Revisiting Tolkien Short Stories – Part 1: Roverandom


By: Mary Rakas

J.R.R. Tolkien is most recognized for his saga of Middle-earth contained in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Less mainstream are the many children’s books he’s penned. Of these, Roverandom is a delightful short story first published posthumously in 1998.

Roverandom has three stages (or four, if you count both sides of the moon): on earth, on the moon, and under the sea. Each part offers distinguishing characteristics. The earthly expeditions are enjoyable because of their basis on a true story. One day on vacation, one of Tolkien’s children lost his spotted toy dog while playing on the beach. It was never found. However, to console his son, Tolkien made up a story that the dog was off on an adventure to turn himself into a real dog again.

The book’s opening segment is nearly identical to Tolkien’s family trip. Rover, a white dog with black spots, unknowingly bites the trousers of the wizard Arteraxes and is turned into a toy. He’s sold in a shop and given to Little Boy Two. The boy loses Rover on the beach, but luckily the sand-sorcerer Psamathos finds the dog before he’s swept away by the tide. Psamathos turns Rover into a real dog again, but cannot turn him into his normal size. The little dog doesn’t want to go home, fearing he’ll be chased by his owner’s cat, so Psamathos sends the dog to the moon.

Thus begins stage two of the journey, where more powerful fantasy elements make their presence known. The Man-in-the-Moon, the greatest magician, resides here. Already owning a little flying dog named Rover, the Man calls the main dog Roverandom to avoid confusion. The Man gives Roverandom a pair of wings, and the two little dogs share many adventures. Most notably, they stir up the wrath of the White Dragon. The Man-in-the-Moon scares off the beast with a magical rocket, but Rover and Roverandom end up in the doghouse, so to speak, with the Man.

The Man decides to show Roverandom the dark side of the moon, where the young dog comes to a crossroads. He’s seen magical things most others cannot boast of, and made new friends like moon-Rover. Roverandom could have chosen to stay in a fantasy world. But among the children playing in their dreams, he meets Little Boy Two, who instantly recognizes his toy dog.

The pair has so much fun together, Roverandom decides he wants to go home after all. He wants to make the boy’s dream come true. The Man-in-the-Moon sends the young dog back to Psamathos, who arranges for Roverandom to ride with Uin the whale. They embark on the final stage of the journey: the Deep Blue Sea.

Arteraxes now resides with the mer-folk as the Pacific and Atlantic Magician following his marriage to the mer-king’s daughter (arranged by Psamathos). The mer-folk prove difficult to please, and the wizard says he hasn’t the time to restore Roverandom to his proper size. In the meantime, the little dog travels with mer-Rover and Uin.

The mer-folk ask Arteraxes to leave following an unfortunate incident with the Sea-serpent. The wizard, his wife, and Roverandom return to the surface, where the little dog finally has his proper size restored. It turns out the dog’s original owner is Little Boy Two’s grandmother, so Roverandom gets to spend time in the yard with his yellow ball, and on the beach with the boy and his two brothers.

One thing every stage has in common is humor. Jokes, witty observations, and one-liners are sprinkled throughout every setting, linking them together. The Man-in-the-Moon refers to nearly every troublesome life form, including the two puppies, as ‘that dratted creature,’ and even makes an ‘if you know what I mean’ joke. When the mer-folk say Arteraxes should have his pay reduced, the narrator calls the comment rude yet agrees. The possibility of the Sea-serpent sinking a continent is, according to the narrator, only a concern depending on which one it is.

Each stage is also connected by hints of Tolkien’s other works. Giant spiders, bog creatures, and even goblins make appearances, all reminiscent of Middle-earth. These hints are most prominent in the third stage, when Uin and Roverandom notice Elvenhome, or Valinor, in the far West.

Tolkien seamlessly blended personal experiences, fantasy, and comedy into a tale sure to captivate readers of any age. Yet through it all, the message is never lost. The simplest dreams are often the most worthwhile. Adventures are exciting. Sometimes we have to journey to new places or meet new people to discover who we are. In the end, it’s who we want to spend time with and how we choose to live our lives that really matters.

Roverandom gives up wondrous possibilities to stay with Little Boy Two. It’s a simple but beautiful choice.

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