Dog Department

Dog Department

by James Thurber, Michael J. Rosen, Rosemary Thurber

"On the lawns and porches, and in the living rooms and backyards of my threescore years, there have been more dogs, written and drawn, real and imaginary, than I had guessed before I started this roundup."

Here is James Thurber, arguably the greatest humorist of the twentieth century, on all things canine. In The Dog Department,


"On the lawns and porches, and in the living rooms and backyards of my threescore years, there have been more dogs, written and drawn, real and imaginary, than I had guessed before I started this roundup."

Here is James Thurber, arguably the greatest humorist of the twentieth century, on all things canine. In The Dog Department, Michael J. Rosen, a literary dogcatcher of sorts, has gathered together Thurber's best in show. Here we have the stylish prose and drawings from Thurber's Dogs (which connected the words "Thurber" and "Dog" as inseparably as "Bartlett" and "Quotation," as "Emily Post" and "Etiquette"), along with unpublished material from the Thurber archives, a great sheaf of uncollected cartoons, and two dozen "Talk of the Town" miniatures from The New Yorker — the consummate dog book from an artist of extraordinary pedigree. What other author can claim to have penned his own personal breed? The Thurber hound is a creature as unmistakable as Disney's mouse or Playboy's bunny.

In The Dog Department you'll find standard poodles, Scottish terriers, an Airedale, a rough collie, an American Staffordshire terrier — all Thurber family members who inspired quintessential dog tales. For instance, there's Muggs, "the dog that bit people," an avocation that, each year, required Thurber's mother to send her famous chocolates to an ever-growing list of Muggs's victims. There's also a fair share about bloodhounds, German shepherd dogs, and pugs. But what you'll find remarkable and comforting is that reading Thurber from fifty or even seventy-five years ago is akin to reading about dogs today — or about dogs from the previous century, as Thurber grew up reading — or about dogs, we hope, from this new century we've just entered. The Dog Department is proof that Thurber's work defines the canine canon.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.08(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I Like Dogs

I am not a dog lover. A dog lover to me means a dog that is in love with another dog. I am a great admirer of certain dogs, just as I am an admirer of certain men, and I dislike certain dogs as much as I dislike certain men. Mr. Stanley Walker" in his attack on dogs brought out the very sound contention that too much sentimental gush has been said and written about man's love for the dog and the dog's love for man. (This gush, I should say, amounts to about one ten-thousandth of the gush that has been printed and recited about man's love for woman, and vice versa, since Shelley wrote "0' lift me from the grass! I die, I faint, I fall! Let thy love in kisses rain on my lips and eyelids pale.") It is significant that none of the gush about dogs has been said or written by dogs. I once showed a copy of Senator Vest's oration to one of my dogs and he sniffed at it and walked away. No dog has ever gone around quoting any part of it. We see, then, that this first indictment of dogs ' that they have called forth so much sentimental woofumpoofum ' is purely and simply an indictment of men. I think we will find this to be true of most of Mr. Walker's indictments against the canine world: he takes a swing at dogs and socks men and women in the eye.

Mr. Walker began his onslaught with a one-sided and prejudiced account of how a little red chow on a leash (the italics are mine) pulled a knife on Mr. Gene Fowler, a large red man who has never been on a leash in his life. Neither the dog nor the woman who was leading the dog are quoted; we dont get their side of the brawl at all. The knife was not evenexamined for paw prints. Nobody proved anything. There isnt a judge in the world who wouldn't have thrown the case out of court, probably with a sharp reprimand for Mr. Fowler. So far, then, Mr. Walker hasn't got a leg to stand on.

The next crack that Mr. Walker makes is to the effect that the dog is "cousin to the wolf." (He doesn't even say what wolf.) Now, the dog is no more cousin to the wolf than I am niece to the horse. I am aware that until very recently, until this year, in fact, the preponderance of authority has held that the dog is cousin to the wolf. But it happens that remarkable and convincing disproof of this old wives' theory has just been adduced by two able and unimpeachable specialists in the field, Charles Quintus Harbison in his Myths and Legends of the Dog (Curtis, Webb ' $ 5.00) and D. J. Seiffert in his The Canidae, a History of Digingrade Carnivora (Green Barton ' $3.50). This disposes of this old superstition in a manner that brooks no contradictions. So much for that.

