Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller

I have a particular soft spot for weird fiction by women and so I enjoyed this short novel in which female animals suddenly grow increasingly human and female humans grow increasingly animalistic. It seems politically to have something to say about finding the middle ground between our instinctive and refined natures, but it's a good read mostly because of the central character, Pooch (later to go by Pucci), who was a family dog but increasingly took on lady of the house responsibilities, like babysitting, when the family mother lost her human nature. Now as a reader I also have a soft spot for the animals-as-human storylines that tend mostly to appear in young adult lit (Charlotte's Web, Incredible Journey, Watership Down) and another soft spot for the humans-and-their animals storylines that also tend mostly to appear in young adult lit (Black Stallion, Where the Red Fern Grows etc), but as a teacher I tend to greet any anthropomorphized animals that appear in workshop stories with some dread. Probably because stereotypical humans are bad enough but stereotypical dog-narrators are somehow worse. But what makes Pooch work as a character, I think, is precisely that she is neither dog nor human. She can't do all the things that humans do, and because she hasn't been humanish all that long she is quite naive, but she also has some fierce instincts. She is treated in a very realistic way as a dog who has become human rather than as a character who could just as easily be a human as a dog.

And this I think is true of most of the major animal characters that I like the best. That they aren't simply human characters in animal skin, but rather that they blend the animal traits with the thinking ones.

2 comments:

eric b. said...

Snoopy is the greatest of these characters whose animal and human traits are ambiguous...

but more relevant here is the Darling's dog (Nana?) in Peter Pan...

Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

I forget the context in which I heard this (maybe in the great documentary "King of Kong") but some guy was making the point that the Red Baron was still famous because he shot down the most planes while the guy (whose name I admit I've forgotten) who shot down the second most was forgotten. But all I could think was no, the Red Baron is still famous because Snoopy made him so.