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Fairy Tales of Middle-Earth
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The Wooden Boy

A tale of Men and Elves from Long Lake / Esgaroth.


In Esgaroth long ago, or rather nearer the Forest than the town, there lived a husband and wife. They were toymakers. The husband foraged in the Forest for wood, though he never laid axe to any living tree, but rather sought downed wood. He knew that the Elves mightily prized their trees.

He brought the wood home, and together they would carve and paint and dress dolls and other toys of all sorts. From time to time, they took them to Dale to sell in the toy market.

They had no children, though dearly they wished for them, even one. "At least," said the wife, "we can give joy to children through our toys. But Oh!, how I would love a little boy!" And the husband said, "Ah, me! How it would lighten our days if we had a little girl beside the fire with us!"

Nonetheless, they were a cheerful couple, as kind to each other as to all they met. Sometimes in the evening, the Elves peeped in to see them whittling and sewing in their workroom, singing and talking and laughing together. The Elves did not grudge the use of the the Forest's wood thus a whit.

One day, the husband brought from the Forest a large oaken branch. He carved and sanded and smoothed it, his wife painted and sewed, and soon they had a new, life-sized boy-doll.

"How sweet-faced he is," said the woman. "I can hardly bear to let him go."

"Let us put him here by the hearth," said the man. "He will be our companion for a while."

So of all their toys and dolls, they kept this one wooden boy, sitting in a little chair by the fire. As they worked, they included the boy in their conversation, though he never answered. Sometimes, perhaps by a trick of the firelight, it seemed his expression changed as the tone of talk changed from joyous to sad and back again.


Away on the other side of the lake, there lived a family, a family loud and without peace. The mother and father shouted at each other and at their children without cease.

"These children eat more than I can provide," cried he.

"You spend more time and money with your friends at the tavern than your own flesh and blood," cried she.

"That one is no flesh and blood of mine," he said, pointing at the thin, small ragged boy in the corner.

"He is my sister's child, and we must do our duty. Besides, he doesn't eat much," said she, and they began shouting again about the orphaned boy, about their own poor children, about their small mean house, about anything that came to mind.

The orphaned boy huddled in the corner. His father had died so long ago he scarce remembered him. His mother had died but recently, and he mourned her silently, here amid the loud, rude, unhappy family of his aunt.

When the Elves peered into this house (which they seldom did, on account of the noise and discord), they saw the little boy sitting silent and still. They felt sorry for him. They said to each other, "We can play tricks on the mortals and help this little boy at the same time!"

One evening the Elves gathered at the house of noise. While the shouting went on unabated, the Elves began to sing, softly, so softly. Soon, all within the house were asleep. They tiptoed into the house, and went to the corner where the orphan lay. They roused him, and as he rubbed his eyes, they offered him water from a little silver flask.

Now inside this flask were a few drops of water from the Enchanted River, deep within the gloomy Forest. This water would put to sleep for days any who drank of it. The Elves had also laid on it an enchantment of forgetfulness.

When he had drunk from it and fallen back to sleep, they picked him up and carried him out, down the street, away from the town, back toward the Forest.

They came to the house of the toymakers. There, the husband and wife had already gone to bed. Again, the Elves sang softly. Even if the mortals had been awake, they might not have heard it.

The Elves slipped into the house, still singing. They set the sleeping boy beside the wooden boy. They changed clothes between the two boys. As they did so, Lo!, the boys exchanged form as well. The human boy took on the seeming of the wooden boy, while the wooden boy looked for all the world like the orphan.

They laid the sleeping boy on the floor beside the little chair, and carried off the doll. Back they traveled to the house of discord. Well before dawn, they set the wooden boy in the orphan's corner and hastened again to the Forest edge.

When all in the house began to stir, the mother went to rouse the orphan. She shook his shoulder and found him cold and lifeless. "Alas, my nephew, my sister's only child is dead," she cried.

"All the fewer mouths to feed," said her husband. "Quick, get him out of my sight and bury him."

So the orphan's aunt wrapped the wooden boy in a cloth and buried him. She shed some tears over him, for she had been a little fond of her nephew. She returned to the house and shouted at her children and husband, and they returned the favor.

In the house by the Forest, as the sun rose, the Elves sang low. It was a song of concealment, that they might watch without being seen.

The toymakers awoke and began to prepare for the day. They found that somehow during the night, the wooden boy had fallen out of his chair. He now lay curled up on the bit of rug before the hearth.

The wife picked him up and found him to be much heavier than she remembered. As she did so, he moaned a little and wiggled in her arms. She almost dropped him in her startlement.

"Look, my love," she cried to her husband. "Our dear wooden boy has become a real boy!"

Together they carried him to the bed and set him on it. With the glamour laid on him by the Elves, his face looked just like the one they had carved and painted, but warm and living.

"Perhaps some magic has come out of the Forest, and brought our boy to life," said the man. They both turned and waved and bowed toward the Forest and the unseen Elves, their hearts full of gratitude.

After some days, the boy stirred and woke. The enchantment of forgetfulness was still upon him. He remembered but dimly his real mother, and his aunt and cousins not at all. He soon came to call the toymakers "Mother" and "Father".

The glamours of the Elves faded, of course, but so slowly that no one noticed. The woman and man, now Mother and Father, rejoiced in their son and were happier than ever. And, as so often happens, they soon had a little girl, who came about in the more usual way.

Even their toys were better than before, for now they were tested, each and every one, by the toymakers' children. Sometimes, the Elves would creep into the house and lay a little enchantment on one or another toy. Thus, they became known far and wide for their wonderful, magical toys.


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