Re: The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs

I’m a sucker for folktales and stories about talking animals. My favorite Nancy Kress story stars a talking dog. So I sat up and listened when the dogs started to talk in “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change,” by Kij Johnson.

The title suggests that it’s going to be a hack on academic papers, but it’s a straightforward story interspersed with an embryonic body of folklore about One Dog. The Trickster stories do evolve, from frustration, to trickery, to hope. The dogs can tell them because of the One Impossible Thing, a mysterious Change that gave speech to all our domesticated animals. There’s no attempt to explain the Change or even describe how it happened. You don’t need it: the story is about what dogs might say to us and to each other.

I didn’t like how universal people’s reactions were; you get the impression that absolutely no one could bear to hear what their dogs had to say and kicked them out. Thus you get the standard tragedy of abandoned dogs writ large: dogs hiding in parks, fighting, starving, mating, getting jammed into overcrowded shelters–until they make such a nuisance they’re all poisoned or shot. I’m not convinced that the solution offered is going to last for long.

I was reminded of two books about dogs I heard on Chapter A Day. The first was Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, by John Grogan. The author adopts a puppy and proceeds to rear it in the most ignorant manner, laughing at the “bad” behavior this produces in the dog. You have to wonder what Marley would have said if he could.

Later I heard Merle’s Door: Lessons From A Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote. The author is adopted by a semi-feral dog on a river trip. He does his best to let Merle be the best dog he can be. It helps that he lives in a rural enough neighborhood that Merle is allowed to run free and patrol the neighborhood. Also they go on hunting trips together and reenact the ancient partnership of man and dog. It all seems much better for both of them, but not everyone can do this.

An interesting story that leaves you thinking about our relationship with dogs and other companion animals.

Tomorrow: A Nebula nominee that moved me.