Flashback Fridays: Who Let the Dogs Out? . . .

You’re a heavenly being–The Dog Star, and you’ve been framed for a crime you didn’t commit. Your sentence is to be sent to Earth to live as a dog and until you can complete the task that will restore you to your former position.

Do you remember:

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones (HarperTrophy, c1975)

Most readers familiar with Diana Wynne Jones probably know her for her wizard fantasies or Howl’s Moving Castle.  But this might just be one of her best.  A unique story about semi-divine beings that are also stars, and how one of them is convicted and sent to live the life of a humble dog on Earth.  Sirius as dog now must not only come to terms with being reborn as a puppy and learning the ways of dogs, but  with his new relationship with the young girl who is his owner, and a chilling plot to make sure he never returns to the stars.

There are so many levels to this tale.  It’s a dog story first and foremost.  About a puppy growing up and experiencing what it’s like to be a dog, about becoming a pet of a young girl who desperately needs a friend.  It’s also a thriller, where our protagonist has been framed for a crime, sent to repair the damage and in danger from the real criminals who are seeking to destroy him.  It’s a fantasy story of mystical legends of earth, of the Wild Hunt and a strange brand of celestial magic that brings lights of the universe to play in a small town on Earth.  It’s also a love story and an adventure.

I have loved this book since the first time it fell into my hands, even though the premise seemed bizarre.  Most fantasy stories have very set traditions and manners of how they approach fantasy tropes–this freely combined science fictional elements with fantasy and mystic legends to create a hybrid story.  Diana Wynne Jones manages to show Sirius not simply being reborn as a dog, but having much of the mind and instincts of a dog.  Rather than a talking dog that acts and reacts like a human, we have a dog that only shows small indications of his other worldliness for much of the story.  If you love dogs, this is a good book simply for that aspect.

It’s been a while, but I’m pretty certain that the type of dog Sirius inhabits is what would have been considered in legend a sort of “fairy” hound.

Celtic fairy hounds, Roger Garland, close-up

Information on the fairy hound can be found here.

 along with more images.

This is one of those fantasy works that leaves you questioning, thinking and imagining.  Rather than safely going home at the end of our adventure, we realize there are doors we’ve never opened and pathways we’ve never seen.  It manages to capture the celestial, the power of Earth,  the nature of the canine and the nature of humanity all in one book.  Marvelously done.

If you haven’t read Diana Wynne Jones . . . where have you been?  While J.K. Rowling may be the most well-known British fantasy author, she doesn’t have even a fraction of the accomplishment of Ms. Jones.  Diana Wynne Jones has been the voice of children’s middle grade Brit fantasy for decades.  Hard to realize we’ve lost her.  The Islands of Chaldea (February, 2014) is the last of her work.  This one was finished by her sister, Ursula.

If you’ve never checked out Dogsbody, you may want to give it a try!

What’s your favorite story by this author?  Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on March 7, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow! I just reviewed this one myself! http://rockinlibrarian.livejournal.com/363788.html

    Kristen M at We Be Reading has been hosting a Diana Wynne Jones March thing: http://webereading.com/2014/02/dwjmarch-is-coming-soon.html Which is actually what inspired me to finally pick up this book!

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