Thoughts on Tolkien’s ‘Roverandom’

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‘Roverandom’ is a short children’s tale by J.R.R. Tolkien, submitted for publication in 1937, but not actually released until 1998. It has its basis in a tale told to Tolkien’s children in 1925, and was worked upon for several years, gradually incorporating separate stories that fleshed out the central narrative. The ‘Roverandom’ (or Rover) of the title begun life as a real dog who was turned into a small lead toy figure by an irritated wizard, and was created in an attempt to console J.R.R.’s young son Michael when he lost his favourite toy- a small lead dog- on a trip to the beach at Filey, Yorkshire. The tale exists in a number of draft forms, showing that Tolkien spent considerable time crafting the tale to turn it from a mere bedtime tale to a part of his wider legendarium that also appears in the more famous ‘Lord of the Rings’ books and his other connected writings. Indeed, many aspects of this story can be seen to be precursors to scenes in ‘The Hobbit’, which he begun work on soon after completing ‘Roverandom’, such as Rover’s flight with Mew to his home in the cliffs and Bilbo’s flight with the eagles; the encounters with spiders on the moon and later the encounter with spiders in Mirkwood; the White Dragon (as seen in the image above) and the description of Smaug, and the three wizards being pre-emptive of the figure of Gandalf.

The success of ‘The Hobbit’ led to ‘Roverandom’ being overlooked by Tolkien’s publishers in favour of more books about Middle Earth, but the greater recognition given to these (albeit splendid) works does not mean that this short tale is not worthy of note or of merit in its own way. Despite the fact that ‘The Hobbit’ may have not been written if it were not for this work, this tale is actually a pleasant story that moves at a fairly decent pace, and which is actually a joy to read due to the inventive words play, subtle jokes, digs about environmental matters and sheer inventiveness. I particularly liked the section when Rover is on the moon, due to the vaguely surreal nature of the scenes, and overall was slightly reminded of Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomintroll’ books and children’s stories written in the 1950’s and 1960’s (I can’t place any specific examples) that deal with dreamlike worlds or journey’s across strange lands.

I don’t think that it is a book that I will return to in a great hurry, despite enjoying it, but it is something that I would happily lend to a Tolkien fan as required reading at least once.

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