What kid hasn’t seen Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, either the old animated or newer live-action version? I certainly did; I’m pretty sure I saw both of them but I didn’t remember anything about them other than that they were fun (quick Wikipedia searches have refreshed my memory a bit). When I recently learned that the author of the original book was Dodie Smith, author of the fabulous I Capture the Castle, the book went instantly onto my to-read list!
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) was originally published as the serial “The Great Dog Robbery” in Women’s Day, presumably a magazine or literary journal. The serial format explains the cliffhangers or surprise endings of each chapter, and why each leg of the various journeys is written out in such detail. Based on the Wikipedia entries on each film, the original book had a few minor but significant differences from the films, but all shared the same basic premise: Cruella de Vil steals the Dearly dogs’ puppies, and the two adult dogs must go on a cross-country journey with assistance from many different animals to rescue their pups from being turned into fur coats.
This is a really funny book. Like, really extraordinarily funny, in prose that couldn’t have possibly translated into a film version unless that film had a narrator relating a meta-commentary. Try this very first paragraph of the book:
“Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo. (Missis had added Pongo’s name to her own on their marriage, but was still called Missis by most people.) They were lucky enough to own a young married couple of humans named Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, who were gentle, obedient, and unusually intelligent – almost canine at times. They understood quite a number of barks: the barks for ‘Out, please!’ ‘In, please!’ ‘Hurry up with my dinner!’ and ‘What about a walk?’ And even when they could not understand, they could often guess – if looked at soulfully or scratched by an eager paw. Like many other much-loved humans, they believed that they owned their dogs, instead of realizing that their dogs owned them. Pongo and Missis found this touching and amusing and let their pets think it was true” (9-10).
It’s also super cute. Cruella is a far less menacing presence than in the movies, where she almost seems to be the main character. Instead, the book’s focus is on the dogs and their heart, love, and courage. Pongo is a perfectly wonderful father:
“But Missis was weakly thumping her tail. ‘Go down and have your breakfast and a good sleep,’ she said – but nobody but Pongo heard a sound. His eyes and his wildly wagging tail told her all he was feeling, his love for her and those eight fine pups enjoying their first breakfast. And those others, in the basket, waiting their turn – how many were there? ‘It’s a pity dogs can’t count,’ said Mrs. Dearly. But Pongo could count perfectly. He went downstairs with his head held high and a new light in his fine dark eyes. For he knew himself to be the proud father of fifteen” (27).
Go read this book! And be aware that it will convince you that you are desperate to have a dog, especially an adorable Dalmatian puppy. I certainly want one now!