For Picks Of The Litter, a regular book review series, Ranny Green critiques “Gods, Ghosts, and Black Dogs: The Fascinating Folklore and Mythology of Dogs,” by Stanley Coren (Hubble & Hattie).
Stories are part of the social fabric of man’s best friend. And boy does Coren, a professor of emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, weave together a bizarre – and engaging – mix of spirited entries.
For instance just take a look at some of these chapter titles – How the dog made man fit to live; How the Dalmatian got his spots; Why the Pug has a flat, black face and curled tail; Why the dog has a black nose; Why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends; The morality of dogs; Are there dogs in heaven?; The Devil and the seeing-eye dog.
Rest assured, I am not giving away the answer, whys, or wherefores to any of these.
Each is a self-contained eclectic story that enables the reader to take a deep breath, laugh, and push your pause button.
In the introduction, Coren light-heartedly writes, “In many instances I try and relate the circumstances in which I first heard the tale, and perhaps say something about who told it to me, because all of the detail is part of the magic of the story. I can’t always provide that information, since at my age, my memory is broken in a few places.”
And he adds, “If any of these folk tales do not work to your satisfaction, feel free to change them to make them better, and then hand on the improved version to someone else as part of your contribution to the fabric of the universe of stories.”
Coren goes on to emphasize that because people pass on folk tales or recount myths to one another gives no basis to the element of truth in any of these accounts.
Should you ever find yourself visiting with this crack author and beginning to tell a story about dogs, beware when he says, “I’ll bet there is a story behind that. If you are willing to let me buy you a cup of coffee, I’d like to hear it.” Should he update this delightful volume in the future, you just might find your story being the subject of a chapter, albeit with a few enhancements.
If you doubt this, check out this passage:
“Although I am sure that many scholars may disagree, it appears to me that folklore, mythology, tall tales, and even casual anecdotes, are all cut from the same cloth: part of an oral tradition which involves passing time in an entertaining way by telling and listening to stories. Sometimes there are people who specialize in telling these tales, such as bards, minstrels, wise elders, shamans, teachers, and, of course, bartenders.
“While I have heard and collected many stories from settings where alcohol was flowing, and the air was filled with tobacco smoke, others have come to meanwhile sitting with friends over dinner, and still others have been overheard when people are just trying to entertain children.”
Because most are not captured in words, the fun, he acknowledges, is that the individual “spinning the story gets to elaborate and change bits to catch the attention of his particular audience.”
Packed with vivid characters and questionable incidents, Coren’s work segues smoothly between subjects with appealing gusto and a feisty spirit.