Monday, 17 October 2011

The Hundred and One Dalmatians

Novel by Dodie Smith

For the last few nights my bedtime reading book was Dodie Smith's The Hundred and One Dalmatians (Disney changed the name a little.) If you grew up the with Disney version, you may not know the original novel on which it is based, which is a little darker, more imaginative and more elegant than the movie. (Please don't kill me, Disney fans!) First published in 1956 by Dodie Smith, this is the original story of Pongo, Missus and their pups. Yes, Perdita was originally called Missus. The original Perdita was a dog they got to help nurse their puppies.

Anyway, I won't go into little facts like that, because they're not really important. What is important is that it is a very imaginative and clever story. Dodie Smith invented (or perhaps discovered from her pets) a whole secret dog society of barking to communicate news (The Twilight Barking), helping each other out, and rules and thoughts on the people they live with. The story makes you laugh, and sometimes shiver with fear, and the animals are ridiculously adorable as well as highly intelligent and kind. You will never look at your pets the same way again!

I honestly think this is not just a story for kids. I read it as a child and picked it up again recently in an op shop for $1 for nostalgia, and was surprised how much I still enjoyed it. It was every bit as engrossing as I remembered. If you can get a copy with the original illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone it really adds to it. Both copies have had these illustrations. They're those old fashioned black and white ink illustrations older books have that I have always loved, and the expressions on the dogs faces are so eloquently drawn, you can actually read their emotions. I find myself constantly looking at the pictures and imagining that moment of the story while I am reading it, and what the dogs (and a couple of cats) are saying to each other.

The way the dogs work together with beyond human capability (lets face it, they manage what the humans could not) is truly impressive. You are left with a lasting respect for all of dogdom. (A Dodie Smith term.)

I would recommend this book to all animal lovers or lovers of a good adventure story that ends happily. It is also unusual in that the animals are the main characters, not the humans, which is still not that common nowadays, so is very refreshing. Some scenes or references may be scary for young children (talk about Cruella de Vil's ancestor being a devil, the evil characters discussion of how to kill and skin the puppies, etc.)

An illustration from the book. 

An illustration from the book.

The pink cover is the edition I currently have. This green cover edition is the one I had as a child. I wish I had a better picture of it, the expressions on the dogs faces are truly endearing!

NOTE: Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone are amazing imaginative illustrators. When I looked them up, I realised they had illustrated at least a few of the books that I had read as a child, and these illustrations had really sparked my imagination. If you can find any books with illustrations by them, or even just google them, you will see how wonderful their art is! 

Some of their works can be seen on this webpage dedicated to them

1 comment:

  1. I didn't even know this was a novel! I purposely didn't read this post after seeing what it was about because now I really want to read this, and didn't want to see any spoilers!