Chapter 4 is the longest one in Roverandom. It takes our dog, as he becomes Rover for a while again, on the next leg of his journey and to an absolutely new place: down to the bottom of the ocean.
Mew flies Rover to the Earth, and their way back is slower than the one to the Moon. They stop at the Isle of Dogs for a bit, but Rover does not enjoy this stay as much as he would have done had he been his proper size. Back on land, Rover does not forget his Ps, and emphasises them as much as he possibly can while talking to Psamathos, not only in calling the wizard by his name, but also in saying polite p-words a lot. Rover wants to return to the little Boy Two and make his dream come true. That earns him a rebuke from Psamathos for running away from the boy in the first place. As far as returning is concerned, Rover can only go back to the woman who originally bought him, but not to the boy who he does not belong to.
This situation looks like another aspect of Rover’s moral journey: he should learn to value what he has and enjoy it. When the boy’s mother bought him, all Rover wanted to do was to run away from the child who treated him with love and barked a perfect dog language, and when he did run away, Rover had no idea what to do with his newly acquired freedom. Now, after Rover saw how much fun he can have with the boy, he is willing to return to him. But, alas, it is not simple. First, the dog has to become his proper size again and even Psamathos can do nothing. Artaxerxes put another very strong spell on Rover that only he himself can remove. So now our pup will have to go to the bottom of the sea, beg Artaxerxes’s pardon and discuss the matter of size with him.
This is where Uin swims in. Uin is a big whale that is to take Rover to the sea bottom and that also closely connects Roverandom and Tolkien’s mythology. He makes the appearance in the early version of the Legendarium in The Book of Lost Tales (Part I). In those stories Uin was “the mightiest and most ancient of whales” in the service of Ulmo, who “set the might of the Valar in Uin and the whales” (1). In The Book of Lost Tales it is Uin who drags the isle with the Elves from Middle-earth to Aman, one Elvish house at a time.
It is in Uin’s huge mouth that Rover is to go to the bottom of the sea. Naturally, he is very scared, as another way down in complete darkness is upon him. Just like the-Man-in-the-Moon throws Rover in the darkness leading to the other side of the Moon, so do Mew and Psamathos push Rover into Uin’s mouth, where it is very fishy. Here Tolkien uses the word ‘fishy’ in a very interesting way: both meaning of the word, that is “related to a fish” and “suspicious”, work perfectly well in poor Rover’s situation.
Once at the bottom of the sea, Rover goes towards his prime destination and “soon before him he saw the gate of a great palace, made it seemed of pink and white stone that shone with a pale light coming through it; and through the many windows lights of green and blue shone clear” (Roverandom, p. 123-124). This description resembles the one of the-Man-in-the-Moon’s tower in many aspects. First of all, the colours and the shining are very similar in both places. It is also interesting to notice that this palace seems to be made of stone, while the-Man-in-the-Moon’s tower looks as if it was made of shells, which should probably be vice versa. These two dwellings are complementary in many ways and appear as two parts of one whole, sharing or even exchanging some traits.
On his way to the palace Rover meets different kinds of fish, sea-goblins and other strange creatures peeping at him from the shadows. The bottom of any sea or ocean is a very mysterious place. The depths of these great water bodies have not been explored to the full and we cannot know what kind of creatures can be lurking there. Many myths from all over the world feature numerous water creatures as seas are very much unexplored and “the deeps are not such a jolly place as the moon for little dogs, being full of dark and awful places where light has never been and never will be, because they will never be uncovered till light has all gone out. Horrible things live there, too old for imagining, too strong for spells, too vast for measurement” (Roverandom, p. 130).
It is in the palace that Rover meets Artaxerxes himself and his new wife, a mermaid. There is another surprise for him, though: a dog called Rover! He is a mer-dog and his body has all the traits of a sea-dweller: a flat tail and web-feet. Their acquaintance begins in a similar way to the one with the moon-dog: they have a small exchange of “pleasantries” but then proceed to having all kinds of adventures after the Earth Rover receives some changes to his body to make swimming in the sea easier and three warnings from Mrs Artaxerxes of what should not be done when underwater.
The mer-dog called Rover has already earned and justified his name. He has been wandering a lot since he joined his master on a ship. His story is based on the tale of King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway originally written in the 1190s by Oddr Snorrason and Gunnlaugr Leifsson and later presented in the Heimskringla saga by Snorri Sturluson. King Olaf’s ship Long Serpent was attacked and he himself jumped from the ship into the sea:
The Serpent and the Crane
Lay wrecks upon the main.
On his sword he cast a glance,—
With it he saw no chance.
To his marshal, who of yore
Many a war-chance had come o’er,
He spoke a word — then drew in breath,
And sprang to his deep-sea death.
The King’s further fate is unknown. Some believe that he died, but there is a legend that he survived and was seen in several places all over the world after his disappearance in the sea.
King Olaf had a dog called Vige that he received from a peasant in Ireland. On a mission in that part of the world, Olaf’s men drew a herd of cattle to the strand, but a peasant came up to them and asked to return his cows. King Olaf agreed, and it was the peasant’s dog that picked out all the right cows. Fascinated by the beast, the king asked the peasant to sell the dog to him, but the peasant was willing just to give it without any payment. Still King Olaf gave him a gold ring and a promise of friendship, and Vige stayed with him for many long years afterwards. It is believed that the dog died of grief when Olaf jumped from the ship into the sea.
