Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Halfling's Holiday in Bree Review

Glass Hammer's Steve Babb has written a story to accompany and explain the band's latest album, The Middle Earth Album (June 15, 2001), in which he chronicles the unexpected adventures of Mr Hamson Brandybuck, grocer, of The Shire.

Like another hobbit of whom we have heard, young Mr Brandybuck has more about him than meets the eye. This is evident upon his introduction, which finds him peacefully fishing more than a mile outside the village of Bree. Though his cousins have told him it is unwise to wander in the wild lands, and though he has heard reports from both dwarves and rangers that unfriendly creatures are about, Hamson is unconcerned, even scornful. A fishing expedition beyond the village, in broad daylight, rates as the tamest of adventures. Or, does it?

Hamson's modest adventure suddenly turns into something rather larger than he can handle, and his prospects of getting out of Chapter One in one piece seem bleak, but for the timely appearance of a Mysterious, clairvoyant stranger. As Hamson is to discover,, this "man with the silver sword" has a knack for turning up in the right place at the right moment. For now, though, he sends the hobbit off home to supper and disappears.

And there Hamson's adventures would have ended, but for his decision to have a talk with Dwalin Ironfist, and the decision of a pretty young southerner to have a talk with the dwarf at the same time. It is during this conversation that we learn of Hamson's other, less worldly calling. He is a poet and song writer; apparently of some reputation, since the Glass Hammer guild, a popular band of minstrels with a more or less steady gig at the Prancing Pony, know many of his songs. More importantly, to the story anyway, this encounter draws both Hamson
and Dwalin into a dangerous adventure involving the pretty and reckless maiden, a troll, and that same hero with the silver sword.

Mr Babb writes with verve and panache, and not a little originality, weaving together elements familiar both to Fantasy readers, and especially J.R.R. Tolkien fans, and to Glass Hammer fans. In particular, long time GH listeners will recognize Balin Longbeard as the hero of a song from Journey of the Dunadan, GH's first album. Here, as the saying is, the legend comes to life. Mr. Babb presents a fine piece of fan writing here, melding the original material all but seamlessly with the given setting and context, while providing helpful if not entirely essential background for the album. That is, one may enjoy The Middle Earth Album without reading the tale; but, reading the tale gives added depth and coherence to the album.

The tale is not wholly without problems. The heroine's mode of dress would certainly have shocked Professor Tolkien, for instance. but, both it and its consequences are amusing, and the author is careful not to cross the line between amusing and raunchy. There is nothing implied about her here beyond that the young lady is, in fact, very young and rather foolish. Her daring and thirst for adventure, while unusual, are not without precedent in Tolkien's writings. At the same time, the happy ending both for Hamson and for his friends is most satisfying. We look forward to more tales from Mr Babb, both with and without GH albums to go with them.