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Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham: Hero for Our Time?

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Farmer Giles of Ham

Peter Freeman
9 August 2013
Crisis Magazine

Professor Peter Freeman notes in Crisis Magazine the relevance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham with respect to current United States sociopolitical issues. Below is an excerpt about Farmer Giles and the defense of private property: 

What motivates Giles to take a loaded gun to confront the giant is his value of private property. Giles is not Beowulf or Arthur—or even Aragorn for that matter. He doesn’t seek out monsters to slay because they are monsters. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in honor or glory. He doesn’t even rush out with chivalric daring to protect his wife as a knight might protect his lady. Giles is a farmer: he is tied to the land. He’s a material man in a material world. What he cares about is property. There is a giant, and it’s messing with his stuff. That’s where Giles draws the line.

Indeed, when the dragon eventually appears, Giles is completely uninterested in confronting it, so long as it leaves his property alone. He’s something of an isolationist: let monsters be monsters if they keep their monstrosity out of his business. Here, too, I can’t help but hear echoes of modern American political debates. Eminent domain, privacy laws, socialized healthcare, taxes, even more trifling disputes over digital media piracy, used video games, and intellectual properties, all bring about questions of who actually owns what, what it means to own something, and under what conditions someone else can take away the objects that you keep about you.

Farmer Giles does not entertain debates over whether or not he should protect his property against a monster. But a certain kind of modern philosophy would pose a challenge even to his defense of his own home. Most recently, and in many cases tragically, states have felt the need to impose and then question “stand your ground laws.” Some Americans find themselves on trial for protecting their home or selves against invaders, and the extent to which we can protect ourselves has divided our country. From another point of view, one might consider Farmer Giles’s situation from, say, an environmentalist mindset. We are told that giants and dragons are fairly rare occurrences in the days of Farmer Giles. Might one consider them endangered species? And is it not natural for giants to eat people’s livestock, or even people? Who is Farmer Giles to interfere with the survival of a species on the brink of extinction? (In 2002, for instance, a French shepherd was arrested for killing endangered wolves to protect his sheep). But perhaps I am dehumanizing the giant too much by referring to giants as a “species.” Perhaps it is better to consider giantism as a way of life, a threatened culture belonging to a demonized “Other.” It would be easy to imagine a modern rewriting of Farmer Giles where he is forced to surrender his lands to giants to prevent their complete disappearance from the earth or even just to prevent the disappearance of their way of life…

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Posted in: No Trespassing
Tania C. Mastrapa

About the Author:

Tania C. Mastrapa is a Research Professor at The Institute of World Politics (IWP) in Washington, D.C. She is the founder of Mastrapa Consultants, a firm specializing in claims on property confiscated by the current Cuban regime. She also advises prospective foreign investors in Cuba to avoid trafficking in confiscated property. Dr. Mastrapa speaks frequently throughout North America and Europe on property restitution and privatization and has published extensively on post-Communist property reform, looted artworks, transitional justice and exile studies. She previously served as the Vice President of Cuban Cultural Heritage (CCH) and as Secretary of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE). Dr. Mastrapa is a contributor to the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research (SFPPR) and writes the blog No Trespassing for the Journal of Property Rights in Transition for which she is also the Editor-in-Chief. Dr. Mastrapa was educated at Boston College, Carroll School of Management (B.S.), Tufts University, The Fletcher School (M.A.L.D.), and University of Miami, Graduate School of International Studies (Ph.D.).

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