I ran across a fun little article in last week’s Slate about the prevalence of barking dogs in literature. And, not just any barking dogs, but dogs barking somewhere in the distance. Authors as diverse as Stephen King, Robert Bolano, Jodi Picoult, James Joyce, Robert Penn Warren, and dozens of others have all used this particular image.
The author, Rosecrans Baldwin has an amusing take on this:
Picture an author at work: She’s exhausted, gazing at her laptop and dreaming about lunch. “[Author typing.] Boyd slammed the car door shut. He stared at his new condominium, with the for-sale sign in the yard. He picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head. [Author thinking, Now what? Gotta buy time.] Somewhere a dog barked. [Author thinking, Hmm, that’ll do.] Then Boyd remembered he did qualify for the tax rebate for first-time home buyers, and put down the gun.” If a novel is an archeological record of 4.54 billion decisions, then maybe distant barking dogs are its fossils, evidence of the novelist working out an idea.
He further points out that, while the dogs bark throughout the cannon of western literature, the dogs themselves very seldom make an appearance. “The thing is,” he says, “these so-called dogs are nameless and faceless, and frankly I doubt them.”
A very fun, very interesting read. Check out the full article here.