The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Top Ten Fidos of Fiction

Jack London with his dog, Rollo, 1885. Photo courtesy of Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” While I agree with dear Ernie to a certain extent, the loyalty of man’s best friend is hard to rival. The lifelong friendship between humans and dogs is a frequent theme in books of all eras and genres.

One of the NEA’s Big Read books also reflects on the powerful relationship between dog and man. Jack London’s Call of the Wild follows Buck as he navigates the Alaskan wilderness and his struggle between the love of his master and his desire to answer the awakening of his instincts. He’s a good dog but not all of fiction’s Fidos are faithful companions. In fact, some are downright scary.

Today, we’ll celebrate both.

We’ve listed our top five good dogs and top five bad dogs of fiction below. Think we missed a pooch of note? Post a comment and let us know.

The Good Dogs

1.)    Nana: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Sweet, sweet Nana. The lovable and caring Newfoundland (she was a St. Bernard in the movie adaptation) in Barrie’s classic novel steadfastly watches over the Darling children. If you could have any dog as a nurse, it might as well be Nana.

2.)    Lassie: Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight

Probably the quintessential good dog, Lassie is one of a kind. From rescuing grandmas from wells to helping Timothy with calculus, Knight’s famous collie was quickly turned into a novel from its original beginnings as a short story. The first Lassie movie came out in 1943 and the rest, dear readers, is doggone history.

3.)    Fang: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Fang is not the prettiest dog on our list but arguably the largest---and we daresay, kindest. Hagrid’s mastiff in Rowling’s Harry Potter series is always at his master’s side. Fang is Hagrid’s closest companion and friend, and truly has a face only a devoted master could love.

4.)    Shiloh: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

This children’s novel explores how both dog and master have the power to save each other. Marty Preston finds the battered Shiloh at his neighbor’s house and sets out to rescue the dog from his abuser. In doing so, the situation reveals greater concepts of forgiveness, mortality, and ethics.

5.)    Old Dan and Little Ann: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Little Billy Coleman’s only desire is to own a pair of Redbone Coonhounds. The poverty of his surroundings in the rural Ozarks complicates things, but eventually two little hound pups make their way to Billy. Old Dan and Little Ann, as they come to be named, have a relationship all their own, in addition to their love of Billy. The pair’s dedication is limitless and they even fight off a mountain lion to save the boy’s life. Old Dan and Little Ann are the definition of sacrifice.

The Bad Dogs

1.)    Bull’s Eye: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Poor Bull’s Eye. Bill Sikes’s dog is described by Dickens as having “faults of temper in common with his owner.” A bad dog who is the product of a bad human, Bull's Eye suffers the temperament of Sikes who eventually tries to drown the sad creature.

2.)    Crab: Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare mentions several dogs in his works, but Crab stands out as the “surliest natured dog that lived.” Enough said.

3.)    Cujo: Cujo by Steven King

Before turning into a foaming, man-hungry monster, Cujo roams the countryside chasing rabbits and butterflies. Not a bad life. But when he is bitten by a rabid bat, things take a turn for the worst.

4.)    The Hound: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The ghostly hound in the Sherlock Holmes series is thirsty for blood. Particularly that of the Baskerville family. In one of the most thrilling canine lines perhaps of all time, Doyle describes how “his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: ‘Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!’”

5.)    Sharik: Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

This 1925 Russian satire follows a nutty professor who combines human glands and other organs into a stray dog, Sharik, in an attempt to advance mankind. Sharik has been debated as Bulgokov’s metaphor for the “New Soviet Man,” but the mutilated pup just keeps making matters worse.

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