I’ve never lived with a dog, though I’ve gratefully shared my household with seven wonderful cats over the years. 🙂 I developed an appreciation of canines by meeting those who’ve lived with people I know and via…literature.
Yes, literature features many dogs — who are often great characters in of themselves and who also help reveal things about their fictional human companions. Are they nice to dogs? Then they’re almost always good people. Mean to dogs? Almost always villains.
I’m going to name my 15 favorite dogs in literature. My list contains 14 numbers, but, as you’ll see, one novel features two equally great dogs. And before beginning, I’ll offer this pair of disclaimers: 1. I’ve obviously read only some of the countless novels that include dogs — which is why Lassie, for instance, isn’t on my list. 2. I might’ve forgotten about some excellent canines in novels I HAVE read.
14. Hector the hunting dog is a constant companion to woodsman Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” novels, which include The Last of the Mohicans.
13. The title character in William H. Armstrong’s Sounder is a dog who’s part of a poor African-American sharecropper family. Sounder lives a difficult life — including being shot and badly wounded by a racist white sheriff’s deputy — but he is much loved.
12. Fang of the Harry Potter books is a cowardly but appealing animal — one of the less-exotic “pets” in Hagrid’s menagerie. And Fluffy the dog in J.K. Rowling’s series deserves an honorable mention for having three heads. 🙂 (He’s the 16th dog on this list.)
11. Barabbas is a big, clumsy canine who overeats and has a tendency to knock things over in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.
10. Benedico is also a memorable dog in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, but it’s not until after he’s long dead that he has an unforgettable final moment at novel’s end.
9. Dorothy’s tiny Toto appears in the L. Frank Baum books that start with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. A pooch who became iconic with a big assist from The Wizard of Oz film. “And Toto, too?”
8. There’s almost no fictional canine more loyal than “Dog Monday,” who sits at a Canadian train station for many, MANY months waiting for his person Jem to (hopefully) return from the World War I front in Rilla of Ingleside — one of L.M. Montgomery’s many Anne of Green Gables sequels.
7. The young Luath and the old Bodger are the determined dogs who, along with equally determined cat Tao, arduously travel approximately 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness to try to return home in Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey.
6. Tee Tucker is an intellectual corgi who, along with two cats and a human, solves crimes in Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries. Hard to top a detective dog!
5. Bella the dog is the lovable constant companion of the lonely, highly precocious boy Useppe in Elsa Morante’s novel History.
4. Rollo is the big, part-wolf, scary-with-a-heart-of-gold canine from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. He and the Scot-with-a-Native-American-connection “Young Ian” are fiercely loyal to each other and face a good deal of danger in the 1760s and ’70s. (Pictured atop this blog post are Rollo and Ian in the Outlander TV series.)
3. The charismatic, also-part-wolf title character of Jack London’s White Fang is born in the frozen North American wild but eventually ends up in California where he embraces domestic life after some initial puzzlement and reluctance.
2. Buck in Jack London’s earlier The Call of the Wild has an opposite destiny — from pampered California domestication to a tough sled-pulling life in the Yukon after he’s stolen. The very smart/adaptable canine retains some connection with humans for a while, but…
1. Chum of Albert Payson Terhune’s heartwarming novel His Dog is an elite collie show dog who, through a twist of fate, becomes a working canine who transforms the life of depressed, impoverished farmer Link Ferris. (A Terhune novel less known than Lad: a Dog, but I found it much more compelling.)
Your favorite dogs in literature?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about my state’s primary elections — is here.