A Waiter Made of Glass: Stories and Poems

Reviwed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


A Waiter Made of Glass: Stories and Poems


Verlyn Flieger (illustrations by Emily Austin)


Quickbeam Books (a division of Signum University Press)


Publication Date:

March 19, 2023




97 pages


Few people have influenced J.R.R. Tolkien studies as much as Verlyn Flieger. Over 40 years of
research, she’s written studies of his major themes, edited collections of his lesser-known
works, and given readers rich insights into his work. Dominic J. Nardi and N. Trevor Brierly
describe her and Tom Shippey as prime examples of the deep research that made Tolkien
studies into a long-lasting scholarly community.

While her scholarship is considerable, few know that Flieger is a storyteller in her own right. A
Waiter Made of Glass is the fourth book of her own fiction or poetry. The first half of the book
contains short stories. Some of the short stories are fairy tales, others apparently occur in the
real world but with magical realist elements. The second half of the book is poems—sometimes
employing mythic fantasy imagery, others exploring ordinary things in all their beauty.

Given Flieger’s reputation, it’d be easy to assume this collection would contain many works
referencing Tolkien’s work. She has explored Tolkienesque ideas in the past. Her novel Pig’s
Tale is a fantasy filled with images from Celtic mythology, a mythology that informed Tolkien’s
depiction of elves. Her book Arthurian Voices contains two Arthurian-inspired stories—Tolkien
didn’t have the passion some Englishman have for Camelot, but he did write an unfinished
poem about Arthur’s tragic end.

However, the works included in A Waiter Made of Glass are more diverse. Yes, a few resemble
British writers that Tolkien would certainly have known about. The eponymous short story, “A
Waiter Made of Glass,” may remind some readers of Lord Dunsany’s short story “The Guest.”
Other stories (such as “The Lion’s Head”) feature strange or shocking twists—in his
introduction, Liam Daley compares them to the works of Saki. Saki was the pseudonym of H.H.
Munro, a phenomenally successful writer during Tolkien’s childhood who wrote darkly comedic
stories skewering upper-class Edwardian society.

However, even where these stories resemble more famous writers, Flieger does something
new. A few even explore areas far afield of what readers might expect. For example, “Tall
Grass” is a story about the American West.

The poems show a more obvious mythic influence. Several contain images taken from
mythologies—such as a poem about a flat world resting on the backs of elephants, an image
that Terry Pratchett used for humorous effect in his Discworld novels.

The most vivid poems deal with something less mythic: loss. Across these poems, a narrator
talks about a loved one they’ve lost. The small things they no longer share. The need to vocalize
the grief rather than put it down. Anger at friends or acquaintances who give cheap sympathy
instead of space to grieve and talk about what the loss means. Flieger doesn’t say in the
introduction whether these poems refer to the same person, though it seems likely. One poem
refers to the deceased person as Vaughn. Vaughn Howland passed away in 2016 after over 25
years with Flieger. When she won the 2019 Mythopoeic Award for her book There Would
Always Be a Fairy Tale, she dedicated it to his memory.

While knowing the background does deepen the sense of sadness and love permeating these
poems, readers don’t need to know it to appreciate them. They stand on their own as crafted
meditations on just how hard it is to lose a loved one, and the need to talk about how hard that

A beautiful collection of Flieger’s creative works, well worth exploring.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

Five stars

Suggested Audience:

Fans of well-written literary fiction or well-crafted short stories. Also a great book for fans of
poetry and short fiction that dabble in fantasy imagery while exploring common human

Christian Impact:

The contents may not feature explicit religious imagery, but they are permeated with a sense of
how precious our family connections are, and how sad it is to lose when those loved ones pass

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A Waiter Made of Glass: Stories and Poems

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