Saturday, 19 July 2008

Dogs in Fiction

My latest book is my first without dragons, but it has a dog, a mongrel called Dog. He looks like the dog in the photo on the left.

A reviewer on Youwriteon said he hoped Dog would be involved in the rest of the book, and that got me thinking about fictional dogs. Jilly Cooper said that if your novel was getting sluggish, kill off the dog. Could one bear to, though?

I made a non-comprehensive list of fictional dogs:

1. My favourite, Snowy, Tintin's dog. Beautifully drawn; Hergé could draw anything except horses. The scene where Snowy gets tipsy and is told off by Tintin is unforgettable.

2. In Mortal Engines, Katherine's pet wolf, also called Dog. I love wolves. The reader knows things are going very badly when poor Dog is shot dead towards the end of the book.

3. An unpublished (as yet) dog, The General in Alan Hutcheson's The Baer Boys. A lovable long-haired dachshund with lots of personality, The General is based on Alan's real-life dog, Odie.

4. Timmy the dog, George's dog in The Famous Five adventures. Loyal, brave and fond of ice-cream, he's the dog every child wants.

5. Most improbable dog; Nana, a prim Newfoundland dog, who was nanny to the children in JM Barrie's play, Peter Pan.

Have I missed any good dogs? I must have. Let me know.


  1. The General is honored indeed. I don't seem to be able to write anything of length without a dog finding its way in. As for Ms. Cooper's advice, my experience, limited though it may be, is that the one surefire way to antagonize a goodly portion of your readers is by doing harm to the pooch. When I rewrote "Boomerang" (formerly "Close Enough for Gov Work") I rewrote the part where Oz the airedale encounters Leslie the assassin to make it clear as can be that Oz escapes serious injury. Even my son was upset at the first version where Oz's fate is somewhat uncertain.

    "Kill off an entire battalion if you must, but Don't Kill the Dog."

  2. I'd forgotten Oz in Boomerang!

    Yes, I was worried about Oz too. I also wanted more of him in the book, as he's a very good character. In fact, if I didn't have a sieve-like memory, you might have featured twice in my list.

  3. Haplo's dog in the Death Gate Saga is a wonderful character that spans all the books. While Haplo does his damnedest to be cold and emotionless, his dog is friendly and trusting with the most inconvenient people, putting Haplo in all sorts of uncomfortable situations. In the end, though, you realize that the dog might have more wisdom than its master. Oftentimes, you find yourself saying, "Well, that's great Haplo, but what does your dog think?"

  4. Chro, you make me want to rush out and buy The Death Gate Saga.

    I won't, though, as I'm still stuck on the first hundred pages of The Name of the Wind. Perhaps what it needs is a dog...

  5. White Fang (though it's a long, long time since I read it)?


  6. I know not this White Fang of whom you speak.

    Am I missing anything?

  7. You may like to have a looky here then:

    (I remember enjoying the film too).


  8. Goodness, strong meat.

    I've read the start of White Fang somewhere, I remember now, where the men are hunted by the wolves. I thought it powerful, but not altogether credible.

  9. I can't remember that far back! I was quite a bit younger than I am now! But it sounds about right. Now you've got me thinking about it, it might be worth a revisit - to see if it's as good as I remember...


  10. White Fang? Call of the Wild?

    Jack London!

  11. We cannot forget Old Yeller. Broke the rule about Don't Hurt the Dog, but that was one noble beast. Makes me tear up just thinking about him.

  12. It's easier to forget Old Yeller if you've never read about him...

    Wasn't there a dog in John Buchan's Prester John, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, whose fur grew the wrong way on his back, who accepted the hero as his master once he'd beaten him (and frankly I didn't think much of that) and was shot by the villains?

  13. You have never read Old Yeller? I guess that should surprise as I have never heard of Prester John. One more example of the wide cultural chasm that exists between our two almost same language speaking nations.

    Disney made a pretty good movie version way back when.

  14. These are good dogs: 'Red Dog' by Louis De Bernieres is based on a real dog, the trials of a ruggedly independent outback stray (He has his own memorial statue). For a more philosophical take on things, how about 'The Difficulty of Being a Dog' by Roger Grenier? It's about author's dogs. Both are really good reads - if you like dogs...

  15. Hi Bel,

    I do like dogs; I shall put your recommendations on my reading list. As long as they have happy endings...

  16. I wish to have several other dogs taken into consideration, to wit: Salar the Salmon, Tarka the Otter, Black Beauty, Napoleon and Snowball (Animal Farm), Peter Rabbit, Rupert Bear, Bigwig (Watership Down) . . . Well, that's enough dogs to be going on with.

    What this admittedly short list suggests is that dogs work well enough if you're writing for children (Animal Farm isn't an exception) or if you're writing wildlife. In mainstream adult fiction there's not a lot of mileage in dogs, and the reason is clear: they just don't say enough. (This is why Dickens made the dog in Barnaby Rudge a raven: at least he could make the odd comment here and there.)

    But, still with Dickens, Bill Sikes's Bull's-eye (who might be considered a dog, if we stretch a point) is worth a glance. Bull's-eye is readily identifiable as the medieval concept of the witch's familiar, a kind of extension of the man.

    Which prompts the thought that the most interesting use of dogs in literature (that I know of, at least) is made by Philip Pullman. The human characters in His Dark Materials all have daemons, dogs who reflect their personalities. Separation of human and daemon is traumatic for both.

    That's all I have to say on dogs.

  17. The trouble with dogs in fiction, I am discovering, is the same problem with dogs in real life; you have to keep accounting for them. You have to remember where they are. You have to take them with you, or rush back to them, or find someone to look after them if you are away for more than a very few hours.

    Ric (character in my W.I.P.) has just bought a Harley. I was standing in the post office queue and suddenly thought, where does the dog go?

    In Pullman, it's the servile who have dog daemons. I guess like Shakespeare he doesn't much like them.