Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hellhounds: Black Dogs Get a Bad Rap by Kathy Fischer-Brown




We all know about black cats and their associations with “witches” and bad luck if one happens to cross your path. But what about black dogs? As a dog person who’s shared my life with a number of black dogs, I was interested to discover their otherworldly history. And as it’s nearly Halloween, what’s more appropriate than a short history of scary things. After all, I write historical fiction and research is probably the most fun part of the process, and this was no exception.

Since ancient Greek mythology’s Cerberus and especially in old Celtic and Germanic legends, in the British Isles and Western Europe, the black dog has been associated with demons or hellhounds. They’re generally large nocturnal animals with huge claws; black, mangy fur; “nasty, big pointy teeth” (to quote Monty Python…OK that was a rabbit); and red or green glowing eyes. Sometimes he will appear from the shadows of night and at other times a bolt of lightning presages his appearance. He is often associated with crossroads and places of execution. His presence almost always portends death for whomever is unfortunate enough to see him. He’s been known by various names, such as Barghest of Yorkshire and Black Shuck of East Anglia, and Moddey Dhoo from the Isle of Man. In Spain, Dip is an evil, black, hairy vampire dog. Cadejo from Central America and Southern Mexico can be white (benevolent) or black (malevolent), and appears at night either to aid or to kill travelers. In the U.S. we have our own black dog legends, one right here in Connecticut close to where I live, is called the Black Dog of Hanging Hills.
 
In literature, perhaps the most famous devil dog (not to be confused with the yummy Drake's confection) is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. J.K. Rowling’s young sorcerer crosses paths with a black dog in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula transforms into a black dog at one point.

Although I haven’t included many dogs in my books, a couple of street curs (one of which is black) makes a cameo appearance in my fantasy, The Return of Tachlanad. And for a fun exercise while in rewrites for book 3 of “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, I made a point to include a few Wizard Oz references in The Partisan’s Wife. One such was naming an inn where Anne and Peter spend a night en route from Albany to New York. I called it The Little Black Dog (homage to Toto). Had I known then what I know now about the nature of black dogs in history, I might thought twice.

Shadow, my first black dog was a young stray mutt who hung out at the Amoco gas station my father frequented. I met him in 1956 on Christmas Eve (not Halloween) when I accompanied my dad to have my mother’s tires changed over in preparation for winter driving. I went up in the car on the lift with the little dog while the work was being done, and we instantly became best buds. To my great joy, Frank, the gas station owner allowed us to take him home. Knowing my mom would disapprove of such a smelly, greasy animal, we had to sneak Shadow into the house. But after a bath, during which I was nearly certain he’d turn white, he became a part of the family for the next 15 years. There was nothing evil or malevolent about my childhood companion, although I did go through a time when I swore he was actually a prince under a witch's spell…and all I had to do was kiss him.


~*~

Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the DevilThe Partisan's Wife. The Return of Tachlanad, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers is her latest release. Check out her The Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon.
 

22 comments:

  1. Such a sweet story about Shadow! :)

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    1. Ann, He was quite a character. When my kids were small, I'd either read to them or tell them a "Shadow Story." They each had their favorites, and there are many.

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  2. I didn't know that about black dogs. Interesting. I've also owned a few black dogs in my time, most crossbreeds who were as sweet and lovable as could be. I'm sure they didn't have a hint of hellhound in them My best was dear little Gemma who had diabetes and unfortunately only lived about 5 yrs, but gave us a lot of pleasure in her short life.

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    1. I was unaware as well, until I decided to lace the third book of my "Serpent's Tooth" trilogy with Wizard of Oz references...just for the fun of it:-) After I named an inn The Little Black Dog, I found stories of the hellhound that made me wish I'd chosen a different name :-)

      Another of our black dogs, Clancy, was a springer/Labrador mix, and he was the most beautiful devil dog (just like the Drakes Cakes), and very sweet-natured.

      So sad about your Gemma.

