A Dog’s Life: Dogs in Literature

From Shauna Waterman, Market Research Intern

Milo (Angie's dog) enjoys a good read prior to 'A Dog's Life?'...
Milo (Angie’s dog) enjoys a good read prior to ‘A Dog’s Life?’…

Our latest Short Course for Serious Readers, ‘A Dog’s Life?’ got me thinking about dogs in literature, those characters we forget that stand by our literary heroes side or hold their own in amazing adventures. Loyalty and unconditional love are amongst the important reasons why humans love dogs. At our Short Course for Serious Readers, we will read a wide variety of poetry and prose exploring the uncomplicated nature of the human-dog relationship. When I asked Angela Macmillan (who will be running the Short Course) what texts she will be looking at, she mentioned Homer, Thomas Hardy and the American poet Mark Doty.

Of course Homer’s epic poem Odyssey would be perfect to look at. After leaving behind his “noble hound” Argos, Odysseus tries to re-enter his house after Suitors are trying to take over and marry his wife. Odysseus returns disguised as an old beggar to find a neglected Argos who instantly recognises his owner. Unable to give himself away, Odysseus passes by Argos and sheds a tear for his companion before Argos, happy to have seen his master once more, “passed into the darkness of death”. This story reminded me about the dogs I had in my life, Shane (an Alsatian) and Seamus (a mongrel). They had a great relationship with my parents, especially my dad who trained them well enough that they’d bring his slippers and newspaper in the morning. I remember my mum telling me that when my dad got ill, the dogs sensed it. They stayed away and wouldn’t jump on him but would sit by his chair as silent companions as he rested and slowly recovered. My dad always talks fondly of those dogs and how they used to watch me in my cot and stand guard by my pram. When Shane got sick and died, Seamus couldn’t be without him and soon joined him and my dad swore to never get pet dogs again. He never did. When I asked him recently why that was, he told me that he got far too attached to them and that when they died, he mourned them as if they were a part of the family.

This is the kind of relationship that Mark Doty looks at in his book Dog Years that Angela will look at in the Short Course; about how dogs can make us think about our need for joy, companionship, affection and how they can teach us seriously valuable life lessons. She will also look at Thomas Hardy. Hardy himself had a dog named Wessex, who like my dad, saw him as a part of the family and calved on his tombstone “Faithful” and “Unflinching” when he died. He also wrote an interesting poem called ‘Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?’ about a dog trying to bury his bone but happens upon a grave instead.

“Ah yes! You dig upon my grave . . .
Why flashed it not on me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

– Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave, Thomas Hardy

The more I think about it, there are many great dogs in literature such as trusty Old Yeller and Lassie. Snoopy (can he count? I think so) said, “keep looking up…that’s the secret of life” as he lay happily on the roof of his kennel looking at the sky, which I think makes him pretty great. Shiloh from the children’s book of the same name became a friend to eleven year old Marty. A favourite of mine is Fang in the Harry Potter series. Not a big role, but he adds a lot of comedy value and is a lovely companion to one my favourite characters Hagrid, who loves and cares for him very much.

So, come and join us at Calderstones Mansion House for our Short Course for Serious Readers: A Dog’s Life?’ Mark Twain said, “If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow”, so let us listen to what these literary dogs have to say about life, love and loss.

‘A Dog’s Life’ runs at Calderstones Mansion House on Wednesday 20th November, 10am-1pm, costing £15/£10 concessions. For more information and to book your place, see our website or contact Sophie Johnson: sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7207.

Coming up in Literary Learning

As the days get shorter, we’re definitely not short of opportunities to develop your literary thinking and enjoy some enriching shared reading in great company at The Reader Organisation. In the next month there’s a new Short Course for Serious Readers with a canine theme at Calderstones Mansion House, as well as a Masterclass in Liverpool especially for Read to Lead graduates.

Read on for more of what’s on the Literary Learning calendar later this Autumn…

purebred english Bulldog in glasses and bookShort Courses for Serious Readers: A Dog’s Life
Wednesday 20th November, 10am-1pm
Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool

£15; £10 concessions (Get Into Reading members/income support/students/pensioners)

Loyalty and unconditional love are amongst the important reasons why humans love dogs. From Homer to Hardy, we will read a wide variety of poetry and prose exploring the uncomplicated nature of the human-dog relationship. In this special half-day Short Course for Serious Readers, we will think about our need for joy, companionship and affection and the literary dogs that have seriously valuable lessons to teach about life, love and loss.

Our Short Courses for Serious Readers are perfect for anyone who loves literature to rediscover reading classics in a relaxed setting, allowing you to immerse yourself in texts with guidance from experts and the company of like-minded people. Take a morning for yourself and take a break from life to enjoy some great literature.

Find out more about our Short Courses for Serious Readers on the Courses section of our website. There are a final few places available for ‘The Test of the Sea’ Short Course this coming Saturday 26th October, 10am-4pm at Calderstones Mansion House, where we’ll be reading Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. See our website for all the information on how to book or contact sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk

November’s Masterclass

MRL_5280‘And Yet the Books’: Reading in Library and Community Settings
Monday 18th November, 5-8pm
Liverpool Central Library

As part of Ongoing Learning, Read to Lead graduates can join us for this special evening Masterclass in Liverpool, focusing on shared reading in library and community settings. Join Helen Wilson to discuss all aspects of shared reading these settings, ranging from publicity and techniques for recruitment to group dynamics and ‘going deeper’ in sessions.

Masterclasses are special sessions exclusively for those who have completed the Read to Lead course and wish to improve their practice as a facilitator and deepen their understanding as a reader, a vital part of Ongoing Learning in the practice of shared reading.

Places on this Masterclass are free within your first year of Ongoing Learning; otherwise they cost £25.
Contact Literary Learning Coordinator Sophie Johnson to reserve your place, and if you wish, request a particular topic for discussion: sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk
Keep up-to-date on our latest Courses at any time by visiting the Courses section on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses.aspx
You can also find out more about what’s going on in the world of Literary Learning by following us on Twitter (@thereaderorg) or liking us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thereaderorg