Saturday, September 25, 2010

My dog, Xavier, whose pesky characteristics
could launch an entire series!
 Characters: Animals/Pets

As my students and I watched My Dog Skip during class this past Friday, I prepared them, didn't give the world away, but answered the question they feared most, "Does the dog die?"

"Yes, eventually, all dogs die," I replied, "but, didn't you watch the Disney movie All Dogs Go to Heaven?"

Now for junior high students, the wonderful thing is that the majority of them had seen All Dogs Go to Heaven and they do still watch Disney movies on occasion. Thankfully, the voice of comfort that a sad ol' Disney movie can bring, was enough to make my worried little charges calm down. That is, almost.

"Mrs. Caveny, obviously, you never met my dog," one student piped up, "there's no way he went to heaven."

I smiled. I understood what the student meant. Some dogs, well, some dogs follow difficult paths. I turned to her and added, "But did you love him?"

The student looked up at me. Her eyes were sad. Ya, they did. And that right there folks, is why Disney and animal-story writers in the world today win every time. We do love those pets, regardless.

Take The Incredible Journey*, by Sheila Burnford, for example, one of my favorite animal books-made-into-a-movie. Sure you love Shadow, but you also love Sassy. Why? She's rotten. Ask anyone who has ever had a Siamese cat. They know. Siamese are independent and full of arrogance. But despite Sassy's faults we love her.

In Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo, one can't help but to fall for the awkward mutt with the snarky smile. He's flawed, and up against a character that feels flawed to some extent herself; he's her perfect match.

So is it the dependence we are attracted too? Is it the unconditional love? Do we love these animals because of some need they fulfill in the character's heart? I believe it is all this exactly...and more.

When I write about the animals that have shared my life, they have each touched upon different aspects of myself. Kitty, the golden mutt--companionship; Oscar, (and later Sophie), both canaries--joy and peacefulness; Sam, the bossy Siamese-- stability; Max, the white zoom-a-roo, Spitz-a-poo,-- mothering, and currently, Xavier, the insane Cattle dog-- understanding. (Note: Xavier is currently "in-the-dog-house" for misbehavior/overzealousness--a daily thing.)

I guess that whatever breed they are, whatever traits they themselves possess, animals will always win in a story. Ultimately, they move from being the "vehicle" that reveal a main character's traits, to being one of the main character themselves.

Which animal/pet/friend from your life complements or suggests a characteristic of yourself? Have you written about them lately?

P.s. *The Incredible Journey is the original book for the movie Homeward Bound, the Incredible Journey. 

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