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the fictional dog

I love a dog in a book. They seem somehow to represent the innocence and good cheer of us all, and the benevolence of conscious nature towards us; they are, in many cases, guides along the way, even if only guides into our own vulnerability. 

That's why it is always hard for me when writers kill off the dog, the owl, the loyal small creature. Not only do I find the manipulation of sentiment too overt, but I'm saddened by the author's cynicism. Why can't love, innocence, wild loyalty, survive?

Even Ursula le Guin killed off Ged's animal companion in The Wizard of Earthsea, and although I should not argue against a writer so wise and masterful as she, I wondered when I first read it, as I still do - can we grow a character even when they are loved? Must a man or woman have all softness and company ripped from them just so they can develop? Or is it more true to life that people become strong because of love? That infact it's very hard, if not impossible, to do it alone? That a dog's friendship can heal, guide, give courage? 

I do not believe we are disconnected points of light in a long darkness. I believe we are together, and in that togetherness we find ourselves. It's in aloneness that despair thrives. And while many authors want to drive their characters into despair so they may track their journey out of it, I worry about the idea that this journey must be undertaken alone, or with only human assistance, as if we are not really part of the natural, sacred, wordless world. A dog, an owl, a loyal small creature, represents that world and its desire to connect with us. The oldest and indigenous stories know this. I long for a day when our modern stories reflect a better hope for wild sacred community. I think Dog Friday is waiting for us all. 


  1. Lovely thoughtful post.
    I believe every life has a soul
    and a purpose.. on our journeys through life.

  2. Maybe, just maybe, with the myth of progress also the myth of the lone hero/heroine can make place for a whole new story of inclusiveness and

  3. i am always terribly sad when an author does away with an animal companion. i remember thinking the first time i read that scene you refer to, in which ged loses the little otak creature, "why?"...i thought, and at some level still think, that instead of dying, it could have been given to or claimed by another character who would have loved it. but i suppose the point was that this is what evil does to the innocent, the less powerful, those without utility or agency. and to the incorruptible...like you, i don't believe that grief and loss are the only ways to grow, for a fictional character or for a real person. what could be a better channel for healthy growth than the unconditional love of a creature in a lonely child's life? what is a greater motivation for growth and strength and courage and tenderness than becoming a mother? and so, when an author kills off a dog or a child in a story, even though we do experience loss in life, i always wish the story to have been otherwise.


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