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  • Smith of Wootton Major: Extended Edition
  • Paul Edmund Thomas
Smith of Wootton Major: Extended Edition, by J. R. R. Tolkien . Edited by Verlyn Flieger . Illustrated by Pauline Baynes . London: HarperCollins, 2005. [irregular pagination] vi, 5-62, 59-149 pp. £14.99 (hardcover) ISBN 0007202474.

This "Extended Edition" of Smith of Wootton Major contains previously unpublished materials by Tolkien, and, as Verlyn Flieger says in her "Afterword," "a particular aim of this new edition has been to afford the reader a glimpse of the author at work, by appending to the story transcriptions of documents pertaining to its creation and development" (66).

What are these documents? The Extended Edition presents "'Genesis of the Story': Tolkien's Note to Clyde Kilby," in which Tolkien relates that the idea for Smith occurred to him while he was preparing a preface for a new edition of George MacDonald's The Golden Key. Following this is the preface itself, "Tolkien's draft introduction to The Golden Key," [End Page 160] which is unfinished and breaks off in mid-sentence just as Tolkien was developing the analogy of the cook and the cake to illustrate the relationship between an author of a fairy tale and that tale's ability to convey a glimpse of the realm of Fairy. Next comes "'The Great Cake' Time Scheme and Characters," which contains a list identifying the characters of "The Great Cake"—Tolkien's original name for the story—and a chronology relating events beginning sixty-two years before the fictional starting date of the tale. Following next is a query-filled set of notes of "Suggestions for the ending of the story," which contain thoughts on possible revisions of the final section of the story and the effects that those revisions will have on character relationships. After this comes a document called "Smith of Wootton Major," which is part essay and part narrative. This document by itself justifies a new edition, because in it Tolkien explains his own story and narrates some of the background events that affect Smith. Next we find a "[Hybrid draft transcription of 'The Great Cake']," which is the earliest complete version of the story. In this well-formatted section we can read the tale as a primary document on the left hand pages, where it appears in facsimile of the original typewritten and handwritten manuscript, and the transcription on the right hand pages. Last, we are given "Lake of Tears drafts and transcriptions," which consist of two separate one-page versions, an earlier one in manuscript and a later one in typescript, of Smith's experiences at a place in Fairy called the Lake of Tears.

The appended documents do give us a "glimpse of the author at work," or several glimpses, but what do these glimpses tell us of Tolkien's authorial process? Looking at the documents in order of production rather than presentation may help answer this question. We should begin, then, with the draft preface to The Golden Key and determine, if possible, what was in Tolkien's mind when he hit upon the analogy of the cook and the cake, which, we know from the note to Clyde Kilby, written much later, triggered the idea for Smith.

When he reread The Golden Key after a space of many years, Tolkien did not like it. Nevertheless, Tolkien admired MacDonald, so instead of writing what he felt would be a negative essay about The Golden Key, Tolkien uses the preface to define "fairy" and "fairy tale." He emphasizes that "fairy" means "enchantment or magic, and the enchanted world or country in which marvellous people lived." He defines a fairy tale as "a tale about that world, a glimpse of it" (74).1 Tolkien does not restrict his definition by stating what an author has to do or show to give readers a glimpse of Fairy, but even bad writers (as he considered MacDonald) can sometimes succeed because "Fairy is very powerful," and we can sometimes "catch a glimpse of Fairy" in a bad story "and go on to better things" (74). And then Tolkien hit upon the cook-and-cake analogy, [End Page 161] started putting it into "a short...


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