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Five Top Fictional Dogs (Friday Five)

I'm sure you will not be shocked to hear that smillaraaq asked about "Five best-loved fictional dogs."

First, a couple of intelligent talking dogs:

The Disreputable Dog from Garth Nix' Old Kingdom (a/k/a Abhorsen) series, because she is so earthy and snarky.

Macchiata from R.A. MacAvoy's Damiano Trilogy ... I still tear up when I think about her trying to warm up the dead baby in the snow, and freaking out because it wasn't working.

Now, some lovely realistic dogs:

Dog, Owen's ex-war dog from Rosemary Sutcliff's YA historical novel Dawn Wind.

Zero, Jack Bagthorpe's very ordinary dog in the very funny Bagthorpe Saga.

And a non-fictional dog:

Roger, young Gerry's endlessly patient companion in Gerald Durrell's memoir My Family and Other Animals.

Finally, an extra ... a dog who isn't really a dog:

Sirius/Leo, the magically transformed Celestial Power in Diana Wynne Jones's Dogsbody.



( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 26th, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
I think little Dog Monday from Rilla of ingleside would be on my list.
Aug. 26th, 2010 03:03 am (UTC)
I've never read any of the Montgomery books, either -- I started steering away from realistic non-genre books, especially the ones that seemed girlier, at a fairly young age. (I might have picked them up eventually at some point out of boredom and desperation for new reading material, if they'd been in the house or on some babysitter's shelves, that's how I wound up reading some of the girly classics like Little Women or Heidi in spite of myself, but Anne et al were never in the right place at the right time, and in a library I'd always end up gravitating towards something that looked less domestic.)
Aug. 26th, 2010 03:09 am (UTC)

Anne of Green Gables was the only Montgomery I read. I liked it quite a lot but wasn't very interested in pursuing the rest of the series.

(Hmmm, there's also Pygmalion, Mrs. Caldwell's dog whom Lucinda takes for walks in Roller Skates.)

Aug. 26th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
...and I don't know that one, either. You definitely seem to have been a lot more open-minded about reading classic girly kid-lit than I was! XD I read a fair amount of 19thC - early 20thC stuff, but mostly I gravitated much more strongly towards the "boy" stuff like Conan Doyle or Kipling or Scott.
Aug. 26th, 2010 11:30 am (UTC)

Lucinda is a bright extrovert, but she's an afterthought-baby: it's noted that she was both unanticipated and not much wanted by her upper-class late-19th-century NYC family. She's very unsatisfactory as a girl, considered ugly and unladylike. When her parents go abroad, she is left with a kind but no-nonsense teacher from her school and the teacher's sister, a timid but sweet seamstress. And she finally gets to be "her own Lucinda," and wander the city mostly on her own, meeting and making friends with people that would have been considered unsuitable by her family.

The whole business of what a disappointment Lucinda was to her female relatives, especially (her Aunt Emily constantly refers to her as "as homely as two toads"), struck a chord. There's also a lot of great Shakespeare stuff: Lucinda's Uncle Earl introduces her to the plays during the course of the story, and she really gets into it.

Edited at 2010-08-26 11:30 am (UTC)
Aug. 26th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
But what about her dog? ;)

Kidding aside, that does sound very much like the sort of thing I'd find more interesting (if somewhat angry-making on Lucinda's behalf) now, but would likely have glanced at and set aside as a child in favor of something promising more dramatic forms of adventure. The place and time being so remote and strange probably would have been enough to keep me turning pages if I had ever picked it up while bored at a babysitter's, but in a library setting it's the sort of thing I regularly overlooked in favor of more F&SF-ish books.
Aug. 26th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)
Rilla of Ingleside centered on Anne's grown children during World War I. Little Dog Monday waited at the train station everyday from the day his master went away to the day he came home at the end of the war.
Aug. 26th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
Ah, a Canadian Hachiko! <3
Aug. 26th, 2010 02:48 am (UTC)
Oooh, the only ones of those I've read are Dogsbody and the Garth Nix books...I know you've mentioned Dawn Wind before but I think that's one of the Sutcliffs that my childhood library didn't have, and I've not read anything by any of the other authors.
Aug. 26th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)

Oooh, you must read Dawn Wind! You will love Dog, and Regina, the guttersnipe Owen encounters in the ruins of Viroconium! I will warn you that sad things happen, though: the fact that Dog is of substantial size and an adult when he and Owen meet, and that the book covers a decade, should be warning enough.

The Bagthorpe books are pure, unadultered British clever-silliness about a family of eccentric geniuses, except for "Ordinary Jack" Bagthorpe, who is the protagonist (and that's the title of the first volume, too). He loves Zero dearly, but the rest of the family think the dog is useless - until the events portrayed in vol. 2 of the series, Absolute Zero. The original hardbacks had covers by (in U.S. editions, at least) Trina Schart Hyman. The quote on this icon is from Jack's spoiled little cousin Daisy.

