Portrait of the Artist as a Young Reader
Stefania Ciocia looks at 'David Copperfield, Dickens' 'favourite child'. ...
Being born in the Nineties, the concept of a ‘come-home dog’ immediately brings to mind the blockbuster hit that was Homeward Bound (I am acutely aware this was only considered a blockbuster if you were a small, somewhat lonely child desperate to believe animals could talk, but for the sake of the blog, let’s suspend our imaginations and agree that Homeward Bound was an epic cinematic masterpiece). Without needing much coaxing, I cast my memory back to my pre-adolescent years where many a night was spent enchanted by Shadow, Chance and Sassy’s heart-wrenching, though at times comic, plight to return home to their beloved masters. We ‘Nineties-Babies’ dreamt of one day being lucky enough to own a faithful companion who would traverse the harshest of landscapes to get back to our loving, awaiting embrace. Though, now that I think of it, convincing one’s parents that they were mature enough to handle the responsibility of owning a pet was quite another matter altogether – it was as if they didn’t believe or care that a domestic dog could track his master across mountain ranges and state lines with nothing but a keen scene of smell and equal determination – adults had no faith! But even the mature non-believers were young once and they too, if they wished to search their memories, would be able to call to mind their generation’s iconic ‘come-home dog’ and for anyone over the age of thirty, that would be, without any doubt, the canine legend that is Lassie.
Lassie, the captivating Rough Collie first graced our screens alongside Roddy McDowall in 1943 and has since been the subject of multiple films and TV series; Lassie is nothing short of a Hollywood icon, not to mention goldmine. As Hoover is to vacuums, Sellotape to sticky tape, Lassie has become the generic household name for a Rough-Collie – how many times, when you were growing up, did an adult say ‘look, a Lassie-Dog?’ A fictional dog has stolen generations of hearts and has become a timeless, cultural institution – she’s basically canine royalty.
But as much as we would love to believe Lassie’s tale is based on undeniable facts, we have to face reality and acknowledge and indeed pay respect to her brilliant creator, Eric Knight, who singlehandedly brought Lassie to life.
The idea for Lassie came to British-born Knight late in his life, when he and his second wife moved to a farm in Pennsylvania to raise collies in 1939. He lovingly based the loyal canine companion on his own collie-sidekick named Tootsie; the book was published in 1940 to both critical and commercial acclaim. Sadly, he died in a tragic plane crash less than three years later, aged just forty-five but thankfully, he did live long enough to see his masterpiece become a literary and cinematic success.
So for those of you that have somehow not been fortunate enough to be privy to the heroic tale that is Lassie Come-Home, here are the basics:
Set in the midst of Yorkshire, a poverty-stricken family reach rock-bottom and are left with no other option but to sell their much-treasured collie, Lassie, in order to help them get by in the cruellest of economic climates. Twelve-year-old Joe Carraclough is heartbroken at losing his best-friend who used to wait for him every day, with wagged tail, to arrive home from school. Lassie was sold to an aristocratic Duke who takes her to Scotland with him but the homesick hound eventually makes a break for it and embarks on a courageous thousand-mile journey southward to be reunited with her family. She crosses mountains and rivers, withstands snow storms, wind and hail. Along the way, she meets both friend and foe and does not complete the gruelling journey unscathed. But no obstacle or threat was going to stand in her way; perseverance, strength and loyalty prevailed resulting in the tear-jerking reunion of Lassie and her much-missed companions, foretelling a brighter future for both the determined dog and her beloved masters.
Nichola Trayler Barbrook