Roverandom is a children’s story by J. R. R. Tolkien, covering the travels and adventures of the dog named Rover, turned into a toy. Belonging to the collection of Tolkien’s shorter pieces of fiction and unrelated to Middle-earth, the story is a delightful read with many traditionally Tolkienian traits.
Originally Roverandom was conceived in 1925 when the Tolkiens — Ronald and Edith with their sons John, Michael and Christopher — went on a family holiday to Filey, Yorkshire. They rented a cottage with the view of the sea and the beach to spend a big part of September there. At that time the Tolkiens’ second boy Michael, who was about five years old, had a small, black-and-white toy dog. The boy was extremely fond of it to the extent that he never parted with it. It was an unfortunate loss of that beloved toy during a walk on the beach one day and unavailing search for it that led Tolkien to make up a story about the dog’s adventures to explain its disappearance to the saddened boy.
Two years later, in 1927, during another seaside holiday at Lyme Regis, the story of Rover was remembered and retold. At that time the youngest boy Christopher was already old enough to enjoy it, too. After the Lyme Regis holiday Tolkien decided to write the story down. Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond conclude with certainty that it must have happened in December 1927. By that time the tale had grown, become more elaborate and acquired more details and plot twists.
In 1936, when The Hobbit was accepted for publication by Allen & Unwin, Tolkien was asked for more children’s stories, so he sent in Roverandom together with Mr Bliss and Farmer Giles of Ham. However, Roverandom was not published then: in 1937 The Hobbit came out, proved a tremendous success and the publishers demanded more Hobbit stories from the author. It was only in 1998 that Rover’s tale finally saw the light of day.
Just like some other stories written by Tolkien, Roverandom began as something told to the amusement (or, in this case, consolation was the initial motive) of his own family. But as the story began to grow, it inevitably drew in more aspects of Tolkien’s background and interests. From a simple children’s story it established connections with Tolkien’s own Legendarium, Norse mythology, Arthurian legends, folklore, history and real events which took place at the time when the story was being created and written down.
Tolkien’s philological knowledge could not remain aside, too. Roverandom is full of curious word-play, interesting twists of phrase and words children do not normally use or, on the contrary, use a lot. Tolkien’s style in this story is very much like it is in The Hobbit, with playful or comic tones, addresses to the reader or author’s commentaries. All of these make Roverandom a lively, engaging read.
However, if you only scratch the surface of this seemingly simple story, you will never discover the hidden depths that its author put into it. Roverandom may seem a light read, but in reality is a huge chest with treasure buried underneath the surface: it has the dark side of the Perilous Realm, dangers of such travels and firm links with myths, culture and traditions. Understanding the connections Tolkien made in the story will enrich the reading experience. Rover is about to embark on a real adventure, and, as we are well aware of, adventures have the tendency to change those involved in them. Shall we see how they will affect Rover?
This read-along is my first experience of running such a project, and it coincides with my reading Roverandom with my student. Every week I will be looking into each chapter in details and share my ideas about them. Next week I will be looking into Chapter 1.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Tales From the Perilous Realm; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2008
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Roverandom (edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2013.