As I write Lost Dogs, the novel which I hope to publish this fall, I’m reading some “dog stories,” (for want of a better term), because you can’t very write about something without being aware of at least some of what came before. Recently, I’ve re-read Jack London’s Call of the Wild, perhaps the most famous “dog story” ever written, and I’ll talk about it some more some other time (if you haven’t read it, it’s brutal). Right now, I’d like to mention the other “dog story” I’m currently reading: Richard Adams’ The Plague Dogs.
If the author’s name sounds familiar, it’s because Adams wrote the “rabbit story,” Watership Down. Plague Dogs came out five years after Down, and like its predecessor, the novel features animal protagonist, fleeing man-made horror across the English countryside: in Down, the rabbits’ home was bulldozed for a construction project; in Dogs, the titular characters (Rowf [the big black one] and Snitter [the small one with the surgical bandage on his head]) are victims of cruel experiments at a scientific research lab. Similar to Down, Plague Dogs has plenty of violence, suffering, and death: despite having dogs that “talk,” it’s not a kiddie book.
As I’m reading it, with an eye towards my own “dog story,” two passages have stuck with me:
“Do you think they’ve really gone, then?” asked Rowf. “I mean, suppose there aren’t any men left anywhere–if there was none at all–“
“Dangerous thing, a name. Someone might catch hold of you by it, mightn’t they? He can’t afford a name–that’s my guess. He hasn’t got one. He’s a wild animal.”
I’m still in the early parts of Plague Dogs, but despite its similarities to Down, it is a much different read. Adams spends a lot of time–even more than he did in Down–describing the terrain. Also, despite (or perhaps to mitigate) the downer premise and plot, Adams sometimes adopts an almost humorous tone, including, at one point, a proto-rap address from the author to his protagonists after they’ve killed a farm ewe for food:
…Much to learn, Rowf, in the fern, of great concern, for this the point of no return. Those who kill sheep should mind where they sleep, when there’s nothing to hear the shot-gun is near, the curse of the farmer is likely to harm yer, a scent in the morning is sent for a warning, at a cloud on the sun a wise dog will run, it’s the sharp and alert who avoid being hurt and a dog that’s gone feral is living in peril. Those with blood on their paws and wool in their jaws should heed these old saws.
Trippy, huh? More about The Plague Dogs some other time….