over is a little white dog with black spots and a penchant for getting in trouble. One day he’s playing outside with his yellow ball when an old man comes by and takes it. So Rover bites the man’s trouser leg and suddenly finds himself turned into a toy, for this man is a wizard named Artaxexes. What follows is Rover’s quest to become a real dog again.
Rover is found in the grass, sold for sixpence at a shop and brought home to Little Boy Two, who is especially fond of dogs. The next day, Two puts him in his pocket and runs down to the beach. Rover falls out of Two’s pocket and into the sand where he is eventually found by Psamathos, the sand wizard. Some of the Artaxexes’ magic wears off because Rover is close to another wizard’s home, and he regains mobility, but remains small.
Here is where Rover’s journey really begins.
Rover travels to two fascinating places: the moon, where he meets the Man-in-the-Moon, and the bottom of the sea. In both places live two other dogs who are also called Rover and claim to be the first. They both insist that Rover change his name to Roverandom because there cannot be two Rovers, and they’re older than him so he has to do what they say.
During his stay on the moon, the Man-in-the-Moon takes Roverandom to the dark side where he discovers children playing. The Man-in-the-Moon explains that this is where children come when they dream, and that he makes the dreams for them. Roverandom finds Two there and they spend the entire night playing together. On the walk back to the light side, Roverandom asks if dreams come true, and the Man-in-the-Moon responds: “Some of mine do… Some, but not all; and seldom any of them straight away, or quite like they were in dreaming them.”
When Roverandom is finally changed back to his normal size, he wants to go back to Two—only, he doesn’t quite know the way. “’All the Man-in-the-Moon’s dreams don’t come true, then—just as he said himself,’ thought Rover as he padded along. ‘This was evidently one that didn’t. I don’t even know the name of the place where the little boys live, and that’s a pity.’”
The thing about quests and dreams is that they never take us where we expect and we pick up new friends, experiences, and names along the way. What Roverandom thinks is a quest to get his normal size back becomes something even more complex and beautiful because he loses his name and is given a new one.
There is something significant about “naming” in the face of adversity. Whether we take on one ourselves or are given one by others, new names speak to the people we want to be or the ideals we want to uphold. One of my favourite examples of this is Edmund Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, who is known as “King Edmund the Just.” He knows what it is like to betray his friends and be forgiven, and because of this he seeks to live up to that title.
In the same way, Roverandom cannot go back to being “Rover,” the rude little dog who bites trouser legs, because he is not that dog anymore. He was thinking of Little Boy Two’s dream not coming true, but his own didn’t either—at least, not in the way he expected. And he probably wasn’t thinking about the significance of his new name, but it’s there for the rest of us to see; it’s a symbol of the hardship he’s faced and the new person he is. We know that he won’t go back to his old ways, that he’ll become wise and dignified (and Tolkien said as much). He’s got the new name to prove it. ♦