Friday, 27 April 2012

Fictional dog of the week #14: Pilot

Brontë-world – a place of windswept moorland, raging passions, men with big heads (in Charlotte's case at least)… and dogs.

Dogs don’t play a huge role in the novels of the Brontë sisters, but they can’t quite be ignored either. For instance, Mr Rochester’s dog Pilot is barely seen in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and yet his very presence tells the readers a fair amount about the novel’s two main characters.

While his breed is never actually specified in the novel, it’s clear that Pilot is a Landseer Newfoundland – so-called because this breed was a favourite subject of 18th-century painter Edwin Landseer. On her first encounter with him and Rochester, Jane describes Pilot as ‘a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees… a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head.’

Pilot immediately makes one thing abundantly clear about Rochester: while he may be no oil painting, he has an inner beauty that a dog, unencumbered by aesthetic judgement, understands. Pilot’s trust in Rochester, his protectiveness of him and obedience to any command he gives, suggest the respect due to a leader who is courageous, gentle and kind. In fact, the gentle side of Rochester’s nature is hinted at the very next time Jane sees the two together when, resting up after his fall from his horse, he watches Pilot ‘basking in the light and heat of a superb fire’ with Rochester’s young ward, Adèle, kneeling next to him.

As well as providing a simple symbol of Rochester’s better qualities, Pilot also embodies Jane’s own priorities. A plain orphan girl, well-educated but with no expectations beyond the role of governess, Jane doesn’t worry herself with the world of superficial beauty and instead looks to find beauty within. As the embodiment of both Jane’s and Rochester’s strengths, Pilot also subtly reinforces the sense that the two are soul mates.
Pilot also helps to bring the novel to life in the mind’s eye. Rochester and Pilot complement each other physically, as both have an athletic build, a large, shaggy head and a dogged personality. By pairing Rochester with such a picturesque and often-painted dog, Charlotte Brontë succeeds in producing a striking visual image of him using words alone.

When Jane returns to find Rochester, blinded and crippled, ‘his old dog, Pilot’ is still with him but both seem out of kilter; weakened by age and loss. In this scene, it is Pilot – ‘removed out of the way, and coiled up as if afraid of being inadvertently trodden upon’ – who foreshadows Rochester’s own recovery. Pilot is rejuvenated at the sight of Jane, pricking up his ears, yelping and jumping up in excitement. Rochester’s recognition of Jane and his own rejuvenation – the partial restoration of his sight and the birth of their child – is a more gradual process, but as prefigured by Pilot, it comes sure enough as the soul mates are reunited and balance restored.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Triumph and tragedy for garden birds

So far, this week has brought good news and bad news on the bird front.

We have several birds nesting in or around our garden, including robins in the robin nesting box for the first time. And while it seems as if it’s been raining non-stop for weeks, there have been a surprising number of clear mornings when all of birdkind seems to go bobbing about the garden looking for food and nesting materials.

On those mornings, Fargo has been doing his bit for their burgeoning families, as I give him a good going over with the undercoat rake and spread the proceeds around the garden. I’ve watched blue tits, coal tits, robins, wrens and goldfinches all collecting it up within the space of an hour or so, and it’s really nice to think that Fargo’s hair is helping to keep the various baby birds safe and warm. They’re too quick for me to get a good photo, so here’s an artistic impression of sorts.

Unfortunately, it turns out that not all my dogs are completely bird-friendly. As I finished congratulating myself on the Whippets’ cat-like ability to deal with big spiders, flies and any other crawlers/flyers that bother me, the feline qualities of these dogs came back to haunt me.

It hadn’t rained for the whole day, and I was watching Billy and Stanley pottering around the garden when Billy suddenly dived into the hedge and came out with something in his mouth. Even as I ran down the garden to see what it was, he dropped it and Stanley picked it up. Stan left it when I told him to, but by the time I was close enough to see that it was a fledgling dunnock, the poor thing was already breathing its last.

