In chapter 3 Roverandom’s adventures take a new turn. He gets a chance to explore the place on the Moon none has seen before. As a final stage of his stay there, it gives him a very interesting perspective and shows the dark side of the Moon, in both meanings of the word “dark”.

Roverandom’s encounter with the dragon takes his breath away for some time, but when he gets it back, the-Man-in-the-Moon has a special surprise for him: he takes the dog to the dark side of the Moon. This fact is rather disturbing for the moondog, as he has never been on that side, but the-Man-in-the-Moon explains it can cause his homesickness, even more than the thought of burning furnaces of the Earth. For Roverandom, however, it is a necessary trip.

After a long and winding way down Roverandom and the-Man-in-the-Moon find themselves in a very dark place with only the Man shining in the darkness. When he opens a mysterious door in the floor, even that shining disappears in the darkness welling up from the newly opened hole like thick fog. Roverandom is scared out of his wits as the darkness swallows everything around. But it is the fear he has to face: in order to reach the other side of the Moon, Roverandom must go down that hole, through the darkness, and go he does, dropped into the horrible darkness by the-Man-in-the-Moon.

Tolkien explored darkness as an especially scary element in some of his other writings. It appears in The Silmarillion as Melkor and Ungoliant are making their way through Aman to destroy the Two Trees of Valinor. The Darkness that falls after the Trees are smitten by Melkor’s spear and dark vapours belch forth from Ungoliant is a thing of its own. The Light fails at that moment, creating the Unlight rather than just the absence of light, with terrible effects on living beings’ senses. Another kind of unpleasant darkness is encountered by Bilbo and the Dwarves in Mirkwood. The nights in the forest are so pitch dark that Bilbo cannot even see his own hand and as the travellers leave the path in pursuit of the lights of the Elvish feast, they are unable to see each other in the darkness once the lights go out.

The darkness that Roverandom encounters is not as terrible as the dwellers of Aman have to face. Once on the other side of the Moon, he gets a chance to recover his breath and look around while waiting for the-Man-in-the-Moon. He nearly falls asleep though, hearing a beautiful song of a bird, so enchanting like nothing he has heard on the other side of the Moon: that singing seems to Roverandom dumb in comparison to this bird’s song.

Instances of such birds’ singing appear in the Welsh mythology. In The Mabinogion the Birds of Rhiannon have a similar effect on those who hear them. Their song is unearthly and beautiful, enchants the hearers straight away and can lull them to sleep, soothe their senses or wake the dead. Time also seems to be affected by these birds’ song as humans lose track of it, mesmerised by the sounds.

The dark side of the Moon is a much more sinister place than the white side. It has all the perils of the Perilous Realm. Apart from the bird’s singing enchanting songs it is inhabited by black poisonous spiders, alongside other shadowy creatures. Most of them are kept at bay when the-Man-in-the-Moon is nearby, as the wizard has a special power over them and a way of dealing with everyone and everything inhabiting the Moon.

The dark side of the Moon has the pale sky, contrary to the white side of the Moon with the dark sky. There is not much colour on the dark side, either. The only creatures of bright hues are very small and easily seen, so they have to hide from predators hunting them. With such an unvaried palette, grey, white and transparent creatures blend with the landscape as a means of camouflage. The-Man-in-the-Moon complains about the lack of what he calls real colour — the issue also addressed in the poem The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon:

In diamonds white he had lost delight;

he was tired of his minaret

Of tall moonstone that towered alone

on a lunar mountain set.

He would dare any peril for ruby and beryl

to broider his pale attire,

For new diadems of lustrous gems,

emerald and sapphire.

(Tales from the Perilous Realm, p. 204-205)

The Man in the Moon becomes bored and tired of the same shades on the Moon, yearns for bright colours and fun until one day he trips and falls to the Earth. Sadly enough, he gets nothing that he desires there, as Yule has not come yet, and all his fun comes down to eating porridge. In this poem there are traits of the nursery rhyme about the Man in the Moon I talked about in the installment on chapter 2.  Its first line is the same as the title of this poem by Tolkien, and the Man in the Moon of the rhyme eats porridge, too.

The dark side of the Moon has got something special the white side has not: the valley of dreams. Children come there in their sleep probably by, as we will see later in the chapter, the way of the moon-path, and have dreams woven by the-Man-in-the-Moon, in best cases, or by spiders, in worst cases. It is a beautiful, happy place where children have fun:

Looking over, Roverandom saw below a garden in twilight; and as he looked it changed to the soft glow of an afternoon sun, though he could not see where the soft light came from that lit all that sheltered place and never strayed beyond. Grey fountains were there, and long lawns; and children everywhere, dancing sleepily, walking dreamily, and talking to themselves.

(Roverandom, p. 99-100)

Roverandom is in a privileged position. Nobody has ever seen this place while awake, so our dog is truly special. It is one of those places no-one is supposed to see, but Roverandom gets to for the sake of his learning, which is the key aspect of the whole journey.  This visit to the valley of dreams has a purpose for Roverandom, for he meets Boy Two there. They have a conversation and a great time together before the boy vanishes due to his waking up.

It is time for Roverandom to go back to the white side, too. The walk back is long, contrary to the quick fall and slide to the dark side and valley of dreams. There are strange plants and evil things out there, but with the-Man-in-the-Moon Roverandom is perfectly safe. The poor dog does not enjoy the way back at all, though, irrespective of its length: after the meeting with Boy Two he becomes terribly homesick. No matter how many wonderful adventures he has had on the Moon, how many great things he has seen there, Roverandom does not belong there: his home is on the Earth.