I think you would like Durrell's memoir. He grew up to be a world-famous naturalist and founder of the Jersey Zoo, on the Channel Islands, which has a famous record of breeding endangered species. From when he was age 10 to age 15, his family - widowed mother, older brothers Larry (the acclaimed novelist Lawrence Durrell) and Leslie, and older sister Margo - lived on the Greek island of Corfu. The book is fairly evenly split between beautifully written observations of the island's animal life and comic scenes involving his family.

Edited at 2010-08-26 03:38 am (UTC)
Aug. 26th, 2010 04:20 am (UTC)
*nods* Oh yes, and I've read more than enough other Sutcliffs to know there's bound to be some sadness going in, even without giving one's heart to a (fictional) dog to tear.

You've recced the Durrell to me in passing before, but I don't think I recall anything about the Bagthorpe stuff other than you talking about that icon. I do have a definite fondness for Brit-humor, so those sound fairly promising, too!
Aug. 28th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
DOOOOOOOOOG! *wibbles*

So, the last time you mentioned Dawn Wind to me, I remember checking and seeing it was long out of print. But something made me doublecheck and sure enough, probably thanks to the upcoming film, starting late last year there's been a slow trickle of reprints and ebook conversions, and they just got around to Dawn Wind a few months ago. I...may have gone on a tiny Sutcliff binge here. (All books that I do not remember in the slightest, too! I'm starting to suspect that my childhood library's Sutcliff selection must have been very, very small, because I can really only think of about four different plotlines/titles that I distinctly remember from back then: Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, which was appropriately shelved with the adult books, Sun Horse, Moon Horse which I am dimly remembering as skewed a lot younger than most of her YAs, and something with a forgotten title about a boy ending up in the Varangian Guard...)

Did you ever read The Shield Ring? That was one of the new-to-me ones in this binge, and particularly excellent -- there's a central girl character who's unusually prominent in the storyline for what I recall of Sutcliff's usual books, and Frytha strikes me as being very much the sort of girl heroine you'd have loved... (And another dog who made me cry, of course -- reading three Sutcliffs all in a row really drove home just how well she writes animals in general, her cats and birds and horses seem very vivid and realistic too -- but she was apparently quite a dog person IRL, and oh does it show.)
Aug. 30th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)

Wow, you just went and read that? Aw'right!

So how did you like the book in general? That's one of the books I'd probably list as being "part of me." For me, the scene with Regina and the blue tit, and Owen's finding the mosaic after Dog's death, and the scene with Uncle Widreth, and Owen's decision to stay with Beornwulf's family when he could have left, and then finally finding Regina again, are deeply affecting and satisfying. Also, Regina and Owen's improvised housekeeping in the ruins of Viroconium is, now that I think about it, a direct ancestor of Hakkai's similar housekeeping in my big story.

You know, I read the Shield Ring, but I no longer remember much about it. It's one of those I don;t own. I have Eagle of the Ninth, Dawn Wind, The Silver Branch (another favorite), Knight's Fee, and The Lantern Bearers. I would be glad to lend you any of those.

Aug. 30th, 2010 07:27 am (UTC)
Oh, I adored it, predictably enough. Sutcliff absolutely holds up to rereading, or reading for the first time as an adult, there are so many levels I can appreciate her work on now that simply weren't possible when I was just a little kid caught up in an amazing adventure story. (And I especially loved the bits with Regina and the captured tit -- all of the bits with her and the wild birds, actually, and Dog's burial in the abandoned shrine...that whole passage made me cry even harder than the scene of his actual death, it really carried home the pain of saying goodbye for the last time to a faithful canine friend. Reading a bunch of these for the first time in close succession, and then flipping through some passages from old favorites, one of the things I noticed was that she had a real gift for moving burial scenes -- The Shield Ring really got me sniffling too with the bit where they're laying to rest a beloved leader who was killed in the last battle, and his faithful old hound who survived the fight only to die in his sleep while keeping vigil over his master's body: Now it was Gille, doing for Aikin the things which were for a son or a man's closest friend to do, who drew the dark folds of the bearskin close around him, and set his linden shield and his spear beside him, and laid the old hound Garm at his feet, where he had loved to sleep since he was a puppy. And even with more than a decade passing from when I first read a library copy of Sword At Sunset to when I finally found it back in print, one of the scenes that haunted my memory the most strongly was the burial of the Hill People girl whose brutally gang-raped body was found in the wreck of Trimontium, laid to rest inside the fort, bundled in Artos' own cloak with nine dead warhorses to keep her restless shade from walking.

