Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post about animals in literature for a Web site with the same initials as Happy Pets. The novels I mentioned as having memorable creature characters included The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Lad: A Dog, The Incredible Journey, and many others.
But that was four years ago, and I’ve read many novels since then that included animals (often dogs) as major or minor characters. Also, there were books I read before 2011 not mentioned in that previous post. So this column will be a Part Two of sorts to that old piece on the Web site with the same initials as Hairy Protagonists. (Okay, I’ll name the site — Huffington Post.)
As I wrote back then, animals can bring a lot of warmth to books — and their relationships with human characters help flesh out the personalities of the critters as well as the people. Heck, if a human character loves animals, there’s an excellent chance she or he is a good person! For instance, the very likable Sookie allows 11 pets — including an alligator! — to live in her house in Fannie Flagg’s poignant The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, and is very dedicated to feeding the birds on her property.
Fictional animals can also remind millions of pet lovers of their own appealing animal buddies.
Of course, things are not all positive when it comes to creatures in author canons. Some are not very lovable and may in fact be “villains” — as in Peter Benchley’s Jaws. And if tragedy befalls an animal in fiction, it’s very painful to read.
I thought of revisiting this topic while recently reading Rilla of Ingleside, one of L.M. Montgomery’s seven sequels to Anne of Green Gables. In the sequel, Anne has a minor role while the star turn goes to her daughter Rilla as the teen is forced to grow up fast during what later became known as World War I. But a character leaping off the page almost as much as Rilla Blythe is the canine “Dog Monday” — who, when Rilla’s brother Jem boards a train to go to war, loyally and heartbreakingly refuses to leave the station for years while waiting to see if Jem will return.
Another excellent novel featuring a dog in a secondary role is Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits — in which Clara’s huge canine Barrabas eats like crazy, knocks over things, and ends up in a scenario that reveals the lack of common sense possessed by Clara’s brutish husband Esteban.
There’s also Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard. The book draws to a close with an unforgettable symbolic scene involving long-deceased canine Bendico.
Speaking of Italian literature, the lovable dog Bella always accompanies the lonely, precocious boy Giuseppe in Elsa Morante’s World War II novel History.
In American literature, Hector the hunting dog is a constant companion to Natty Bumppo in some of the five novels that comprise James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” series — which includes The Last of the Mohicans.
A dog tragically dies of thirst and hunger in a locked house when his owner is murdered in Lee Child’s Bad Luck and Trouble. When Jack Reacher joins three former military police colleagues to plot revenge for that and various other killings, the thought of the poor dog is one of the things that drives him.
The dog and cat in Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries (such as Wish You Were Here) help their person (Mary “Harry” Haristeen) do amateur detective work. Animals definitely have human qualities in some novels!
Creatures in literature of course aren’t just dogs and cats. For instance, there is the horse who assists mineworkers in Emile Zola’s Germinal, and the experimented-on mouse who is so crucial to what happens in Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. Also, we can’t forget the water denizens in novels such as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and the aforementioned Jaws.
Which animals do you remember most in literature, whether in major or minor roles?
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A note: I was interviewed by a local filmmaker on July 29. I wasn’t asked about this literature blog, but hopefully you’ll still find the eight-minute-or-so video interesting. 🙂
Another note: I’ll be skipping my Aug. 9 column for the usual summer reasons, but will be back Aug. 16. And while I won’t be on the computer as much as usual between Aug. 7 and Aug. 15, I’ll reply to comments when I can!
I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.