Though much smaller than Vige in the original tale, Rover also belonged to a warrior and sneaked onboard the ship, called the Red Worm in Roverandom, on the fatal sea-voyage with him when the ship was attacked and Rover’s master jumped from its board, with Rover following him. It is interesting that here the mer-dog, just like the moon-dog before him, alludes to his old age and that he has been roving around the Earth for hundreds of years. Both of their experiences of roving are very extensive and both enchanted creatures have been in all kinds of adventures. The Earth Rover is continuing to justify his name, too. His wanderings have already taken him to the Moon and now to the very opposite of the high places where the Moon is — to the bottom of the sea.
So far Roverandom, as he is again called, is very unsuccessful in the main aim of his journey: Artaxerxes refuses to turn him back into his own size explaining it with his immense business. Being PAM (Pacific and Atlantic Magician that is), as he is now known, is a very important job that keeps him busy. A longer stay underwater can also be a necessity for Roverandom, too. He needs to spend a certain amount of time in the sea realm, explore the sea and encounter certain things in order to learn his lesson better before he can become his proper self.
Having all the time in the world, the two enchanted dogs go for really long swims, enjoy their long excursions where they meet a lot of fantastic creatures. Once Uin takes them for a ride and they manage to see something no living person has seen before: the Bay of Elvenhome. Roverandom even thinks he catches a glimpse of an Elven city, which at that point of the tale creation was called Tún. This is a very close connection with Tolkien’s own mythology. At the time when Roverandom was being created the Blessed Realm in the West was hidden from mortal eyes with perilous waters and enchanted isles, so it is no wonder Uin is afraid he might “catch it” for showing the Undying Lands to the dogs.
Once back from this long journey, Roverandom and the mer-Rover begin another one straight away. They follow Artaxerxes on a very unsettling errand: to see into the matter of the Sea-serpent. It is waking up and causing a lot of disturbance both in the sea and on land, where people suffer from terrible storms. Here several points enter the story at once.
The Sea-serpent’s waking and moving causes a tremendous storm in the sea, and Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull connect this storm from the tale with the one the Tolkiens encountered when they were on holiday in Filey. The storm was extremely violent and the family had to live through several very scary hours when the wind was so fierce that they thought the roof would come off. It was on that scary stormy night that J. R. R. Tolkien started telling the tale of Roverandom to his children to take their minds off the raging winds (2).
The Sea-serpent is derived from the Norse mythology. There the serpent Jörmungandr, also known as the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent, was the child of Loki and Angrboða, tossed into the ocean by Odin. The worm grew exceedingly large that soon it was able to encircle the whole world and put its tale in its mouth. When Jörmungandr let go of his tail, Ragnarök began. During the battle the serpent came from the bottom of the sea and joined the fight. Thor killed Jörmungandr but himself died because of the serpent’s venom. The symbol of a serpent eating its own tail is called ouroboros. It came from Egyptian iconography and entered the Western tradition, having various interpretations in different cultures and ages, including cyclical movement and constant re-creation.
Once the wizard and the dogs, who have the sense to remain unseen, reach the Sea-serpent’s sleeping place, Roverandom upsets everything even further by biting the tail of one of the sharks pulling Artaxerxes’s carriage. It causes a chain reaction, with all the seven sharks biting each other and the last one biting the Sea-serpent’s tail sticking out of the cave.
Tolkien states here that Roverandom knew nothing of the Sea-serpent. Like earlier in the tale, he stresses the importance of knowledge of mythological kind. Tolkien was well-read in myths, and following a conversation with C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson in 1931, he wrote Mythopoeia, a poem on the importance of myths in people’s lives. It is a beautiful poem that addresses several issues of the importance of myths. They help us see and perceive the world better, connect us with our ancient past and form big a part of our life, even though many tend to dismiss them as unworthy of attention. All myths bear some universal truths, ancient wisdoms that are still relevant in our cynical, technology-driven world. Reading myths helps people rediscover those truths, look at the world with wide-open eyes and enjoy the world around, value its beauty, pay attention to the things that we sometimes overlook in our hasty lives. They are also a wonderful example of a man’s sub-creative power, a great proof that humans can make magic with words:
Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.
(Tree and Leaf, p. 88-89)
The Sea-serpent’s movement causes so much disquiet and commotion that the situation becomes even worse. When PAM’s attempt to make amends and calm down the serpent fails miserably, the mer-people demand his dismissal at once. The wizard concedes, but right before going away he destroys all his spells in the heat of the moment. Later this will cause some trouble to the sea-people still dwelling in the palace, so Artaxerxes can consider himself well avenged. Meanwhile, his temper is softer than ever. In fact, it is the kindest and calmest Artaxerxes we have seen during the course of the story. He seems to have also learnt his lesson and made useful conclusions that being always bad-tempered is not the best way to live a life.
Artaxerxes promises to help Roverandom, who again does not hesitate to use polite words and addresses the wizard in the most polite way the latter has been in ages. But before that the wizard, his wife and the dog leave the sea-palace and go back to the land.
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 5.
(1) The Book of Lost Tales I, p. 118.
(2) Roverandom, p. 13.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Roverandom (edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2013.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Tree and Leaf; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Book of Lost Tales. Part I; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
- H. A. Guerber – Myths of the Norsemen. From the Eddas and Sagas; George G. Harrap & Company; London; 1909 (Kindle Edition).
- Snorri Sturluson – Heimskringla (Kindle Edition).