Colleen's Reviews > The Plague Dogs

The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams
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's review
Feb 28, 2011

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Read in April, 2009

My thinking on choosing to read this: "Watership Down, about DOGS?!?" Could life be more perfect?

Ooof, was I ever off-base.

Granted, there's no mistaking. These are both unquestionably by the same author. Pastoral scenes are vivid, the animals' modes of thinking are vivid, the scale is epic... and yes, Watership Down has head-scratchy moments where the animal's perspective makes something familiar to humans alien, scenes of terror that get practically drug-trippy, parts that wring your heart because terrible horrible things happen to innocent animals... and Plague Dogs has all of those too.

BUT. The dark and scary is all the darker and scarier. The sunniness of the lapine outlook, against all expectation, is not copied in the canine outlook. (If there's any animal happier than a dog--well, any land animal, dolphins have an unfair advantage, being as they're already grinning--I defy you to show me a rival to a happy dog... I do think Adams emphasized the servility a lot to convey how abused the dogs were, but he ought to have acknowledged the natural buoyancy of dogs.) The rabbits, Adams tells us, shake off each night of terrors like a dream when the next day dawns and summer warms everyone up again. The two plague dogs are only worn at more and more.

I think part of it is the actual damage done to the animals. Snitter, the Fiver of this book, is intelligent but tortured. And he's not grounded as well by Rowf, his companion, the way Fiver is by Hazel, because Rowf too has been tortured. Moreover, man is more explicitly the enemy here, and unlike dispassionate crows, badgers, dogs, cats, etc, of Watership Down, the inhumanity of men in in Plague Dogs is personal, and inventive.

The ending is torturous to the animal lovers who read it (namely myself,) but I have to say, it fits perfectly. And I'm willing to take the half-comfort it offers because those poor plague dogs? They deserve a rest.
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