In honor of Zimmy Sunday, I’ve decided to put together a list of the top dogs most beloved in English-language literature. After all, who doesn’t like reading about a little puppy love in their books? Even cat lovers have to crack a little smile every once in a while at man’s adorable and ever loyal best friend.
It seems only apt to start with the oldest member of the literary dog litter, a pup who’s a few thousand years young named Argos. Those of you who’ve read Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey might remember Argos as being one of if not the most faithful pooches in Western literature, who waited twenty long human (not dog!) years for his master to return home from the Trojan War. The old dog, who has been left in a pile of cow dung and is riddled with lice (one of the many reasons those suitors deserved to die), is the first to see through Odysseus’ beggar disguise. He starts wagging his tail at the sight of his master, but Odysseus can’t approach Argos for fear of revealing his true identity. Odysseus is forced to pass by without acknowledging his beloved dog, shedding a tear as he does (because he’s an epic hero and epic heroes love their dogs!); after Odysseus enters the hall, Argos dies in peace, satisfied in seeing his master returned home. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye I don’t know what will!
No list about literary dogs would be complete without the central character from Jack London’s classic The Call of the Wild. Buck starts out the story as a pet happily living out his life on a California ranch, only to be stolen and sold into dog slavery as a sled dog in Canada. Poor Buck! Buck is forced to adapt to his new hard life, becoming more and more primal and beastlike in order to survive, only to find love in a hopeless place (judge as you will, the Rihanna lyric applies here) in an outdoorsman named John Thornton.
Before I get started on Old Yeller, how adorable is this picture!? Too much cuteness, can’t write because of too much cuteness!
Alright, back to business. Known mostly for its 1957 Disney film adaptation with the same name, Old Yeller started out as a children’s book published in 1956 about a yellow dog wanders into the Coates’ ranch and into the family’s hearts. As I’m sure you know, Travis Coates has to shoot Old Yeller when he gets exposed to rabies while defending the family from an attack wolf. Old Yeller does leave behind a litter of puppies to help Travis deal with Old Yeller’s death, though, so it isn’t a completely traumatizing ending…just mostly traumatizing.
What list of beloved literary dogs would be complete without America’s favorite collie, Lassie. Before she became the star of a hit 1950s TV show and a number of movies released between 1943 and 2005 (yes, there was a 2005 Lassie movie. I didn’t hear about it either), she was a character in Eric Knight’s short-story-expanded-into-novel, Lassie Come Home, published in 1940. The book tells the story of how Lassie makes her way home to her favorite human ever, Timmy (even if he is a complete clutz when it comes to wells), and captured the hearts of so many readers that it exploded into the franchise we know and love to this day. Good girl, Lassie.
A beloved part of many of our childhoods, Clifford is the protagonist of the children’s book series, Clifford the Big Red Dog. First published in 1963 and written by Norman Bridwell, the series chronicles the adventures of Clifford, the runt of his litter who was given to his own Emily Elizabeth as a birthday present. Emily’s love for Clifford causes him to grow, and she has a *lot* of love for her beloved puppy: he ends up growing to be over 25 feet tall! Clifford is so big that the Elizabeth family has to leave the city and move out to the more open area of Birdwell Island. The Clifford books were so successful that it established its publisher, Scholastic Books, as a premier U.S. publishing company, and to this day Clifford remains Scholastic’s official mascot. Not too shabby for the runt of the litter!
Another classic American literary dog hero is Dorothy Gale’s terrier sidekick, Toto. The canine hero of Frank Baum’s children’s series Oz, Toto accompanies Kansas girl Dorothy on her many, many adventures in the land of Oz, and is most known for his role in the Hollywood adaptation of the first book in the Oz series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Fun fact: While Toto doesn’t talk in the movie or in the first books, it is not because he can’t; rather, he simply chooses not to. Additional fun fact: his namesake made a very catchy song about Africa in the early 80s.
One of the best fantastical dog characters in English-language literature, Tock in Norton Juster’s modern fairy tale The Phantom Tollbooth is the “watch” dog (I see what you did there, Juster) that rescues protagonist Milo from the dreaded Doldrums, a horrible place where thinking and laughing aren’t allowed. Tock then joins Milo on his journey through the Kingdom of Wisdom and they have many adventures together as they try to rescue Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason from the castle of air.
And last but certainly not least, there’s my personal favorite dog, Snowy. I know some of you may take issue with me including a comic strip character in a list of books…but…it’s Tintin! Tintin is better than a good majority of the books being published these days (Tintin>50 Shades of Grey. Always.) so I’m counting it.
Anywho, Snowy is the ever loyal companion to Belgian reporter/detective Tintin in Hergé’s comic album series, The Adventures of Tintin, which ran from 1929 all the way up to 1976. The white fox terrier joined his owner as he galavanted around the world solving mysteries and catching criminals along with the help of salty Captain Haddock, comically deaf Professor Calculus, and the always incompetent detective duo, Thompson and Thompson. Although it’s been 30 years since Hergé (who was really the Belgian cartoonist Georges Prosper Remi) died in 1983, Tintin and Snowy remain in the hearts of children and adults alike, so much so that back in 2011 Steven Spieldberg released his motion capture 3D film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn based off of three of the books in the series (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure). While not quite as cute as his comic rendering, the 3D Snowy was still just as loyal as he was in the comics, as can be seen in the clip below of Snowy trying to rescue Tintin from a group of miscreants.