Friday, April 15, 2011

Dogs vs. Literature

     This week's post was supposed to be called Dogs vs. Spring, in the realm of my mind, anyway, but something happened this week that is still bothering me because I'm a crazy person and dwell on insignificant subjects, so I'm going to write about that instead.  I can only hope you will humour me.
     I don't have cable, that is a very long story, but I don't.  So about once a week I watch a movie.  I live in the strange, mythical, backwater igloo of Canada, and one strange and curious thing that just arrived here is Netflix.  I have this. 
     A few nights ago I watched Of Mice and Men.  Now, I have read this book, but it was a while ago.  Anyway, (spoiler alert if you somehow are unfamiliar with this book!) the part comes along where they convince Candy to take his old dog out and shoot it.  They want to do this because the dog is old, useless and smelly, or so they say.  Then Candy can get a new, more useful dog, yay!
     Long story short, I was disproportionately upset by the shooting of the dog, as was Candy.  What is wrong with these horrible people?  Candy loves that dog, you stupid goons!  Can't you see that it is his only friend, his only love in the world?  Can't you see that it is his only company, his only true friend?   Why would you take the dog and shoot it?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  ARRRGH! 

     See?  Disproportionately upset.
     This movie incident comes on the heels of a book I just finished, The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, (spoiler alert if you haven't read this book!).  At the risk of hatin' on an award winning book, I thought it was okay overall, and only okay, but again we have an elderly black lab named Gyp, beloved by all who encounter him.  Gyp is described in intimate detail, the adoring and adored pet of a fading family.  Now, I'll give you one guess what happens to Gyp, just one.  Your clue is that he is an animal in a book.  What could possibly happen to Gyp, the elderly black lab?
     That's right, he gets killed!  Shocking!
     The list of animals killed in literature is long, but Gyp inspired a rather motivated conversation at my fiction critique group which I won't bore you with, suffice to say I will make a concerted effort not to knock off a bunch of beloved pets as a cheap literary mechanism in my own writing.  It's upsetting to those of us who are apparently way too sensitive about some things, and not at all sensitive about others.  I have no problem at all with writers killing off people through various violent means, murder, torture, natural disaster, nuclear annihilation, and other duplicitous activities preformed every second of every day by human beings to other human beings.  I don't know why it's okay for horrible things to happen to people in books, and not to animals and I don't really care.  All I know, is that it is.
     Perhaps it is because I am myself in possession of an elderly dog that is not particularly useful and does not smell particularly great, but days later I am still pissed off about Candy's dog.  Maybe Steinbeck couldn't think of anything else, or maybe he really wanted to foreshadow Lenny's death in a particular way, but let me just say this.  If anyone ever tried to shoot my old, stinky, useless dog, they'd have to take me out first.  Is that going too far?  Maybe, but I'm okay with it.


  1. Not particularly being an animal person I guess I never really noticed this before, but I get the overly sensitive thing. I sometimes get upset over things that make no sense to others but are of the utmost importance to me.


  2. I have to admit, I don't always like it when an author kills off an animal. However, I can't say I disprove, 'cause I'm afraid I killed off a particularly lovely deer in one of my fantasy WIP's. I cried... loudly... over her death. :-/

  3. Oh Erin, if your reaction is disproportionate- you're not the only one!! Truth be told, I dislike 'Of Mice and Men' because George is mean and for what happens to the rabbit. I loathe 'Of Mice and Men' for the Candy's dog incident.

    Dogs in literature is a long standing emotional problem for me. I cryed when the Hound of the Baskervilles got shot and 'Sounder' --don't get me started!

  4. Yes, I will concede that sometimes it is important for the literary animal to die, Where the Red Fern Grows comes to mind - balled my EYES out. And, to be perfectly honest, I may have knocked off a literary animal of my own at some point, but I am glad to know I'm not the only one upset by this!

  5. I'll never forget seeing "Old Yeller" when I was young. Talk about a tear-jerker.

    Sometimes, I think, it is merciful to put animals down. We had a parakeet that was ill. It started by him falling off his perch. So we lowered it, then I made modifications to his cage one by one until he was finally living in "cave" I made in the bottom of his cage and dragging his little body through the filth. I had little flat caps of seed and water for him setting on the floor. It was a very sad situation. We finally took him to the vet (and probably should have done it sooner) who ended his suffering.

    The ending of life doesn't appear to be a whole lot easier for the animal kingdom than it often does for the human population.

  6. You're right, sometimes it is the best thing to do, and it isn't easy, it isn't easy at all, as anyone who has been through it can testify. Maybe that's why I hate reading about it in books and seeing it in movies.

  7. I agree about Candy. That's horrible.
    I didn't care for that movie at all- Is that horrid actor John Malkovich the one who squeezes one of the puppies to death? I was absolutely horrified.
    There, I used the word horrible, horrid and horrified in one paragraph-so I guess I'm disproportionately right there with you.

  8. Yep, that was him all right. I think in this context it is reasonable to use both horrid and horrified, we're all in this together.