“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”
Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”
This sums up much of what finds expression in Smith of Wootton Major, one of Tolkien’s short stories. Whenever I think of the tale, I’m touched by the sense of haunting beauty that permeates it, a beauty joyous and a bit sad all at once. Many layers of meaning run through the story, but one of the elements I love most is how the realm of Faery opens to Smith, an unexpected gift he’s been chosen to receive.
As a young boy, Smith attends the Feast of Good Children, and in his slice of the Great Cake, he receives a fay-star, which he unknowingly swallows. His life continues unchanged until his tenth birthday, and upon that day, a star appears on his brow. This star allows him to travel in the land of Faery, and as he explores this wondrous realm, the beauty he sees begins to transform him–his face and his voice reflect his experience in the “other” world.
For twenty-four years, he experiences the joys, the sorrows, the perils, and the splendors of Faery, and what he finds there transforms every area of his life. And then the time comes for another Feast of Good Children, and he knows he must pass on the gift he received and open the Faery realm to another.
Yet the beauty he perceived there will haunt him for the rest of his life, even after he gives the star to the next child. He has been forever changed. In this way, the tale of Smith of Wootton Major shares strong parallels with our journeys of faith. Unlike Smith, we don’t physically wander in eternal realms–not yet–but our hearts are awakened with joy and pierced by beauty. And we’re able to perceive the little echoes of eternity found in tales like these.
Have you read Smith of Wootton Major or other fantasy stories that stand out for the sense of beauty and wonder they convey?
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