The dog’s homesickness after being reminded of his true home is a normal state. That is also the reason why the moondog cannot go to the dark side of the Moon: he is bound to become very homesick, too, but the moon-Rover belongs to the Moon now. Earth creatures may long for Otherworlds, but their stay in such realms cannot be lengthy, nor can visitors subdue the love of their home, which sooner or later shows. Tolkien also addressed this issue in early versions of what would become The Silmarillion — The Book of Lost Tales (Part I). In his desire to know the soul of music, to share kinship and fellowship with the Elves, Eriol the mariner wishes for the drink of limpë. But Meril-i-Turinqi warns him that his fate cannot be changed and he will still die, as mortal Men do. This drink will join him in fellowship with the Elves, but not in kinship, awake new desires in his heart and sooner or later he will long for his home: no matter what he does, a mortal Man will never truly belong to the realm of Elves.

After meeting with Boy Two Roverandom loses all the interest in his adventures with the moon-Rover. They still go on roving and wandering all over the white side, but somehow Roverandom is no longer truly interested in what the Moon has to offer. His thoughts are homeward-bound:

It was not Roverandom’s fault, and he did his best not to show it, but somehow none of the adventures or explorations seemed so exciting to him as they had done before, and he was always thinking of the fun he had in the garden with little boy Two.

(Roverandom, p. 109-110)

The-Man-in-the-Moon shares Roverandom’s desire when the dog asks the wizard to send him back home. We, readers, feel the dog’s longing, too, as he speaks of  “the pain in his inside”: so huge and overwhelming is his wish to go back to the Earth. Artaxerxes has married and gone to live at the bottom of the ocean with his new wife — a mermaid. So at present he will not be able to find Roverandom to bewitch him again, which he probably meant to do being angry with Psamathos for helping the dog. The-Man-in-the-Moon’s farewell advice includes not forgetting any Ps when addressing Psamathos by his name. He means the initial letter ‘P’ of his name, of course, but I also see it as an extra reminder that Roverandom should not forget to be polite and say “please”. Back in chapter 1 his failure to use this very word when talking to a wizard cost him his normal shape and size.

Njörðr, Skaði, and Freyr as depicted in The Lovesickness of Frey (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

Several mythological figures of gods associated with the sea have made their way into the final part of the chapter. I will have a look into a Norse myth concerning Niord. He was chosen as a husband by the giantess Skadi following the death of her father at the hands of the gods from Asgard. As recompense the gods offered her to choose a husband from those present at the assembly where the issue was being addressed, but she could make her choice by only looking at the gods’ feet. On seeing a pair of beautiful feet, Skadi thought their owner to be Balder, the handsome god she had taken fancy to. But it turned out to be Niord. Their union was not a happy one, as the two proved very different for each other. With Niord being the personification of summer and Skadi — of winter, they tried dwelling in each other’s respective homes. Skadi spent three summer months by the sea, while Niord lived in Thrym-heim for nine winter months. Eventually, they decided to part, seeing that their tastes would never be the similar, and went to dwell in their own homes.

So Roverandom gets ready to leave the Moon after exploring both, the Moon and his own heart and soul. He does not belong to the Moon, but he has learnt and seen a lot there. After his wanderings he is definitely a much more knowledgeable dog, most likely with a deeper appreciation of his true home. All he wants is to make the dream of Boy Two come true, return to the person he so much wanted to run away from. And this to the dog would be dearer that all the adventures of the Moon.

This read-along is my first experience of running such a project, and it coincides with my reading Roverandom with my student.  I will be looking into each chapter in details and share my ideas about them. Next time I will be looking into Chapter 4.

Follow the read-along of the book here: Reading Roverandom

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – Roverandom (edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2013.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – Tales From the Perilous Realm; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2008.

8 thoughts on “Reading Roverandom /// Chapter 3

  1. Of course, the bird that sings in the dark is the nightingale. And Beren met Luthien when there were “stars in shadow shimmering”.

    1. I didn’t have the impression that it is a nightingale, to be honest. Nightingales are mentioned specifically a bit later, so this bird seemed special and different to me.
      Great parallel with Beren and Lúthien! Twilight, birds singing — beautiful image!

  2. The part played by journeys through the darkness is so important in Tolkien. Thank you for showing it here. The journey of the Fellowship through Moria, of Aragorn and his companions on the Paths of the Dead and of Frodo and Sam through Shelob’s Lair shows this to be a central motif of The Lord of the Rings. I rather think that it is a central motif of the spiritual journey too. We all have to take it at some time.
    The other motif is that of homesickness. The desire for our true home.
    Thank you for for telling the story. I had just thought of Roverandom as a charming but unimportant children’s story. You have shown me that it is much more than this.

    1. I’m so glad you’ve changed your opinion about this story! It deserves all the credit and attention as there are so many Tolkienian things in it.
      There’s a great spiritual significance to journeys through the dark in my opinion, too. Bilbo emerges a different person from Mirkwood, as do other characters. They get lost in the dark only to re-discover themselves.

  3. I confess, I didn’t read the whole review, because I am not sure how many spoilers there are, but the little bit I did read has gotten me interested. Tolkien was such a creative man. As much as I love his Middle Earth work, I sometimes wonder what other areas he would have explored if he hadn’t become so enamored with it.

    1. There are indeed spoilers as I go through the chapters and look into some moments in details. I hope you pick up this wonderful story of Roverandom and read it. It’s totally worth your time!
      Tolkien was a gifted story-teller. His non-Middle-earth works are incredibly deep in their own right.

  4. Great write-up, Olga.
    If other readers are interested in the concept of dream-travel as introduced here on the dark side of the Moon, they should also be interested to follow-up with the writings Tolkien made concerning “The Cottage of Lost Play”. (See “The Book of Lost Tales”).

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