The Twenty-four Feast takes place in Wootton Major, and it seems to be a moderate success: everyone is well-fed and happy. This Feast, however, marks the beginning of something truly special for one of the boys present at the celebration.

The Apprentice was indeed right, and the star that Nokes discovered in the box is from Faery. Master Cook bakes it into his Great Cake alongside twenty-four common trinkets for luck. At the Twenty-four Feast the Cake is admired by most guests and a few children do call it fairylike, much to Nokes’ obvious delight and Alf’s no less obvious displeasure. When the Cake is eaten, the star disappears without a trace, though, while all the trinkets are found by some children in their slices. At this point even Nokes seems ready to believe that it is from Faery, thus making readers feel that there might yet be hope for him. However, this glimpse of hope is quickly quenched by Nokes’ belief that the star must have gone back to Faery, tricking everyone.

The star does no such thing, though. Swallowed by a boy called Smithson (and much later after his father’s death just Smith) it stays hidden until his tenth birthday and makes an appearance on a fine June morning:

A little breeze, cool and fragrant, stirred the waking trees. Then the dawn came, and far away he heard the dawn-song of the birds beginning, growing as it came towards him, until it rushed over him, filling all the land round the house, and passed on like a wave of music into the West, as the sun rose above the rim of the world.

(Smith of Wootton Major, p. 16)

No wonder that the boy feels like singing, and when he begins to sing the star falls out of his mouth. He puts it onto his forehead, and it becomes his passport into Faery for many years to come.

In Tolkien’s work Faery, or its nearest equivalent, is usually situated westward. Wootton Major is bordered by the Forest on its western side, with the smithy being at the extreme western edge of the village[1], and the Forest is the place where the entrance to Faery is. Forests are always special and represent the realms of Faery in Tolkien’s tales. Just as it is the case with diminutive elves, the Professor saw the placing of Faery underground in many stories as a means of rationalistaion to explain the co-existing of different worlds side by side, with one of them remaining unseen for the other. Tolkien saw forests as places “still immune from human activities, not yet dominated by them” (ibid. p. 116), thus they were proper gates to Faery where the points in space for our world and Faery could be contiguous, allowing for the entrance into Faery from our world as wells as in the opposite direction.

The silver star becomes Smith’s passport into Faery, enriching him with knowledge, wisdom and a sense of beauty. He sings beautifully and while working at his iron ware, Smith remembers about both functionality and beauty of the things he makes:

Most of them, of course, were plain and useful, meant for daily needs: farm tools, carpenters’ tools, kitchen tools and pots and pans, bars and bolts and hinges, pot-hooks, fire-dogs, and horse-shoes, and the like. They were strong and lasting, but they also had a grace about them, being shapely in their kinds, good to handle and to look at.

(Smith of Wootton Major, p. 17)


Smith is the one who can make everyday things look beautiful. Apart from daily objects, he also produces exceptionally beautiful iron ware for delight, when there is time to spare. This art, however, is almost forgotten in Wootton Major. Tolkien explains the situation in the Smith of Wootton Major essay. Situated in the nearest proximity to Faery, the village became prosperous due to its constant contact with the realm. This contact helped the craftspeople achieve an artistic quality to their wares, but due to the growing prosperity the villagers became self-content so that their art began to dwindle turning  into mere commerce, with many crafts disappearing or being regarded as useless, while the useful crafts became only a way of making money.

Smith is a different kind of a craftsman: he begins to re-introduce artistic beauty to his works showing that even everyday objects must and can be nice to look at. By doing this he is slowly reviving the formerly artistic quality of the Wootton Major wares. With Tolkien’s equalling Faery with Imagination, we might as well say that Smith has the inventiveness many others lack and he sees the world through very different eyes. Faery as Imagination, as well as fairy-stories, can help us regain a different look at the things we know really well:

We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness.

(Tales from the Perilous Realm, p. 373)

That is exactly what Smith is able to do. His reintroduction of artistic quality is bringing recovery to Wootton Major — the recovery lying in the ability to enjoy fine things again in their classical sense without turning to making something outrageously original in order to refresh one’s perspective or stand out unnecessarily.

In his visits to Faery Smith remains a respectful learner. His initial visits show him as timid and careful, treating the opportunity he has been granted with great humility and gratitude. He understands that Faery is a perilous place, which is the right way to approach it. Faery shows itself as a vast realm with forests and fields, valleys and meads, mountains and hills, rivers, lakes and the sea: there is certainly nothing diminutive or sweet about it. Above all, a lot of things are done in Faery that mortals know nothing about, neither do these things concern them. Even though our world and the realm of Faery co-exist side by side, not all the events happening in one of the worlds are the business of the other.

Smith learns a lot on his visits to Faery and he becomes wiser in many things, but his lips are sealed. Even though he shares those memories that he can with his family and very few close friends, he does not speak about his experiences to anyone else, “since too many had become like Nokes” (Smith of Wootton Major, p. 18). Smith has a certain business in Faery: he is welcome, guarded and guided there. He sees many beautiful and terrible things: many of them cannot be recollected clearly, but some he remembers well and “they remained in his mind as wonders and mysteries that he often recalled” (ibid. p. 22).

Find the whole read-along here

Further reading:

On the wonders of Faërie.

On the perils of Faërie.

Sea the Majestic (Part I).

Works consulted:

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien – Smith of Wootton Major; Extended Edition; edited by Verlyn Flieger; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2005.

[2] J. R. R. Tolkien – Tales From the Perilous Realm; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2008.

8 thoughts on “Reading Smith of Wootton Major /// Part III.

  1. ” Situated in the nearest proximity to Faery, the village became prosperous due to its constant contact with the realm.”
    Hmm, the more rational realm getting enriched artistically due to the realm of Faery reminds me very much of *Lud-in-the-mist* by Hope Mirrlees. Same situation there more or less. There is also an examination of the consequences of the diminishing of contact between the two realms.

    1. I remember that tale very well! It also kept on occurring to me while reading Smith that there are similar ways to look at the interaction between our world and Faery from two different authors. Lud-in-the-mist is a wonderful story!

  2. I so enjoyed this installment!

    The episode where child Smith ‘discovers’ his star is one of the most poetic I’ve ever read even in Tolkien, I loved it.

    It’s interesting that you cited that Smith makes tools for everyday life which are not merely useful, but also beautiful.
    Last year I went to an exhibition here in Italy about Art Deco that argued exactly the same thing: Art Deco designers wanted to make craftmenship an art. They wanted tools to be useful, but also beautiful. They wanted to make art with the industrial process.
    Tolkien was clearly very close to Art Deco, as his illustrations show. I wonder whether he also adhered to the Art Deco ideals.

    1. Thank you!
      That’s a very interesting idea. I think he might have agreed with the Art Deco ideas and philosophy. Last year I went to a Tolkien convention in Moscow, and there was one lecture about the possible equivalent of Elvish art in our world. And the speaker drew numerous examples of the Art Deco jewellery, which looked very Elvish.

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