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    2. Sorry to hear of your loss, so young too. I have just lost my black labrador/collie 17th September, she was 16 years and still full of life, only her beautiful legs gave up on her ( one too many runs for the ball) she has left behind Poppy her step sister who is in much grieving with me. Missed so much and such a gentle loving baby to everyone.

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  3. Lovely animal story from Kathy + Halloween tingles, too! I just read that "there are hundreds of "black dogs" across the British Isles and over 40 in Wiltshire alone." Only 1 black dog in my life, a cocker spaniel who escaped from the house one night and got hit by a car. She was a sweet, sweet little doggie, nothing Black Shuck-ish about her at all.

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    1. Yup, I found more references to evil black dogs in Britain than in any other place. Odd though that they appear in the lore of many countries.

      Between your little cocker, Trisha's Gemma and my three, it's a wonder how black dogs gained such a bad reputation.

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  4. That was interesting and informative. I did a bit of research about the Celts when writing fantasy novels, and I know they had many superstituions.

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    1. Celtic myths are fascinating. I'm finding them to be great inspiration for my never-ending fantasy.

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  5. Enjoyed your story about your black dog that turned white. Only had one dog in my life when my boys were young that was a cocker spaniel, collie mixture. Interesting dog who was dognapped out of our yard. He looked like a miniature collie. after that we stuck to cats.

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    1. How awful! I'll bet you were heart-broken. Thanks for chiming in, Janet. You're always so very supportive.

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  6. Loved hearing about Shadow. Our pets are precious whatever their colour. Interesting to hear about black dog mythology. Victoria C

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    1. Precious, yes. Whatever their color and whether cat, dog, gerbil or whatever...they give pleasure, security and, in some cases, warm, slobbery smooches.

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  7. I still remember the stories that used to be told by the Ukranian women in our farm communities about large black dogs that appeared during WWI to announce the death of family members. I was too young to really know the stories but definitely stayed clear of big black dogs as I grew older. Funny where legends come from - I'm a cat person like Janet.

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    1. Jude, There was a huge black German shepherd down the street from us. He was at least three times Shadow's size and was his mortal enemy. I didn't like Hammer, not because he was a big black dog, but because when he got loose, he would come to our house and pick a fight with the little guy. After one particular mauling that sent my dog to vet for 60 stitches, Shadow changed his tactics. I'd never seen a dog riding another dog, but Shadow leaped onto Hammer's back and held on to one of his ears. Hammer wasn't so eager to fight after that.

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  8. Hi Kathy,
    Very interesting and informative. We don't really celebrate Halloween to any great extent here in Australia.

    Cheers

    Margaret

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. Halloween isn't what it used to be when I was a kid. Parents, especially of the younger ones, now accompany their children for "trick or treat." We had some cuties, and thankfully it was short night...with plenty of chocolate left over :-)

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  9. I think I messed up. I entered my comments as a blog.

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    1. I'm not sure, but I think that takes special talent :-) Thanks for trying at least.

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  10. I'm a cat lover, but your dog story is heart warming. It could be a Christmas short story. I can see that little black pup winning everyone's heart.

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    1. My kids have been after me to put Shadow's stories in writing. As I mentioned before, there are enough of them for a book. Never was there such a faithful mutt.

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  11. I have had the honor and pleasure of having 5 black dogs over the course of my lifetime. They have been wonderful, funny, smart dogs.
    Most were cross between black lab and golden retrievers or german shepards. Bear, whom I rescued from the shelter as an older dog, was fiercely protective, loved swimming, digging holes in the sand at the beach and napping on the hood of the truck. One of the 3 dogs that I presently have is Sheba, a beautiful, sweet and gentle retrieve/lab 12 year old girl that I've had since she was 12weeks old. Her sister, Shadow was lost a couple years ago due to increasing problems with her battle with epilepsy, which she was diagnosed with at 2 years old.
    She was 110 lbs. of pure love. I still miss her and all my beloved dogs that have enriched my life and the ones that do so still.

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