Flashback Fridays: Hark! Hark! The Dogs do bark! . . .

Apologies for the delay in posts.  I was away and didn’t have the digital access I’d planned to have.  I’ll be catching up on posts in the next few days.

You’re a dalmatian couple living in Britain with your humans.  The proud parents of an entire passel of puppies, life is good until all your pups are kidnapped.  But when you’re a devoted dog with connections, you will not stop until  your puppies are found!

Do you remember:

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Anne Smith, illustrated by Janet Grahame Johnstone and Anna Grahame Johnstone (Heinnman, c1956)

I’m sure many of you are familiar with some form of this dog story.  After all, Disney has not only created an animated version of the whole thing, but a live-action version. But the original version of this tale was created by the author Dodie Smith.  While the book and the original animated movie share a goodly number of details, there’s a good deal more in the book that isn’t included in the movie.

If, by chance you aren’t familiar, the story covers the life and adventures of a family of dalmatians.  Pongo and Missis are a dalmatian couple (who stay with their humans, Mr. and Mrs. Dearly) and are proud parents of a number of puppies.  The entire human, dog household couldn’t be happier. But the malevolent Cruella de Vil looms on the horizon.  A fur-hungry woman with a husband in the fur trade, she’s just as evil and cruel as her name suggests.  And when she sees the dalmatians, she gets spots before her eyes. Dalmatian spots–on gloves and coats and hats.  Cruella’s plan now includes kidnapping large numbers of dalmatian puppies to raise for fur. Not satisfied with gaining puppies in a legal manor, she insists on dognapping our Missis and Pongo’s  puppies as well.  Now the parents have to go in search of their kids, and rescue them from a dark fate.

Now, the book has some fabulous details that I really enjoy reading . . . but it is also rather sexist.  Poor Missis, is just Missis Pongo–she doesn’t even really get her own full name.  In the animated Disney movie her name is Perdita–but that’s because the movie went with the idea of combining the two female dog characters in this story into one. In the book, Missis isn’t able to care for all her new pups, and their humans rather fortuitously happen upon a homeless liver-spotted dalmatian whose own pups have been stolen(hmm I wonder who stole them? . . .).  Perdita joins the family to serve as a wet-nurse.  When the couple takes off across England to rescue their pups, Perdita stays behind to comfort the humans. On their adventures across country, Pongo is the decision maker and the one with the quick intelligence, Missis is portrayed as less capable–though still clever in her way.  Perhaps the scene that always bothered me the most is where a small scottie dog is trying to teach Missis how to understand right and left and directions.   She’s rather bad at it, and if memory serves, this is mostly blamed on her being female.

Still,  the story caught my imagination as a child.  The great thing about this book is that these dogs go off wandering around the English countryside, and encounter other dogs and humans while on their mission.  They eventually find the place where their children have been imprisoned. (Thanks to the Starlight Barking, a network of dogs and other animals that use their voices and report as a sort of auditory message relay system.)  But there’s not just their own children, of course–there are over ninety pups of various ages in this place.  And the dalmatian couple decide to rescue them all.

The results of this are epic–from book or movie stand point. (One hundred dogs moving in stealth across the countryside?) But I have to say that I love the revenge scene in the book–one that isn’t used for the movie.  The pups are all covered in black soot and heading back home when they encounter Cruella’s home.  With the help of the woman’s sorely abused cat (who’s furious at Cruella drowning her kittens), the dogs get inside and tear apart all her coats and furs of any sort.  The cat even joins in the destruction (specifically of the ermine sheets) before joining the pups in heading for the Dearlys.  They even manage to nab the “simple white fur” Cruella is wearing.  Because the dogs are still black from the soot, they are practically invisible and all Cruella and her husband see is the stole running off on its own.  The husband imagines it must be some ghostly ancestor of Cruella’s family.  It turns out later that Cruella’s husband had not paid for most of the furs at the home and it puts them in severe debt.  I believe the black side of Cruella’s hair turns green, or something like that.  It’s a great little bit of revenge that I’m sorry was missing from the movie.

That said, the depiction of Cruella as a villain in the movie and the iconic song to go with her, is absolutely delightful.  Disney manages to nail the villain quite well.

Did you know that this book had a loosely connected sequel?  Not that the sequel is particularly good, mind you–which is part of the reason you won’t usually find it or hear of it  without looking for further books by Dodie Smith.

The Starlight Barking (1967)

 This sequel takes us to a time when the dalmatian pups are grown and a mysterious force puts all the humans to sleep, leaving the dogs awake to deal with an alien arrival . . .  It’s all rather bizarre and a huge departure from the original story line.  While I’m often a fan of science fictional elements in a story, what drove the original tale was a sense of adventure and talking animals–it benefited from being an accessible story with easy to cheer on heroes and nasty villains.  This is something else again.  No harm in reading it of course, but may be hard to find.

Dodie Smith published one other book that’s linked to the Dalmatian stories, but I don’t think an actual companion book.  The Midnight Kittens (1978) this story concerns three kittens and a touch of magic, but doesn’t seem to actually involve dalmatians in any way.

Still, when it comes to dog fantasy, this classic story remains one of the top on the list.  If you’ve never read the original, it’s worth taking the time to do so!

What dog stories are among your favorites?  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 February 21, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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