It’s really sad. Only the previous day, I’d been watching that dunnock (or one very like it) sitting on the lawn by the hedge under the watchful eye of its parents. Now, I keep seeing the adult dunnocks and I feel really guilty.

Of course, Billy was only doing what comes naturally and he didn’t even want to kill the bird. He’s often caught frogs, which he picks up and drops to see if they’ll move. They play dead and as long as I keep him away from them long enough, they’ll recover and hop away unscathed. Despite his interest in wildlife and a tendency to treat small animals as playthings, Billy has a very gentle mouth, but baby birds just aren’t that resilient and I’m going to keep a watchful eye on Billy and Stan to make sure they don’t do away with any more feathered friends.

Looking on the bright side, they keep the garden pretty clear of cats, so despite yesterday’s tragic event, at least one major threat to birdkind is minimised.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Fictional dog of the week #13: Wordsworth

It’s a traditional image, the child who’s supposed to be asleep with the lights out reading surreptitiously by the light of a torch. Take that a step further and you may just arrive at Cosgrove-Hall’s tripped-out 1970s kids’ cartoon series Jamie and the Magic Torch.

Every episode would begin with Jamie’s mum tucking him up in bed and wishing him goodnight – but as soon as the lights were out he’d be wide awake, and his dog Wordsworth would scurry out from under the bed carrying a torch that opened up a helter-skelter portal to another world called Cuckoo Land.

Wordsworth is an Old English Sheepdog – a breed that was immensely popular in the 1970s after the Dulux TV commercials shot it to stardom with such force that many people still know these dogs as ‘Dulux dogs’.

Wordsworth speaks with a kind of ‘country bumpkin’ accent, possibly because of the breed’s pastoral associations but in this crazy world, who knows? He wears a red bobble had over a fringe that completely covers his eyes, and he has a mischievous sense of humour. Like many a canine sidekick in children’s animation, he can be a bit cowardly and he’s not quite as smart as Jamie. But he is the faithful companion that any child needs when embarking on nocturnal adventures in an alternative universe, and he always makes sure Jamie is safely back in his own bed before morning.

Originally broadcast by ITV in 1976-1979, Jamie and the Magic Torch enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s. It was written and narrated by Brian Trueman, who was later responsible for such gems as DangerMouse and Count Duckula.

But for me, nothing holds a candle to Jamie and the Magic Torch, which struck the perfect balance between waking and dreaming, sanity and madness, with animation reminiscent of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, a surreal cast of characters and an insanely catchy intro song – and of course, that essential companion for tripped-out nocturnal journeys, a lovely big dog.

Watch an episode to see what happens when Jamie and Wordsworth encounter The Ghost of Spiny Mountain.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Fictional dog of the week #12: Pluto

Walt Disney’s Pluto has been around a long time. He first appeared in 1930 as Minnie Mouse’s dog, but at the time he was called Rover. After that, he was most often seen with Mickey Mouse and his name was changed to Pluto. He also sometimes went around with Donald Duck.

I always liked Pluto best out of the Disney dogs because he’s a proper dog, not a clothes-wearing pretend human in the shape of a dog like Goofy. Pluto is yellow with black ears and a long black skinny tail. He walks on all fours and generally doesn’t speak, and although he is of no specific breed, he often points (apparently Disney artist Norm Ferguson owned a Pointer). He has great facial expressions and a range of noises to convey his thoughts.

Pluto starred in some of Disney’s ‘Silly Symphonies’ animated cartoons before being given his own films. He often works in the slapstick comedy tradition and gets himself tangled up with inanimate objects. He also has adventures with other critters, often running up against rivals such as Butch the Bulldog and the annoying chipmunks, Chip ‘n’ Dale. Later, he appeared in a number of TV series and films starring Mickey Mouse, and he had a cameo role in the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Pluto is a timeless wonder in the world of dog animation. Here’s a brilliant Pluto episode, Bone Trouble, for you to watch.