“In 1925, four-year-old Michael Tolkien lost his beloved toy dog on the beach. To console him, his father, J.R.R. Tolkien, improvised a story about Rover, a real dog who is magically transformed into a toy and is forced to seek out the wizard who wronged him in order to be returned to normal. This charming tale, peopled by a sand-sorcerer and a terrible dragon, by the king of the sea and the Man-in-the-Moon, endured several drafts over the years. Now, more than seventy years later, the adventures of Rover are published for the first time.” – Roverandom 1999 Jacket Description
Reading this again last month, I was struck with envy and awe: the Tolkien children had JRR Tolkien as their dad! This phenomenal subcreator of Middle Earth blessed readers everywhere with his wildly imaginative stories, but while he lectured at Oxford, drank with CS Lewis, and published stories about a world that seems real to so many of us, he came home at night and lavished his love on Michael, Priscilla, Christopher and John Tolkien. I cannot help but feel some envy for the souls who got to call him Daddy and get lost in his storytelling on a regular basis.
Christopher Tolkien, the youngest of Tolkien’s sons, was always interested in his father’s writing. Like his dad, he became a professor of English Language at Oxford and is the literary executor of his father’s literary estate. Christopher has made a life’s work out of going through his deceased father’s papers, journals, partially written stories, and letters.
Originally submitted for publication after the success of The Hobbit, Roverandom was rejected by publishers. Christopher brought it forward again in 1998 in a collection of Tolkien short stories called Tales of the Perilous Realm. I own the Alan Lee illustrated version of this collection. Roverandom is the first book in that collection and it sets just the right tone for this canon of unrelated stories. Roverandom was also published as a separate spine complete with illustration from Tolkien.
While listening to the audiobook narrated by Derek Jacobi, I just kept thinking about how much it feels like I am listening to a hobbit or old wizard retell a lost fairy tale from George MacDonald. It reminds me of The Princess and the Goblin but it is much funnier and more full of creative adventure. Brimming over with mythology and fantasy, it is also quite innocent. Nothing like The Hobbit, it was written as a story from a father to his son. As such, it is a beautiful way to introduce children to Tolkien. My youngest has loved the story since he was four.