In the summer of 1925, J.R.R. Tolkien took his family on a vacation to the east coast of Yorkshire. At the time, his children were John, 7; Michael, 4; and Christopher, a baby. Tolkien was due to start his new position at Oxford in October, although for a time he would continue his teaching duties at the University of Leeds in addition to teaching at Oxford.
On of Michael’s favorite toys was a small lead dog painted black and white. One day during a walk on the beach, he set the toy down – and couldn’t find it again. For two days Tolkien, John, and Michael searched for the toy, but it was lost. Michael was heartbroken.
To ease his son’s grief, Tolkien began to tell stories about what happened to the toy. Over time installments and new adventures were added. In 1937, when The Hobbit had become a major publishing success, Tolkien edited the stories into a manuscript, which was never published. Now it has been, under the title of Roverandom, the name Tolkien gave to the toy dog. The story has been edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond and includes an informative introduction.
If you’ve read Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, you’ll know the style of Roverandom. It is a story meant for children, full of the dog’s adventures on the beach, on the moon, and even under the sea. Roverandom is on a quest to remove a curse put on him by a wizard, and the quest takes him to varied places with wildly imaginative characters (including a dragon who predates Smaug in The Hobbit).
It’s a great read-aloud story for children.
The Stone of Destiny by Jim Ware is another story for children, certainly with influences of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicle of Narnia but not derivative of them.
Morgan Izaak leads a somewhat solitary existence in the coastal town of San Piedro, California. He spends most of his free time in the old tower of St. Halistan’s Church, trying various experiments in alchemy. He inherited the alchemy books from his late father; his mother is suffering from cancer, and Morgan is determined to find the famous philosopher’s stone. He believes the stone will help him cure his mother.
He has one friend, Eny Ariello, the daughter of the church’s caretakers. Eny’s mother is of Irish extraction and her father is Hispanic. Both have stories and myths that they’ve told their daughter, and she’s been especially influenced by her mother’s old Irish myths of an underworld and a famous stone of power.
Added to the mix is Madame Medea, who operates an old curiosity shop in town. She’s extremely interested in the activities of both Morgan and Eny, and we know she is likely up to no good.
Ware, a graduate of UCLA and Fuller Theological Seminary, is the author of several books for children and adults. He artfully blends Irish and Hispanic myths, aiming at a choice that Morgan must ultimately make between his desperate belief in alchemy and the faith of his mother and his friend Eny. As both children will discover, the myths turn out to be something far more than made-up stories.
The Stone of Destiny, aimed at the 8- to 12-year age group, is an entertaining story filled with twists and turns and heroes and villains. And even a few giants.
Top illustration: Tolkien’s drawing of the White Dragon chasing Roverandom and the Moondog.
We read Roverandom out loud at the dinner table (about 13 years ago, when we had a picky eater and waited for him to finish his green beans). I'll have to add Jim Ware to my list. Thanks for the reviews, Glynn.
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