People know Tolkien as the writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In 1966, Ballantine books collected some of his shorter works to serve as a paperback introduction for those who had not yet read his Ring Trilogy.
Peter Beagle wrote a fine introduction to this volume. It was amusing to read his biographical blurb which described him as the author of A Fine and Private Place which was “published in 1960, and was extremely well received” (xvi). (Of course, he went on to write the much more famous The Last Unicorn.)
The works collected are a true miscellany, both in content and in style. “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” is a somber fragment of a play where two battle-weary soldiers pick through the bodies of their comrades by lamplight to find their war-leader. “Farmer Giles of Ham,” in contrast, is a comic fantasy story about a lowly farmer who becomes a dragon master. This story is suitable for younger readers. “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” is a collection of sixteen poems written during the third age of Middle Earth.
The highlight of this collection is “Tree and Leaf”. After a lengthy essay on the nature of fairy stories which gives the reader insight into Tolkien’s thought process, the story “Tree and Leaf” is a powerful account of a man—a painter—who spends his whole life putting off the future (and his neighbour) in order to paint the perfect leaf. When he is finally forced to go on his journey, he realizes his true role in the world and in the world to come. Reading from a Christian perspective, this story was very moving!
The works collected between these covers are so diverse, only a devoted Tolkien fan would be interested in reading them all. If that’s you, then enjoy!
—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader: Stories, Poems and Commentary by the Author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” (New York: Ballantine, 1966).