Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The Silmarillion….

These are the titles most of us think of when we hear the name J. R. R. Tolkien. And rightly so. Tolkien wrote these stories and more set within Middle-earth. He also wrote Mr. Bliss and Farmer Giles of Ham. And he wrote a great many essays, as well as at least two translations of the epic of Beowulf. (They were very good translations.)

But Mr. Tolkien also wrote another story which was not published until 1998. This is the story of Roverandom.

Roverandom started life as a tale for Michael Tolkien, the second son of the Tolkien family. Michael had a little lead toy dog he never went without. When the Tolkiens were on vacation near the beach, Michael brought the toy with him. But when he and his brother went out to play in the sand, he lost the little toy. J.R.R. Tolkien, John Tolkien, and Michael Tolkien went looking for it, of course, but they could not find it.

Anyone who has had a favorite toy and misplaced it permanently knows how damaging a loss this is. Michael was apparently inconsolable. To take his mind off of the loss, J. R. R. Tolkien told the story of how Michael’s toy was actually a real dog enchanted to be a toy. The little dog, he explained, had been enchanted by a wizard he had upset and was now off on an adventure to return to normal size.

Roverandom went through several revisions over the following years. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien gave his publishers the manuscript for Roverandom. But they did not want this story. Because The Hobbit had been such a big hit, they wanted a sequel. The rest, as they say, is history; The Lord of the Rings was the sequel that the publishers knew they wanted, and Roverandom was left in the family archives.

That is where it remained until 1998, when the Tolkien Trust published the manuscript for the first time. Michael Tolkien apparently lost interest in the story after the first few retellings. His older brother John, however, did not lose interest. He was the driving force behind the story being written down and revised at least three times.

The story of Roverandom begins when Rover, playing with his mistress’ yellow ball, sees an old man pick it up. Now the old man is Artaxerxes, and he is a wizard. Thinking he will make the ball a more interesting trinket for the dog, he picks it up without asking if he can have it.

Rover is not happy about this at all. He barks at the wizard, telling him (without the proper polite niceties), to put down the ball. The offended Artaxerxes replies that he will not, instead putting the ball in his pocket.

This is too much for Rover, who reacts very foolishly. He bites the wizard’s trousers and tears a piece off – possibly taking some of Artaxerxes with it!

Well, now the wizard is in high dudgeon. Whirling around, he tells Rover to “go and be a toy!” And, before you can say Jack Robinson, Rover is stuck in a begging position in a box of toys. He is also far smaller than he should be, unable to move much (especially while people are watching), and his barks are too quiet for anyone but the other toys to hear.

Then Rover is taken out of the box and bought by a lady for six pence. She takes him home and gives him to Little Boy Two (Michael Tolkien), and the boy loves him to pieces. Rover, however, is more interested in being returned to his proper size and going home. He ignores Little Boy Two until he falls out of the child’s pocket while the lad is running about on the beach with his older brother.

The rest of the story you will have to read for yourselves. I have spoiled too much as things stand now, and I have no desire to be turned into a toy for telling more! 😉 If you can buy Roverandom, readers, it will be a good investment. If your local library has it, well, then you really have no excuse to avoid borrowing it to experience the adventure yourselves!

Until next time –

The Mithril Guardian

(bowing)

At your service!

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