And yeah, thinking about it on reading and rereading these, I think Sutcliff along with Tolkien, and to a somewhat lesser extent T.H. White, were probably my big formative tastemakers for stuff with a constant sense of depth of history and layered cultural influences, and melancholy over the inevitable passing of an age; and my fondness for intense brothers-in-arms partnerships. And I definitely never thought about it at the time, but Sutcliff was probably one of my earlist cases of being deeply drawn to stories with characters who are frequently moving between cultures and countries, or mixed and trying to find their place.

The Shield Ring is the one where the POV character is a little Saxon girl whose family are all killed in the early days of the Norman Conquest -- the only other survivor is the family shepherd, and he and his dog and the little girl seek refuge in a Norse settlement in Cumberland. She bonds instantly with an orphan boy a year older than her, the foster-son of a kind master harper, and they grow up together in the shadow of a bitterly fought years-long struggle against Norman incroachment into their valley. I really enjoyed that one -- it hit my competence/loyalty/equal partnership kinks, and Frytha got to be active and on-screen much more prominently than most Sutcliff heroines. (And did you ever read Mark of the Horse Lord? That was another one of the new-to-me ones and while it didn't hit quite as sweet of a spot as Dawn Wind or Shield Ring -- it's one of those doomier-and-more-melancholy titles of hers that, along with Tolkien, are I suspect a big part of what helped form my taste for honor-bound revenge tragedies -- it's got some very interesting characters, particularly a prickly and proud warrior girl and a rather Dark-Age-version-of-Yumichika-ish elegantly fey, badass male best friend (with some hints of a slashy vibe if you squint right...)
Aug. 30th, 2010 07:28 am (UTC)
And Eagle of the Ninth and The Lantern Bearers are among the few I've managed to pick up in hard copy over the years, and Knight's Fee and Dawn Wind are two of the ones that have just recently been brought back into print -- I'd love to borrow The Silver Branch, though, as I'm pretty sure that's one of the few of the dolphin-signet cycle that I haven't read at this point, and it's not coming out in a fresh edition until later this year. (Not that there aren't cheap used copies readily available, but my cover-OCD is such that I'd rather wait for an ebook rather than pay to annoy myself by putting another mismatched hard copy on the shelves! It doesn't bother me so much if it's something I picked up free, but people rarely seem to trade away Sutcliffs and if I'm paying for a copy, even if it's so cheap that the shipping costs more than the book, I just get this stubborn balky mental block over putting money into something that doesn't look exactly the way I'd want it to...)
Aug. 26th, 2010 03:39 am (UTC)
I highly recommend Gerald Durrell's books on Corfu. Either My Family and Other Animals or its sequel Birds, Beasts, and Relatives contains a scene involving a matchbox and hundreds of baby scorpions which made me laugh until I couldn't see the pages.

Some of his books have mildly dodgy racial elements (and one of my copies has an incredibly racist cover), but the Corfu books are classics, and if you like those, I can recommend more. He's one of my very favorite writers for comedy, sense of place, and the fond portrayal of exasperating and wonderful characters, both human and animal.
Aug. 26th, 2010 04:07 am (UTC)
He's one of my very favorite writers for comedy, sense of place, and the fond portrayal of exasperating and wonderful characters, both human and animal.

That sounds to me a lot like it might hit the same sweet spot as the James Herriot books -- can either of you confirm if that's the case? If so, I really really need to hunt those down, those were great childhood favorites of mine that still hold up for me on rereading...
Aug. 26th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)
If you like James Herriott, you will almost certainly like Gerald Durrell - very different styles, but similar blends of comedy, evocative description, and animals.
Aug. 30th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)

I think you would enjoy My Family and Other Animals, although the humor is sharper and less folksy than the Herriott. Also, Herriott is often touching, which Durrell very rarely is, and his focus is more on wild animals, insects, and even plants, rather than typical domestic animals. Young Gerry keps a lot of odd things as pets, though (from a mother scorpion with young - resulting in a truly hilarious scene - to a Scops owl), and in addition to Roger, there are several other dogs.

Aug. 30th, 2010 04:02 am (UTC)
No worries, nee-chan, you know that I love stuff like Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei and Martin Amis and The Master and Margarita -- I'm pretty sure that my tolerance for sharp-edged humor is much, much higher than yours! ;)
Aug. 26th, 2010 03:36 am (UTC)
Surprisingly, I can't think of a lot of fictional dogs in books I've read, but perhaps Ash from Robin McKinley's Deerskin would be on my list.

I've never read any of your authors except Garth Nix when I was pretty young. I didn't care for Sabriel at the time, but he seems so popular, maybe I should revisit him and see if my tastes have changed.
Aug. 26th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC)
I did like the dogs in Deerskin very much, although the book as a whole had so much painful stuff that was close to the bone that I've not had much urge to reread it.

