Katherine Langrish, a fantasy author, wrote at her Seven Miles of Steel Thistles about dogs in the work of Rosemary Sutcliff. Indeed she wondered in a note to me if perhaps Rosemary wrote about dogs as a way of owning them … I think not, at least not in the absence of any ‘real’ ones of her own, because Rosemary did own beloved dogs, including Sophie who we looked after for ten years after Rosemary’s death.
Historical fiction and dogs make me think immediately of Rosemary Sutcliff, whose books I devoured as a child. Sutcliff – who must easily win the title of Britain’s most loved writer of junior historical fiction – loved dogs, and there is a noble dog in many of her books – Whitethroat in Warrior Scarlet, Argos in Brother Dusty Feet – but for me the most iconic is Dog (Dawn Wind, 1961), the young war-hound that the boy Owain finds by moonlight on the ruins of the battlefield:
…it was something alive in the cold echoing emptiness of a dead world. It stood with one paw raised, looking at him, and Owain called, hoarsely, with stiff lips and aching throat: ‘Dog! Hai! Dog!’ … [It] came, slowly and uncertainly… once it stopped altogether; then it finished at the run and next instant was trembling against his legs. He was a young dog; the beautiful creamy hair of his breast-patch was stained and draggled, and his muzzle bloody in the moonlight… ‘Dog, aiee, dog, we are alone then. There’s no one else. We will go together, you and I.’