During this time of year, it’s so hot where I live that if I’m not working in my home office, chances are good that I’m tucked into a nook somewhere with a fan blowing in my face and a book glued to my hands. My summer reading list has revealed some memorable protagonists, and not all of them are of the two-legged variety. In fact, some of my favorite characters, not surprisingly, happen to be four-legged.
That’s right, in some books dogs play an essential role in the plot progression. Sometimes the entire story centers on the canine, while in other stories he is merely doing what he does best, being a faithful companion and loyal sidekick to his human. Here are a few of my favorite dogs found in literature.
With a list like this, you almost have to start with Buck from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. This canine was a principal character in this classic 1903 book. Buck was living a leisurely life as a domesticated dog during the Klondike Gold Rush period when, being a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix, he was stolen and forced to work as a sled dog. This heroic one-time-pet begins to transform into a more primal, animalistic creature in order to survive at the hands of cruel humans and conditions.
Finally, Buck is rescued by John Thornton and the two forge an incredibly close relationship. Buck gets the chance to repay the debt by rescuing Thornton from a frozen river. But in the end, Buck’s beloved human is killed and he returns to his primal nature by answering the call of the wild. I fell in love with Buck the first time I read his name, and have loved him ever since. As you can probably tell, this book had a profound effect on me as a child.
The space race between the United States and Russia began in the early 1960s when President Kennedy issued a challenge to NASA to put a man on the moon by 1969. Russia was first to put a living being into space when they launched a stray terrier named Laika. Sadly, she didn’t survive long enough to reach orbit, but it had a profound effect on the world and gave us the drive to put a man on the moon. Laika wasn’t the only dog that played a role in world history, though. Here are 8 more.
Belka and Strelka
When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 5 in 1960, two mixed breed stray canines from Moscow were the first dogs to go into orbit and return alive. The furry cosmonauts’ 24 hour orbital flight gave the Soviets the confidence to continue their dream of putting a man into space. The dogs became national heroes and were honored worldwide for their contribution to the space race. Shortly after Strelka returned from space, she gave birth to six puppies. Nikita Khrushchev gifted one of the pups, Pushinka, to President Kennedy and his family.
Fido is a generic name many people use when referring to any dog. It’s a Latin word that means “to trust, believe, confide in.” However, there are few references to the name throughout the pages of time, and it’s not a name found on those “most popular dog names” lists – except briefly during one period in history. So if Fido has never been popular, how did it become a common name used to mean any dog? To answer that question, we have to go back to the election of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
Suffering from bouts of depression that made it difficult for him to work, Lincoln found comfort with his pets and they became a lifeline that pulled him out of his darkness. He was passionate about animals throughout his life, with a special fondness for cats, and was an outspoken advocate for animal rights as well as human rights. Lincoln served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849, returning to his law practice after leaving office. He stepped back onto the political stage at the 1860 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination to run for president.
Fido’s story, however, begins in Springfield, Illinois in 1855. Lincoln rescued a medium-sized, yellow retriever/shepherd pup he named Fido. The pair became inseparable and were commonly seen strolling around town together. Fido had the run of the house, much to the disapproval of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, who wasn’t fond of animals. She bristled when Fido tracked mud through the house, and wasn’t amused when he claimed a horsehair sofa as his. But she tolerated him, and for five years Fido lived a carefree life – until 1860 when Lincoln won the presidential election.
Disney has long been a promoter of the special place dogs have in our lives, and the wonderful and varied characters that dogs are. Disney dogs are vast and individual, ranging from an anthropomorphized animated Goofy who made his first appearance in 1932 in Mickey’s Revue, to a more current selection in 2012, Tim Burton’s animated Frankenweenie, and all the dogs in between. Both animated and live action, Disney dogs even have their own franchise. The five movies below are just a taste of the wonderful canine collection Disney has brought to the screen.
Originally a 1956 children’s book by Fred Gipson, Old Yeller won the Newberry Medal for “The most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” In 1957, Disney released the film version of the story about the big yellow stray dog that wove its way into the hearts of the family it adopted. Moviegoers shed many tears over the heartbreaking demise of the loyal and beautiful dog at the end of the movie. Yes…we do love our dogs!
The original story is set in Texas in the 1860s. It was followed by a sequel called Savage Sam, about the offspring of the famous yellow dog.
We’ve all read the romantic stories of artists and their muses. The muse provided the artists with companionship and sometimes appeared in their work; the artists often created work that either directly or indirectly included their muse. To prepare for this article, I got lost in the research. I came across a story about two socialite sisters named Claribel and Etta Cone who provided motivation and inspiration for Henry Matisse; another about how a beautiful young woman named Joanna Hiffernan inspired some of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s most important works, and another on how Dora Maar, a French poet, painter and photographer, was the muse for several of Pablo Picasso’s sad portraits. As was his custom, another woman named Marie-Thérèse Walter became the inspiration for many of Picasso’s later portraits.
Andrew Wyeth was inspired by a woman named Helga Testorf, who was his sister’s housekeeper; Edouard Manet saw Victorine Meurent running through the streets and was instantly intrigued. She became such an important catalyst for him that she inadvertently inspired him to change his artistic style. There is the beautiful but tragic story of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel and the equally sad story of Edie Sedgwick, who became one of Andy Warhol’s primary muses.
But it’s not just other humans that provide inspiration and companionship to artists. Some very special canines played the role of muse for many famous artists of the past, and wound up making an appearance in their paintings and photographs.
By the time America declared war against Germany in 1917 and joined allied forces in France, World War One was in its fourth year. The first real test in battle for the United States Marine Corps was the 1918 battle at Belleau Wood. The Germans had advanced to within 50 miles of Paris. Belleau Wood was part of an Allied campaign to push back against the German Spring Offensive to halt their advance towards Paris. The battle raged on for three weeks before the Marines were finally victorious. General Pershing said it was the most important battle fought by American forces since the Civil War. It was during the battle of Belleau Wood where the fighting spirit of the Marines and soon- to-be mascot, the English Bulldog, became synonymous.
According to stories, the Marines fought with such tenacity and valor that the Germans nicknamed the Americans Teufelhunden or “Devil Dogs.” In Bavarian folklore, devil dogs were wild mountain dogs. The battle at Belleau Wood was real, but the German nickname was based on mythology. However, it wasn’t long before a recruiting poster painted by Charles Falls appeared showing a dachshund wearing a spiked helmet and Iron Cross running from an English Bulldog wearing a helmet with the globe and anchor insignia on it. Written on the poster was “Teufelhunden – Devil Dog Recruiting Station.” The poster was embraced by the Marine Corps and the public.
The first unofficial mascot, King Bulwark, was an English Bulldog pup sired by Rob Roy, a well known and famous English Bulldog. Born May 22, 1922, the pup’s royal registered name was quickly changed to Jiggs. Private Jiggs was enlisted into the United States Marine Corps at a formal ceremony on October 14, 1922 by Brigadier General Smedley Butler.
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