Roverandom:  Let Sleeping (Toy) Dogs Lie
by JRR Tolkien
review by Vincent Asaro
 
 
Roverandom’s origins as a story created for Tolkien’s son Michael have been well documented in most reviews of this book; if you want the full history, refer to Humphrey Carpenter’s biography (Pages 161,162). Now to the meat of the matter.

With the publication of this fairy-tale, almost none of Tolkien’s writings remain unpublished. A few short stories here and there, early love letters to his future wife, Edith Bratt, scattered academic lectures and unfinished poems, such as his “Fall of Arthur”. While even I was hoping that Roverandom would one day be salvaged, there is a distinct sensation of scraping the barrel here.

For much of this, I fault the editors of this book, Christina Skull and Wayne G. Hammond. They have lavished attention on introductory and explanatory notes, but these notes are reminiscent of Walter Hooper’s : an attempt to make something out of nothing. They are written in scholarly terminology, but reveal a lack of intuition as to what information notes such as these should contain. They seem more an attempt to display Skull and Hammond’s knowledge of Tolkien trivia than to deliver any relevant or useful information.

I state this at the outset because I believe that it sheds light on this whole endeavor. The editors have, in imitation of Christopher Tolkien’s “History of Middle Earth” series, given us the text untouched by editorial hands. The “notes”, I suppose, are meant to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, of all Tolkien’s posthumously published material, Roverandom is the least cohesive, even more so than “The Silmarillion”. It positively needs to be ordered, padded and smoothed out.

The approach taken by the editors is academic, and this is problematic: Roverandom’s chief attribute is it’s Hobbit-related content; many of it’s scenarios foreshadow the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. But there is minimal scholarly and academic interest in the “The Hobbit” compared to Tolkien’s other works. If this book were to be truly useful academically, Tolkien’s unpublished “Bimble Bay” poems, which are related to Roverandom in the history of “The Hobbit”, would have to be included , in addition to truly relevant notes. Such a helpful volume would justify it’s existence in a way that Roverandom is unable to.

In it’s present form it is too brisk, too undeveloped to follow as a story. This is obviously Tolkien’s ‘working model’ for Roverandom, not a finished product. Unlike “Mr. Bliss”, Roverandom lacks the illusion of completion.

The story itself is charming enough, although it is doubtful whether Tolkien would have wanted it published after “The Lord of the Rings”. During the composition of that work, he underwent a transformation, and became aware of his work as he had never been before. Tolkien regretted “talking down” to his audience in “The Hobbit ”; I find it hard to believe that he would have tolerated Roverandom in it’s present state.

There are several sparks here, but they do not burn particularly long or especially bright. Alone the image of Roverandom and the Moon Dog being pursued by the White Dragon remains in my memory; and that is largely because of Tolkien’s beautiful illustration. In fact, the illustrations are of more interest than the text. They are among Tolkien’s most colorful and detailed.

For those who intend to use Roverandom for scholarly or academic purposes, I say this: do your own research and ignore the notes. You may miss one or two tidbits, but anything you can come up with will, no doubt, be more interesting and informative than what is here already. To the general reader, I recommend “Mr. Bliss” and “The Father Christmas Letters” as better examples of Tolkien’s stories for his children.

Review written by Vincent Asaro