Tolkien tale inspired by lost toy dog turns up after 70 years

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The Independent Online
It is 1955 and a 13-year-old girl stands scanning the shelves in a Bristol lending library.

Tentatively the nearby librarian suggests some J R R Tolkien. Perhaps The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy?

"That librarian didn't know what she was starting," recalls Christina Scull, 42 years on, from her home in Massachusetts. For since that day her enthusiasm for Tolkien has never abated and this month a previously unpublished Tolkien story for children, Roverandom, edited by Christina and her American husband, Wayne G Hammond, is released.

It is an ideal tribute to their favourite writer from a couple who met through the Tolkien Society and were united across the Atlantic by their love of his Middle-earth literature.

Roverandom was created by Tolkien in 1925 for two of his three young sons, John, eight, and Michael, five.

Its magical plot, together with its five original water-colour illustrations, had sprung from the loss of a toy dog called Rover on a beach during a family holiday in Filey, Yorkshire.Tolkien invented the story in an attempt to console his children. Two or three years on, he retold the tale of the transfigured toy dog who flies to the moon and, eventually, wrote it down.

"Tolkien doesn't seem to have wanted it to be printed. He really wrote it just for his family," said David Brown, the book's editor at HarperCollins.

"But we believe it will be extremely interesting to all those who admire him."

The Tolkien literary estate is now guarded by the author's youngest son, Christopher, who was only a baby at the time of the loss of the toy dog.

"The family are, rightly, very respectful of Tolkien's work and reputation, so I am very pleased that I was able to persuade Christopher to allow the story to be seen by the public, not so much as a children's book, but as a record of the man," said David Brown.

Christina Scull and her husband were delighted to be asked by HarperCollins to edit thebook. Their joint 1995 work on Tolkien's illustrations, J R R Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, had already established them as experts.

"We had known of the existence of Roverandom from the 1977 Humphrey Carpenter biography of Tolkien and we had already asked to read the text once when we were looking at all his paintings.

"I think the book will appeal primarily to adults who are already interested in Tolkien, because he does use quite long words for a book about a toy dog," said Christina. "These days it seems writers don't really use words longer than two syllables in children's books."

In Scull's opinion the tone of the story is dictated by Tolkien's striking water-colour of the Merking's palace.

"It is superb. He was a landscape artist really who never concentrated on figures. Although he was never an Arthur Rackham, of course, the colours and the atmosphere he created in his art were really very good."