Dogs are like coffee—not exactly rare, but nonetheless incredibly wonderful and never tiresome. It is absolutely delightful to encounter a cute and friendly dog as you go about your daily business, a highlight of the day second only to the next time you encounter a cute and friendly dog. Us humans and those canines are inexorably linked forever by some kind of bond, to the point where if we can’t pet ‘em, we’ll read about ‘em. Here are some of the most memorable dogs from books. They’re very good dogs. Yes they are! Yes they are!
Tock (The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster)
Tock is a watchdog. Like, literally, he’s a watchdog, in that he has a working, stopwatch style-clock embedded inside of him. (So he’s not only a dog, he’s also a robot, which is somehow even better.) He escorts our young protagonist Milo through his journey to the Kingdom of Wisdom, one filled with puns, wordplay, and allegory. A faithful companion who also delivers wise and even sarcastic riddles? Best dog ever!
Fang (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling)
You’ve got to be a pretty sweet dog to hang out with Hagrid, the also sweet gamekeeper at Hogwarts. Of course, because Hagrid is gigantic, so too is Fang—even for a bull mastiff. But like many dogs magical or non-magical, huge or not-huge, Fang is loyal and affectionate to the point where it’s overwhelming. In fact, he slobbers so much that you just might get wet reading J.K. Rowling’s very first Harry Potter book.
Old Dan and Little Ann (Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls)
For some kids, their definitive pop culture moment involving trauma and animals is when Bambi’s mom is shot by a hunter in Bambi. For other kids, it’s reading a classic, coming-of-age novel in which a dog figures prominently—because they all seem to end in the same sad way. (Let’s put it this way: Old Yeller doesn’t get to be that old…and he stops yelling.) But let’s not talk about the inevitable ending of Where the Red Fern Grows, let’s instead talk about the other 95 percent of Wilson Rawls’ deeply moving tale about a boy named Billy and his bond with two hunting hounds named Old Dan and Little Ann. Boy oh boy does that boy love his affectionate and talented dogs…which makes the ending hurt all the worse. (Sorry. It couldn’t be avoided.)
Charley (Travels With Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck)
First, forget every stereotype you’ve ever had about poodles being frou-frou dogs. Because Charley is a rough and tumble dog who’s up for anything, even an epic road trip. Isn’t this what we all want out of a dog? A bro, wingman, travel partner, and best friend? It’s no accident that John Steinbeck’s sunniest book is also his most major work of nonfiction—because he’s driving around, experiencing the real America with his dog.
Roger (Big Trouble, by Dave Barry)
What could be a cloyingly cute literary device straight out of a creative writing class is made funny, effective, and compelling with the agile comic gifts of Dave Barry. Barry’s first foray into full-length fiction is the ridiculously funny Miami-set crime story Big Trouble. The point of view shifts among a number of characters involved some way in a crime gone wrong—including a dog. Breaking up the unfolding, intertwined action are palate cleansers about a dog named Roger—the “result of generations of hasty, unplanned dog sex,” (he’s a mutt). He’s got his own story to live and his own battle to fight: trying to stop a rogue toad that steals food out of his bowl every morning. You really feel for Roger; this kind of dopey, regular dog. One wishes they could reach into the book, shoo the toad away, and let Roger have a full meal for once.
Clifford (Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell)
The appreciation here really ought to go not to Clifford, or to his loyal human best friend Emily, but to Emily’s poor parents. They’re the ones who agreed to shoulder without complaint the crippling financial burden of housing and feeding a dog that is literally the size of a house. This says nothing of the full-time job it must be to clean up shed bright-red hair, as well as Clifford’s leavings. But when we were kids, Clifford seemed like he’d be the best pet ever: a gigantic, friendly, sweet and protective dog with the biggest, most realistically rendered puppy dog eyes in literary history.
Which fictional dogs do you wish were your dogs?