The closing chapter of Roverandom is a good example of a happy turn of events when you least expect it. Moreover, it is where we can see the results of Rover’s moral journey and how he has changed over the course of the story.
Once out of the sea depths, Rover again addresses Artaxerxes with his request: to change him into his proper size and shape. He does not hesitate to use the word “please” abundantly. The wizard is happy to help the dog as he has become wiser and kinder, too, following his failure as PAM and the anger of mer-people. But, alas, all his spells were destroyed at the bottom of the ocean. Artaxerxes is truly miserable, and he really means it being eager to change Rover back into his normal self. Things would have been pretty bad had it not been for the wizard’s shrewd wife. She kept some spells and now has exactly the one he needs to grant Rover’s request.
After so many adventures Rover is finally a real dog again!
It is no good trying to describe how excited he felt, or how funny and smaller everything seemed, even the oldest whale; nor how strong and ferocious Rover felt. For just one moment he looked longingly at the wizard’s trousers; but he did not want the story to begin all over again, so, after he had run a mile in circles for joy, and nearly barked his head off, he came back and said ‘Thank you!’; and he even added ‘Very pleased to have met you’, which was very polite indeed.
(Roverandom, p. 163)
It is the main fruit of Rover’s moral lesson: he has learnt to keep his emotions in check, so he does not do any rash, outrageous things while remembering good manners at the same time. Now Rover has to make his way home himself as Artaxerxes has no magic left to transfer him. It is also good for him as in this journey he goes on justifying his name further and applying his newly acquired experience of two different Otherworlds in his own world. Rover’s way home is full of adventures and wanderings, but he is a wiser dog now, after many wanderings on the Moon and at the bottom of the sea.
One thing that strikes Rover about his own world as not very nice is people all looking the same, hurrying somewhere in their cars. Here Tolkien addresses the issue of industrialisation again. This haste was the aspect of progress that disappointed the Professor greatly. Poem Progress in Bimble Town reflects this sentiment. What’s more, Humphrey Carpenter states in Tolkien’s biography that the poem was based on Filey — the resort where the Tolkiens spent the holiday and where the Professor started making up Roverandom.
The poem offers a sarcastic view of a seaside town which is no longer as beautiful as it used to be. It is full of shops and cars, people who drop litter everywhere and walk around taking everything for granted, going as far as ignoring the beauty of nature around them. Obsessed with speed, people’s only concern is to get somewhere as fast as possible, eat, get sunburnt and go back:
Sometimes through it (this is rare)
one can hear the shouts of boys;
sometimes late, when motor-bikes
are not passing with a screech,
one hears faintly (if one likes)
the sea still at it on the beach.
at what? At churning orange-rind,
piling up banana-skins,
gnawing paper, trying to grind
a broth of bottles, packets, tins,
before a new day comes with more,
before next morning’s charabangs,
stopping at the old inn-door
with reek and rumble, hoots and clangs,
bring more folk to Godknowswhere
and Theydontcare, to Bimble Town
where the steep street, that once was fair,
with many houses staggers down,
See Britain First!
(The Annotated Hobbit, p. 254)
Tolkien showed a similar attitude to people’s inability to admire and be enchanted by the world around them in other poems of the cycle dedicated to Bimble Town. Various glimpses of his dislike of progress can also be seen in his other works as well as in essay On Fairy-Stories. For Tolkien being in touch with real life meant to notice the sun and sky, nature and stars, and they were the ultimate manifstations of the real world around us — unchanging, beautiful, eternal, timeless, as opposed to technological fads that come and go.
When Rover returns to his owner, there is a great surprise awaiting him: in the garden of his own house he meets Boy Two! As Rover nearly comes to terms with the idea that the boy’s dream would never come true, everything changes. The woman who owns Rover turns out to be the boy’s grandmother and now his dream, and Rover’s dream, too, is true: the dog has returned to him and they can play together!
Their meeting is that of good old friends and “Rover sat up and begged, and could not find his voice to bark anything, and the little boy kissed his head” (Roverandom, p. 166). It is one of the most touching moments in the story. Such unexpected happy turn of events was called eucatastrophe by Tolkien. It was the term the writer coined and the technique he used in some other of his stories. When such a happy turn appears in a story, it gives a reader “a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality” (Tree and Leaf, p. 69). I will not be surprised if many who read Roverandom experience this very feeling at the meeting of Rover with Boy Two or even shed a tear or two as the joy of this moment is truly great.
Roverandom is a story often overlooked by readers on favour of more famous works by Tolkien. However, this tale, which was originally meant only for the Professor’s children and not for wider audiences, has typically Tolkienian depth and complexity. References to various myths, legends as well as Tolkien’s own mythology, alongside intricate connections within the story itself turn it into more than just a children’s story, but a treasury showing great intelligence of the author, his attention to details and great love which he put into writing it. The style is charming and funny at some times, serious at others, but always poetic and beautiful, with curious word choices, play on words and jokes with a philological nod. Thus said, Roverandom deserves attention as a story of its own, with its own value, depth and character.
- 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.