We’ve discussed heroes and heroines, of every size and shape, but somehow we’ve neglected supporting characters of the four-legged variety until Edith’s wonderful interview yesterday with Barbara Metzger. Clearly great minds think alike *g*, because I, too, thought it was high time we mentioned our canine characters. (As my guest-blog-dog, I’m featuring a King Charles spaniel named Colby that belongs to my daugther’s best friend. I’ve been trying hard to think of a way that the IRS would consider one of Colby’s litter-mates as a legitimate research expense for my Restoration books, but alas, I’m afraid the government’s not that creative.)
From children’s picture-books (Clifford the Big Red Dog) through video versions (Lassie and Homeward Bound), classics (Call of the Wild and Old Yellar) to contemporary bestsellers (Marley and Me), dogs have always been favorites with readers.
And why not? Even the sternest hero will unbend with his dog. Dogs are the most loyal of confidants, never spilling any secrets that our heroines might whisper into their furry ears. Dogs can save the plot-day like Rin-tin-tin, or they can provide the classic “cute meet” between a heroine and a dog-walking hero. Or, as Barbara Metzger has shown in her book, A Loyal Companion, dogs can even be narrators.
There’s considerable historical precedent for dogs in our books, too. English aristocrats that have always adored their dogs, whether packs of prize hunting dogs, or delicate “lady dogs” to tuck inside a muff. A dog on the lap or the bed offered warmth in a drafty castle or manor house, and less romantically, were recommended to draw away fleas from one’s own person.
The British royal palaces have always had dogs in residence. The current Queen Elizabeth is often photographed at Windsor with a corgi or two trotting beside her. Henry VIII never went riding or hunting without his hounds. Queen Victoria set the fashion for pugs in her reign. The first Queen Elizabeth delighted in her mastiffs, and liked to demonstrate their fierce tenacity and courage with bull and bear-batings staged for visiting foreign dignitaries –– just in case the dignitaries needed to be reminded of those same qualities in her English troops.
Dogs were so much a feature at Whitehall Palace during the 17th century that visitors commented loudly on the numbers of canines roaming the halls. They were also appalled by the doggie-smell that permeated many of the royal chambers, and how the servants didn’t quite keep up with cleaning after the dogs in the staircases and hallways. (Clearly the servants had the same selective blindness to pet-messes that affects my family, too.)
King Charles had such devotion for his flop-eared spaniels that the breed now carries his name, and every day he could be seen striding through St. James’s Park, a very tall (I’m sorry, Mary Jo, but Charles was enormous for his day, well over six feet) man surrounded by a pack of small dogs racing along with him. He was often painted with the dogs, too, beginning with the puppy that’s precariously perched on his infant lap.
Sarah and John Churchill loved their spaniels as well, and there’s a wonderful story (maybe true, maybe not) that while Sarah was waiting for news of John fighting the Battle of Blenheim, she comforted herself by stroking the head of the pregnant bitch sitting in her lap. The battle became one of John’s greatest military victories, and when the puppies were born, each showed a distinctive patch on their forehead that became the mark of the Churchill dogs. Even today, King Charles Cavalier spaniels that carry this marking are much prized as “Blenheims.”
So which dogs –– fictional or historical or even that one blissfully hogging most of the bed –– do you remember most?