Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Another Fantastic Tale: Smith of Wootton Major

This literary fairy tale by J.R.R. Tolkien is a wonderful option if you're looking for a captivating short read. Originally published in 1967, the story is placed in a medieval village, the Wootton Major of the title. The village takes its baking very seriously and the Master Cook is a person of some importance in the village. Each year, there is a special Feast of Good Children, but every twenty four years, there is a particularly special festival that features a Great Cake to which only twenty-four children may be invited. The Master Cook's legacy is the Great Cake that he delivers at that special Twenty-Four feast. Most cooks are only in office for a single opportunity at creating such a Great Cake.

We meet in his childhood, Smith, as one of the lucky attendees of a Twenty-Four feast. In consuming his portion of that feast's Great Cake, he inadvertently swallows a star of Faery and the star marks him both physically and philosophically (or spiritually, if you prefer). Because of that star, he is drawn away from his ordinary existance now and again, in order to step into Faery and see its wonders. He sees marvelous sights, seas with elven mariners, and ultimately dances with the Queen of Faerie herself. Eventually, however, he comes to understand that he must pass the star on to another child.

I'm not particularly enamored of the New York Times review of Smith written back in 1968, but the reviewer did capture the emotion one feels at the close of the book, Wistful and wishful that we could hold on to that star that leads us into such a sense of wonder.