Thursday, 29 July 2010

Barking up the right tree: dogs in books and movies

There are many unforgettable moments in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. But two 'cinematic' scenes that stick in my mind include Mr Rochester's dog, Pilot.

Jane first encounters Edward Fairfax Rochester while she is walking into town to post a letter. On horseback, he races past her just before his horse skids and falls on the icy causeway. His huge black and white dog, who was leading the way, rushes back to Jane and barks at her to help his master.

In the other scene much later in the novel, Pilot immeditately recognises Jane when she visits the now blind Mr Rochester at Ferndean. "Pilot pricked up his ears when I came in; then he jumped up with a yelp and a whine, and bounded towards me: he almost knocked the tray from my hands."

Dogs are often used in books and movies, sometimes to provide a comedic element and to reinforce that magical relationship that humans have with these wonderfully loyal and trusting animals. Jennifer Crusie, Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich all get good mileage out of dogs that play important roles in their stories.

In film, two of my favourite pooches are Verdell in As Good As It Gets (a Brussels Griffon) and Buster in Legally Blonde (and I don't even like chihuahuas).

Dogs can also be cast as villains. Just look at the Dobermans in Boys from Brazil. I'd argue that sales of that breed plummeted after the film's release. And Stephen King's rabies-infected Cujo gave the usually docile Saint Bernard a bad name. ( In the TV comedy Kath and Kim, Brett's docile rottweiler is also called Cujo).

Writers can go overboard with dogs and exploit them for all the wrong reasons. I recently started reading a work of 'contemporary women's fiction' by an English author, who uses a hapless hound to set up all the supposedly funny bits in the book. After a while, it's a drag. I can't stand the thought of what the stupid creature might do next to wreak havoc in the lives of the even dumber hero and heroine.

So, if you're going to include a dog in your story, make sure it's for a good reason and use it wisely. Because there are good dogs and there are bad dogs.

Wikipedia's list of fictional dogs has loads of information on dogs in literature, film and TV. Even if you're just looking for a name for your canine companion, it's a fascinating read.

PS: The dog in the photo (dog is left, Miss Hissy is on right) is the most beautiful dog in the world. Gawd, look at all that fur on the carpet! I am a writer, not a cleaner!!!!!!!!!! Arrgggghhhh - WRITE THE BOOK so that is the truth!


Anita Joy said...

Lol Shayne, love the way you have to clarify which is Miss higgy and which is the dog!! And both are gorgeous ;)

Shayne said...

Hi Anita,
I meant to add that Miss Hissy is one of the two most beautiful girls in the world (my older daughter is the other one).

Miss Hissy would like to be a dog!


Shayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eleni Konstantine said...

Great post Shayne - I think like any other character, a dog's inclusion to a story has to be relevant.

Love the photo - they look so cute together & I'm sure they get up to plenty of mischief. :))