"The history of the dog," Mr. Walker asserts, "is one of greed, double-crossing, and unspeakable lechery." Mr. Walker, who writes with a stub pen, frequently mislays his spectacles, and is inclined to get mixed up now and then, undoubtedly meant to write, "The history of man is one of greed, double-crossing, and unspeakable lechery." If you stopped ten human beings in the street and said to them, "The history of what animal is one of greed, double-crossing, and unspeakable lechery?" seven would say "man," two would walk on hastily without saying anything, and the other would call the police. If you put this same query to ten dogs, none of them would say anything (they are much too fairminded to go around making a lot of loose charges against men) and none of them would phone the police. (I am reminded to say here, speaking of the police, that no dog has ever held a lantern while a burglar opened a safe belonging to the dog's master. A dog's paw is so formed that he cannot hold a lantern. If your burglar is smart he holds the lantern while the dog opens the safe.)

It is true that now and then a dog will double-cross his master. I have been double-crossed by dogs sixteen or eighteen times; eighteen, I believe. But I find in going back over these instances that in every case the fault really lay with me. Take the time that a Scottish terrier of mine named Jeannie let me down; it is a classic but, I believe, typical example. I was living some eight or nine years ago in a house at Sneden's Landing, on the Hudson. Jeannie and her seven pups lived in a pen in the dining room. It would take too long to explain why. The only other person in the house besides me was an Italian cook named Josephine. I used to come out to the house from New York every night by train, arriving just in time for dinner. One evening, worrying about some impending disaster, or dreaming about some old one, I was carried past my station ' all the way to Haverstraw, where I had to wait two hours for a train to take me back. I telephoned Josephine from Haverstraw and told her I would not be able to get there until ten o'clock. She was pretty much put out, but she said she would keep dinner for me. An hour before the train arrived to take me back I got so hungry that I had to eat; I ate several sandwiches and drank two cups of coffee. Naturally when I got home finally and sat down at the dining-room table I had no stomach at all for the wonderful dinner Josephine had kept for me. I ate the soup but I couldn't touch any of the steak...

Meet the Author

James Thurber (1894–1961) created some thirty volumes of humor, fiction, children's books, cartoons, and essays in just about as many years. A founding member of The New Yorker staff, Thurber wrote and illustrated such enduring books as The Thurber Carnival and My Life and Hard Times, which have appeared in countless editions and dozens of languages throughout the world.

The editor of More Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor, Michael J. Rosen has been called the unofficial organizer of the National Humor Writer's Union, a pretty good idea for an organization that could offer all kinds of benefits to its struggling members (currently numbering more than 300 who have never been published in The New Yorker or aired on NPR). He has been called other things as well, like in third grade, and then in seventh grade especially, by certain older kids known as "hoods," who made his life miserable, specifically during gym class, lunch period and after school. Later, much later, the Washington Post called him a "fidosopher" because of his extensive publications on dogs, dog training, and dog-besotted people. The New York Times called him an example of creative philanthropy in their special "Giving" section for persuading "writers, artists, photographers and illustrators to contribute their time and talents to books" that benefit Share Our Strength's anti-hunger efforts and animal-welfare causes. As an author of a couple dozen books for children, he's been called...okay, enough with the calling business.

For nearly twenty years, he served as literary director at the Thurber House, a cultural center in the restored home of James Thurber. Garrison Keillor, bless his heart, called it (sorry) "the capital of American humor." While there, Rosen helped to create The Thurber Prize for American Humor, a national book award for humor writing, and edited four anthologies of Thurber's previously unpublished and uncollected work, most recently The Dog Department: James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties and Talking Poodles, happily published by HarperCollins as well.

In his capacity as editor for this biennial, Rosen reads manuscripts year round, beseeching and beleaguering the nation's most renowned and well-published authors, and fending off the rants and screeds from folks who've discovered the ease of self-publishing on the web. Last summer, Rosen edited a lovely book, 101 Damnations: The Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells; while some critics (all right, one rather outspoken friend) considered this a book of complaints, Rosen has argued that humor, like voting and picketing and returning an appliance that "worked" all of four months before requiring a repair that costs twice the purchase price, humor is about the desire for change. It's responding to the way things are compared to the way you'd like things to be. And it's a much more convivial response than pouting or cornering unsuspecting guests at dinner parties.

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