06/08/2005

The Hundred and One Dalmations (by Dodie Smith)


Yes, another children's book. Sometimes I need one just to relax and unwind, and I hadn't read this book for many years. According to the front, I bought this paperback when I was ten, so I'm surprised it's in such good condition! I had no idea until I was older that the author, Dodie Smith, had written books for adults too.

It's a classic, of course, and the plot well-known due to the Disney version. Two dalmations go to rescue their stolen puppies, and find rather more than they were expecting. However Disney took some liberties, one of which was to call the adult dalmations Pongo and Perdita. In the book, Pongo's wife is called Missus, and Perdita is a stray dog who fosters some of their puppies, having lost her own.

As far as I remember, the animated film is otherwise reasonably true to the plot, with the evil Cruella de Vil as one of the wickedest villains in fiction. But it doesn't have the gentle satire and unexpected one-liner jokes that the book contains - and which I probably didn't apprecate at all when I was ten. The opening paragraph describes Pongo and Missus' relationship with their 'pets' Mr and Mrs Dearly, and makes it quite clear that dogs are the owners, and far more intelligent than humans.

It's only a short book - about 200 pages - and I read it in a couple of hours. I found it unexpectedly moving in several places, as well as enjoying the gentle humour of others.

I'm not sure who would enjoy it these days. Ten-year-olds are far less innocent than I was at that age, and those who read fluently would probably find it boring, particularly if they've seen the Disney film. However it would make a wonderful read-aloud book for a younger child, as it's the kind of book which isn't condescending at all - and the humour would appeal to many parents. I would hope too that there are a few remaining more sensitive children of about 8-10 who might enjoy this for what it is. Boys as well as girls.

(You can also read my slightly longer review of The 101 Dalmations, written in 2012 after reading-aloud to a six-year-old friend)

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