Did you read any of the Old Kingdom books beyond Sabriel? I liked it a fair bit, but came to it at least twenty-five years too late -- I'm a little too old and genre-jaded now to love it with the sort of passion I'd have felt as a child or young teen who was starved for active, competent heroines. But I connected with Lirael much more strongly -- her particular issues resonated much more deeply with me on an emotional level than any of Sabriel's struggles, and on an intellectual level I appreciated some of the subversion of genre expectations that was going on in the second book much more than the more conventional structure in the first one. (And the Dog is just pure love.)
Aug. 26th, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
Yes, I see how Deerskin could affect anyone who has survived experiences like hers. For myself, it's a well-worn book on my shelf that I never get bored of returning to. I love a lot of McKinley's work, though Deerskin is my favorite that I've read of hers.

Sabriel is the only Garth Nix book that I have read. However, that was back when I was in junior high, so it's been quite a long time since I've read the book. Does Lirael stand on its own or is is it dependent on the reader having read the preceding books?
Aug. 26th, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
I haven't read any other McKinley yet, although the friend who recced Deerskin also suggested The Blue Sword to me, and I've heard a lot of good things about Sunshine. (I do have a copy of TBS lying around here, but the first chapter didn't particularly grab me the last time I picked it up, so I've set it aside to try later in a different mood -- I have a real problem with bouncing off modern high fantasy these days so I try not to push it.)

I ran out and picked up Lirael a day or two after I finished the first book, so I'm probably not in the best position to judge how well it stands on its own. But with that grain of salt, I think it could work, especially since you did read the earlier one already, even if your memory of it is rather fuzzy? It's set in the same world, but in a very different part of it and a few decades later, so it's really not picking up characters or plot threads too directly from the first book. And not having such fresh memories of the earlier book may make some of the plot twists that are kind of easy for a non-YA reader to spot in advance a little bit more likely to come as a surprise.

However, be warned that the third book, Abhorsen, is pretty much just a direct continuation of Lirael -- it's more like one very long book that got split into two for reasons of trilogy-marketing and manageable size. You really do want to have both of them on hand (or be willing to buy it as an ebook if need be), otherwise getting to the end and having to wait to get the final volume to wrap up all the plot threads will be a very frustrating experience!

(Also FYI, there's a really, really annoying character in the third book that seems to get on the nerves of everyone I know who reads it -- although in all fairness I think he's meant to come across a bit unsympathetically, and succeeds admirably at the task! And he does eventually Get Over Himself, which also helps.)

The two Lirael-centric books also have a very different tone than Sabriel's book, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your tastes. Sabriel I found to be a very likeable, admirable character, but I couldn't really connect deeply with her emotionally -- she's the sort of awesome, confident heroine who I would have idolized as a kid, but wouldn't have necessarily felt like I could ever grow up to be like myself, no matter how much I would have wished to be like her. She knows where she comes from, she knows who loves her, she knows what she has to do and how, and she goes out and does it, without having much room for self-doubt. Lirael, OTOH, starts out as a deeply lonely and unhappy late-blooming outsider. She doesn't know where she belongs in the world and she's just sort of uncertainly stumbling around, and while her life does get better happier and much more interesting, there's a bittersweet edge to a lot of it. I found it a lot more emotionally resonant, but friends who particularly adored the awesome-badass-heroine aspect of Sabriel found Lirael's intense misery at the outset of the story made for a much less engaging read.
Aug. 28th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Well, it's been about 13 years since I read Sabriel and I remember absolutely nothing about the story other than the fact that I didn't really care for the writing at the time I read it. However, what you've written does make Lirael sound interesting. I'll have to stop by the library sometime soon and look for Lirael and Abhorsen. It's time to feed my brain.
Aug. 30th, 2010 01:42 am (UTC)

Deerskin freaked me out, although it was well-written and brought in some interesting classic fairytale tropes.

You've never read any Diana Wynne Jones? You should remedy that situation! How are you with reading children's fiction (for older kidsw - 10-12, say)? That would affect which of hers I'd recommend to you. A few of her books are aimed roughly at 14 and up, although most are squarely in the 10-14 bracket.

Rosemary Sutcliff wrote excellent young adult historical fiction, mostly about Roman Britain. Dawn Wind was set in southern Britain in the Dark Ages, not too long after the Romans had pulled out for good.

Sep. 1st, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
Nope, I've never read her. I have no problem reading children's books as long as the material is engaging enough. In fact, some of my favorite stories were written by Jane Yolen. I'll put Diana on my library list and will definitely check her out this month.
Sep. 1st, 2010 04:47 am (UTC)
If you want more recs for worthwhile classic kidlit/YA, there's a massive Rosemary Sutcliff Appreciation-and-Pimping fest going on over here.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )


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