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October/November 2001
 
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The Marvellous Land of Snergs by E.A. Wyke-Smith (1927)

Imagine a creature about half the size of a normal person, who lives with others like him in "a place set apart" from men. These creatures are long-lived, very fond of parties and feasts, and rarely have adventures, but this one gets lost in a woods of twisted trees. His name is two syllables, oddly ending with -bo. Can you guess the book, and the name of the creature?

If you said The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, with Bilbo Baggins, the half-high hobbit, as the main character, you'd be wrong, but not entirely offbase. For The Hobbit is a direct descendent of the book in question, which is The Marvellous Land of Snergs by E. A. Wyke-Smith, published in 1927. J. R. R. Tolkien bought this volume for his own children, and they loved the book, begging their father for more stories about Snergs, these half-high creatures with names like Gorbo. Tolkien responded with his story of Bilbo the hobbit.

Edward Augustine Wyke-Smith (1871-1935) was British mining engineer who travelled all around the world. He published eight novels, four for adults and four for children. Snergs was his last book. His first, Bill of the Bustingforths (1921) is, like Snergs, a delightful anti-fairy tale. One of his adult novels, The Second Chance (1923), is science-fiction, concerning an old man rejuvenated to his youth by a drug made from ape glands. Wyke-Smith's wry style is a delight for both children and adults.

—Douglas A. Anderson

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