Literature / Farmer Giles of Ham

Farmer Giles of Ham was written in 1937 by J. R. R. Tolkien. It is a comedic tale about the adventures of a rather plump farmer and his dog Garm, set in Mediaeval England but parodying the traditional picture of dragon-slaying knights of that era. Tolkien’s love of wordplay is strongly evident, especially with regard to place names, and the story is much lighter in tone than some of his other works.

It was published in 1949 with illustrations by Pauline Baynes, which Tolkien famously said had “reduced [his] text to a commentary on her drawings”. This collaboration led to a lifelong friendship between writer and illustrator.

This book contains examples of:

  • Altum Videtur: Or in the vulgar, A Lotta Latin appears in the mira fascinora.
  • Anachronism Stew: The story claims to take place "before Arthur or the Seven Kingdoms of the English" (which suggests, before c. 500 AD), but Giles wields a blunderbuss (a musket-like gun that wouldn't be invented until several centuries later), and the whole thing feels more like a generic mythic "past" than a specific time period.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The blacksmith opines that Hilarius and Felix are "ominous names"—in truth, they mean "cheerful" and "happy" and are anything but ominous.
  • The Blacksmith: ‘Sunny Sam’, a morose man who always predicts everything will fail and is only happy when his doomsayings come true. Is forced to devise a mail coat for Giles from leftover bits and pieces.
  • Canis Latinicus: The story features none of this directly, but the term is used jokingly when discussing actual dogs, particularly the farmer's dog Garm.
    "[T]he Book-latin was reserved for their betters. Garm could not talk even dog-latin; but he could use the vulgar tongue..."
  • Character Title: Though it's the Vulgar version - Giles' real name is the Latin "Ægidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo".
  • Dragon Hoard: The cave of Chrysophylax Dives ("Gold-watcher the Rich") contains fantastical riches of all sorts. How he got all that stuff is never explained, nor does anyone ever ask.
  • Empathic Weapon: Caudimordax leaps out of its scabbard and cannot be sheathed again if a dragon is within five miles, and seems to do most of Giles' fighting for him.
  • Faeries Don’t Believe In Humans Either: A lot of younger dragons believe that knights are a myth. The older ones know better, although they admit that they are few and far, and not a danger anymore, which is true since the King and his Knights are pretty useless. The only person who can effectively deal with Chrysophylax the dragon is a fat, red-headed farmer who doesn't like trespassers—even if they are scaly and breathe fire.
  • Howl of Sorrow: When Giles rides off to slay Chrysophylax, his dog Garm howls all night because he thinks his master will be killed.
  • Ironic Echo: “Excuse me, were you looking for me?”. First said by Chrysophylax when he catches Giles off-guard, then by Giles in the reverse situation.
  • Ironic Nickname: The blacksmith is nicknamed "Sunny Sam", because he's extremely morose and always predicts doom.
  • Lemony Narrator: The commentary of the narrator on various issues is also most of the fun in the story for adults.
  • Meaningful Name: Giles himself is named Ahenobarbus ("Bronzebeard"), Chrysophylax ("Gold-keeper") the dragon, Giles' dog Garm (the monstrous dog of the dead in Norse Mythology)
  • The Middle Ages: The Low Middle Ages, to be precise, but with little historical precision and a fair sprinkling of dragons, giants, a blunderbuss, and magic.
  • Named Weapons: Caudimordax (‘Tailbiter’), Giles’ sword. The tails it likes to bite are specifically dragon tails.
  • Red-Headed Hero: Ægidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola de Hammo.
  • Resigned to the Call: When the King orders him to accompany his knights to find the dragon Giles realizes there aren't any more excuses he can make.
  • Talking Animal: Garm, though the narrator assures us that at the time all dogs could talk, and Chrysophylax
  • The Tourney: One excuse the knights give for not immediately going after the dragon is that they'll loose the tourney if all their best knights are off hunting it.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Whether Giles' blunderbuss could actually be fired or only intimidate was an issue of much speculation in the village, until he fired it at the giant.