Dogs have long enjoyed a special place in popular culture where they’ve been cast as everything from movie stars (Turner & Hooch, Marley and Me, Lassie etc.) to comic book and cartoon characters (Huckleberry Hound, Dogtanian, Snoopy, Fred Basset etc.) But long before any of these media existed, authors paid tribute to and acknowledged the importance of our four-legged friends in works of literature that commonly make lists of must-read books even today. And the fact that contemporary novelists are still producing works that feature dogs as primary characters, is testament to that special relationship that has always existed between human and canine beings. This post, therefore, is a brief look at some of the most famous works, old and new, in which dogs take centre stage.
Old Yeller - Frank Gipson
Now considered a classic, Old Yeller has been an American favourite since its publication in 1956. Despite its US popularity, it’s relatively unknown on this side of the Atlantic but can easily be found on Amazon and other book vending sites.
Old Yeller, the star of the book is described as a Black Mouth Cur. I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with the breed but a little research revealed it originates from southern region of the United States where it was created for hunting and herding purposes. The story is a heart-warming one that focuses on the relationship between Old Yeller and Travis, the young boy who, reluctantly at first, takes the stray dog in and eventually develops the kind of bond that only boy and dog could share.
It’s another one that pulls firmly on the heart strings and many readers have advised keeping a box of tissues close by for the conclusion.
The Call of the Wild - Jack London
The Call of the Wild was first published in 1903 and at only 172 pages is a fairly short book by some standards but is one in which the story is by no means diminished by its length. The plot follows the misfortunes of Buck, a St Bernard/Scotch Shepherd cross, kidnapped from a comfortable life as a household pet and forced into a brutally harsh one as a Yukon sled dog.
This book is not for the faint-hearted, often featuring explicit descriptions of the violent conditions Buck is exposed to. However, if you can stomach it, it makes for compelling reading and will take you on something of an emotional rollercoaster before reaching a conclusion that will have you on the edge of your reading seat rooting for Buck every step of the way.
The book has been adapted for film in numerous Hollywood productions, the first being in 1923.
Sirius: A Novel about the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History - Jonathan Crown
A fairly recent release having been first published in 2017, Sirius is an enchanting tale about a fox terrier that escapes WWII Nazi Germany with his Jewish owners and ends up United States where he eventually becomes a Hollywood movie star. Yes, I know, it does sound pretty far fetched but approach the book with an open mind and be prepared to suspend disbelief a little and you’ll find this a really enjoyable book.
Just like the previous two books, there are some highly emotional moments and you’ll reach the end feeling like your heart strings have been well and truly pulled but you won’t regret a minute of it.
One Good Dog - Susan Wilson
Some may accuse this book of being sappy and predictable and while there may be a little truth to both claims, it’s still a lovely story and one that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to find enjoyable.
The plot follows Adam, a man driven by career ambition (at the expense of his family) who, through a rapid converging of circumstances, suddenly finds his whole life turned upside down. The canine star of the story is Chance, a mistreated pit bull terrier cross whose path one day crosses with Adam’s and creates circumstances in which both are given a second chance at life.
The book was first published in 2015 and received numerous glowing reviews from the US media and comparisons with the earlier published Marley and Me by John Grogan.
Cujo - Stephen King
This last review bucks the trend in that its doggy lead character (pun intended) is an all out bad’un rather than the hero of the story. It’s probably not the best book to read if you are an owner or are a lover of St. Bernards. However, Stephen King’s 9th standalone novel was well received by the book buying public and maintained a best seller position in the US for many weeks following its initial release in 1981.
The story, unsurprisingly, revolves around Cujo, a domestic St. Bernard that develops seemingly murderous tendencies after contracting rabies from a bat bite. The book is fairly standard Stephen King fayre: full of vivid depictions of guts and gore but written with an accessible, easy reading style that draws you in from the very first page. It’s not considered to be one of his best, due to an ending that many readers have called “disappointing” but it’s a decent read all the same and would appeal to anyone interested in seeing what happens when “Man’s best friend” turns bad.
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