Roverandom by JRR Tolkien
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When J. R. R. Tolkien is mentioned, the average person will have immediate thoughts of dragons, hobbits, fiery mountains, or elves. Rightly so, for he is the author of great works on those topics. It is highly unlikely, however, that the person will have immediately recalled the adventures of a small, impetuous dog. This is a shame, because the author who brought us The Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings trilogy also wrote a charming juvenile novel about just such a thing: Roverandom.
Roverandom is the tale which Tolkien told to his son Michael after the four year old lost his favorite toy on a trip to the seaside; that toy was a small leaden dog that soon became the inspiration for what was to become a favorite family story. Perhaps to provide young Michael with an alternate explanation for the dog’s disappearance (preferable to that of it being lost forever in the sand and surf), the story centered around the adventures of a live dog named Rover who, after insulting a passing wizard, is turned into a toy dog and taught a valuable lesson: mind your Ps and Qs when interacting with magical beings!
The book is probably not so compelling that you will be unable to put it down, and it probably won’t be one that you reread every year. There are reasons to return to this work, however. The illustrations (by Mr. Tolkien himself) are undeniably delightful, and the characterizations of the quirky characters Rover runs into on his journeys are highly enjoyable. One gets the feeling that if he had run in the same circles as the author in the nineteen-twenties, he would recognize more than one of the personalities in the people he met there. Rover’s character development, unfortunately, was lacking. The doggy protagonist seemed rather flat, and was much less interesting than the things he saw and the things he did. Of course, this may be explained away by the fact that this is simply a bedtime story written down. Perhaps Mr. Tolkien understandably wanted to keep things as near to the original telling as possible.
Although Roverandom may turn hardcore Hobbit-lore fans off with its deviation from Tolkien’s meatier works, the yarn does deserve credit for its successes. The simplicity of the plot line prevents alienation from young readers, while more mature readers will notice that Tolkien’s narrative is full of quiet humor and droll British colloquialisms. Even the most casual reader will notice the ease with which Rover’s quest moves from earth to sky to sea and home again.
There are no deep moral lessons being taught the audience, which is relieving after reading so many recently published children’s books with blatant sermons advocating conservationism or pacifism. This is simply a dog on a mission - to regain the love and comfort of home and the ones he loves. While Roverandom will probably never be listed among the great classics, this theme rings true, making the book a valuable addition to any library.
This Roverandom book review was written by Daniel Offer
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