This month Bookworm’s Truong looks at books that focus on dogs
A New Zealand veteran from the American war returning to Vietnam on a regular stint to assist a bomb clearance NGO said that he was astounded with the explosion in designer dogs in Hanoi. Gone are the days when you only saw chained up, chunky meat dog breeds. An occasional chihuahua would pop out of doorways and yap at your heels and that was about it.
The veteran is a lover of spirited dogs, so for his grandkids’ first books he always goes for the series about the terrier Hairy Maclary, also a proud New Zealander. Hairy reigns benignly over a tribe of suburban pooches that follow him on adventures all over town. Such frolicking wouldn’t be possible in Hanoi due to the cunning dog thieves who snatch up any that stray.
In the first book Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Linley Dodd we meet Hercules Morse as big as a horse, Bottomly Pots covered in spots, Muffin McLay like a bundle of hay, Bitzer Maloney all skinny and bony and Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum.
For the uninitiated there’s a Great Dane, a Dalmatian, an Old English sheepdog, a mongrel, a dachshund, and Hairy, an Affenpinscher.
Worldwide sales of over 5 million books about Hairy and his friends is all to do with the rhyming text and very funny artwork.
Our veteran also loves another New Zealand dog, known affectionately as Dog. Dog, a border collie, is the star of Footrot Flats by Murray Ball. Dog is a cynical philosopher and the comic books about him and Wal on their farm sold millions throughout Australasia and they’re still nostalgically collected even though Ball stopped the series in 1994 when his own Dog died.
Deep Southern Pointers
Our veteran has been an English Pointer owner ever since he was a young child and he saw the 1940 movie The Biscuit Eater set in rural southern Alabama, way before desegregation wagged its tail and became a human rights issue. He recalled how the death of the dog made him cry his eyes out for the grief of the white kid Lonnie and Text, his African-American friend.
The plot, from the James Street short story, is about how they’d trained a biscuit eater — the local name for a failure — until it became a brilliant bird dog. They bribed it with a daily dose of stolen, fresh hen’s eggs, a taste that proved its eventual, tear-stained demise. They called the dog Promise and entered it in the state championships alongside the dog their fathers trained for a wealthy Yankee. They heard a mistaken rumour that their dads would lose their jobs if Promise won, so at the crucial point in the competition when Promise was ahead on points they made him give up by taunting him as a despised biscuit eater.
The dog’s humiliation, the boys’ guilt and the dog’s death the same night when it ate poisoned eggs given to it by a jealous neighbour, was enough to make dog lovers weep buckets.
The short story by James Street was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post in May 1939 and then published as a book — originals of which sell for up to US$500. But our veteran is certainly not going to sell his.
Ever since a poetry-loving teacher read him the ballad Beth Gelert, he’s also had a thing about wolfhounds. Gelert lived in 13th century Wales and his grave can still be seen in the village of Beddgelert. He was the faithful dog of the Prince of northern Wales, Llywelyn. One day Gelert refused to go hunting with the prince. When the hunters returned home they found Gelert covered in blood and Llywelyn’s infant son nowhere to be seen. It is inferred that Gelert has killed and eaten the kid and he is immediately slaughtered. As Gelert’s last breath sighs out the infant son is heard gurgling and they find him beside the body of a wolf that Gelert has fought when it came for the boy. The prince is mortified, never smiles again and gives Gelert a hero’s funeral.
The tale can be found in the anthology Poems of Places, a collection edited by Longfellow that contains over 4 000 poems from every corner of the globe. Beth Gelert by William Spencer is in the volume devoted to England.
Best of the Rest
Every dog aficionado has their favourite canine tale and since we’ve been putting this article together we’ve made a list of titles that our readers love. At the top of the heap come Red Dog (a red kelpie) by de Bernieres and Travels With Charley (standard poodle) by Steinbeck.
We’d love to read a tale about a Vietnamese dog that is snatched by dog thieves and destined for a restaurant table but escapes and after lots of adventures avoiding throat slitters, finds a loving owner.
Truong is an avid reader and runs Bookworm (44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi). For more information on go to bookwormhanoi.com