Wednesday, April 12, 2017

101 Dalmatians - Revisiting Childhood Reads

I am revisiting some well-loved books from my youth this month. Just got through a re-read of "The Silmarillion", sped through "Beauty" and just this afternoon got through a quick read of "The One Hundred and One Dalmatians."

While I have a whole separate post I'd like to do on "Beauty," I wanted to first take a moment to talk about "Dalmatians" while it is fresh in my mind. Most of us grew up on the Disney movie version, which is fun, but pales in comparison to the book. However, due to the over-saturation of Disney everything, most people aren't in the least aware that there is a book, much less that the book is so much better than the movie.

Dodie Smith, also known for writing "I Capture the Castle" (which, for one reason or the other, I've never managed to get my hands on), has a tremendous sense of story, narrative flow, charectarization, and a charming narrative voice, all of which contribute to make the book a classic. She's created a system for the world of dogs that nestles nicely into our own. The book is hilariously funny, with charming characters straight from the 1950's of London, and includes several memorable cast members that didn't make it into the movie. Most notably among these are the real Perdita (young foster mama Perdita and Missus Pongo are combined into one character in the movie), Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler (again, combined into one character), a gallant old Spaniel, and Cruella's cat. (Yep. Cruella has a cat.)

Book Cruella is sleeker and less physically psycho than movie Cruella, but no less insidious (indeed, I find smooth and elegant Cruella much creepier). She also has a husband, a little man whom she married for his occupation as a furrier, and an obsession with copiously peppering all of her food.

Although given first names in the film, the book calls Pongo and Missus's 'pet's Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, and Mr. Dearly is not a poor musician, but rather a canny accountant. Perhaps influenced by the film, I always viewed the Dearlys as being rather poorly, but not actually, that's not so true! Each of them retains their childhood nannies as their maid, and though things are related as being 'rather expensive' they are still affordable to the Dearlys. Mr. Dearly's sharp mind is echoed in that of his dog, Pongo, who proclaimed one of the smartest canines in England.

I think the true test of a classic is whether it can be equally enjoyed by both children and adults. As a child I borrowed my grandmother's copy so often that it came to have a permanent residence on my bookshelf! I was delighted to find that rereading it as an adult was no less enjoyable an experience. Even though I have read the book so often as to have memorized some of the lines, I still met each scene with a new sense of wonder, no matter how familiar.

And, of course, this was my first time reading the book since we brought Mateo home, which made it especially sweet!

So, please! If you've never picked up this book, and have any sort of affection for furry animals (dogs AND cats), do give it a try! Whether reading aloud to your children or pursuing for your own pleasure, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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