Tolkien and provides nice voice characterizations with a variety of English brogues, accents and styles of speech.
These are not stories in the grand scale of LOTR. They are fun tales that I don’t think Tolkien took seriously. He worked hard on them, though, and they are well polished and worth reading and re-reading. You can pick this audio book up at Amazon for about $10, and I would recommend them for anyone who has 6 hours to kill in the car. Since I spend almost two hours a day on my commute, I will listen to them over and over again. Houghton Mifflin did a nice job on the production (except for the obligatory cheap synthesized music). It is in a flimsy cardboard box, so I will transfer it to a library cassette box.
My Mother is now into Audio Books. Since Dad died, she is alone all day and lonely. She likes listening to the tapes, and I think that she will like these stories. She told me that she doesn’t want any more Speculative Fiction, but these stories hardly count. I’ll drop them off tonight after my walk around Rockland Lake with Erica.