Dogs and Life

‘If I hear a dog yapping in a man’s house, I do not enter that house’ said the ever pragmatic Stanley Pleeber. So he hired an army of assistants to enter the house for him instead (as noted here). Finding myself in a similar position – but without the army of assistants – I tend to follow the same course of action. If I hear a dog yapping in a man’s house, I walk away from that house, fast.

It’s nothing personal – I just don’t like dogs. And I understand that the feeling is mutual; that terriers and hounds across the world don’t weep at night for lack of my love; that somewhere in Dorchester a dalmatian called Dante will not be waiting for a pat on the back from me. We are together in our wish to live apart.

I remain, however, unsatisified. As Pleeber realised, one cannot simply run away from dogs – not if one has aspirations. Not if one really wants to go out into the semi-wilderness and grasp the essentials of the European folk tale tradition. This may sound strange. What have dogs to do with literature? Ah, but folk tales are not ‘literature’ in that sense. They aren’t things one finds on smart bookshelves in wood panelled and crimson-carpeted rooms. They don’t attend drinks parties, or formal dances. They don’t sit on plush sofas, or atop a pile of nicely-bound books on charmingly disordered desks. Folk-tales are found in less forgiving surroundings. Folk-tales are found where the chickens scratch, the rats scurry and the fleas leap. Where the dogs yap.

Seth Kinloch, another collector of European folk-tales, knew the score. He knew that he’d meet his fair share of dogs. And though he wasn’t their biggest fan, neither was he afraid. He was, after all, a seven-foot bear of a man: the kind of fellow who wrestles alligators in his spare time. He wasn’t going to let a mauling from a Moldovan mongrel put him off. ‘If a man runs away from a dog, he sees nothing of life,’ wrote Kinloch. A little extreme, methinks, but typical of Kinloch, whose action-hero moves lean, on occasion, toward the comical. Whilst feeling sorry for oneself is not necessarily an attractive trait, I have seen enough of Kinloch’s bravado to know that it wouldn’t suit me at all. As I once wrote: ‘academics will do a lot for their work (and so they should) but braving a mad Norwegian bloodhound does not have to be one of them’.

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