What is it about dogs that hold such a special place in our hearts? Is it their undying loyalty? Their unceasingly wagging tails? The feral gleam in their adorable puppy eyes when they leap for the throats of our mortal enemies?
Probably a mix of all that, in varying degrees.
Whatever the reason, dogs cling close to our heels even in realms of fantasy and wonder, popping up alongside urban fantasies and epic fantasies alike. There’s something about a person–be they wizard, warrior, angel, demon, or otherwise–who has a faithful canine companion that makes them instantly more personable and sympathetic. After all, if the dog likes the guy well enough, they can’t be all that bad, can they? The opposite is often true, as one of the defining aspects of villainy is the mindless kicking of puppies or drowning sacks of them in the nearest river, is it not?
Let’s give the dogs their day, then, and look at a few examples of fantasy series where these four-legged friends join in the endless adventures of speculative fiction.
THE RUNDOWN: In one form, Remy Chandler is a private investigator trying to pay the bills after his wife’s tragic death. In another form, he’s Remiel, an angel who gave up Heaven in order to experience a more fulfilling existence outside of divine laws. In either form, he’s responsible for Marlowe, the black lab Remy and his wife adopted–and who he can speak to, thank to his angelic gifts. Marlowe is the quintessential loyal dog, hopelessly in love with his owners and mourning Remy’s wife’s passing in his own innocently doggish manner. While not necessarily essential to the plots in this series, Remy’s interactions with Marlowe ground his human side and provide wonderfully warm comic relief even when the Apocalypse is right around the corner.
THE CONTRAST: As stated, Marlowe isn’t central to a lot of the mysteries Remy winds up investigating. However, he gives Remy someone to come home to, to talk to besides various humans and supernatural factions. Marlowe’s diction and understanding of the world might remind some readers of Dug from the movie UP! Marlowe introduces some surprisingly powerful emotion, and is a treat in whatever scenes he appears.
THE RUNDOWN: Most readers will know the basic gist of The Dresden Files–the only wizard in Chicago who also runs a private investigation business and often winds up solving impossible murders while also fighting off various toothed and fanged nasties from all corners of reality. Starting in Blood Rites, Harry Dresden saves a litter of Temple Dog puppies and returns them to a Tibetan monk. However, one pup stows away in Harry’s car and, over the course of the series, grows into an enormous Foo Dog with a potentially supernatural heritage. His name is Mouse.
THE CONTRAST: As he grows up, Mouse does wind up playing a key role in at least a few of The Dresden Files stories, acting as a guardian dog, fighting off monsters alongside Harry, and slowly revealing various levels of intelligence and magical talents of his own. In fact, Harry later on states that he believes Mouse “picked him” rather than the other way round. His loyalty is unshakable, and he’s got a definite nose for sniffing out trouble even when it’s hidden by illusion or other spellcraft. (WARNING: MINOR SPOILER) In Changes, thanks to a shapeshifting spell, readers finally got a chance to hear Mouse speak for himself.
THE RUNDOWN: George R.R. Martin’s famous series, A Song of Ice and Fire, kicks off in A Game of Thrones with the Stark children encountering a litter of direwolf pups. One of the more infamous of these is Ghost, an albino pup that is given to the bastard, Jon Snow, and eventually joins him at the Wall in the North when he takes the black. Ghost sticks alongside Snow much of the time and often leaps into the fray whenever his master is threatened–if you can ever master a dire wolf, that is.
THE CONTRAST: As a direwolf, Ghost is quite the intelligent creature with some hints of a magical nature behind his ferocity and cunning. In Martin’s world, direwolves can grow to be enormous beasts and form strong bonds with their owners. Jon Snow even begins to share Ghost’s perceptions at times, first in dreams and then more actively throughout the series. Like much in this series, the extent of Ghost’s awareness and powers is left vague and up to the readers to decipher.
So which pup gets to claim the title of top dog in this match-up? In the Remy Chandler novels, Marlowe is lovable and will definitely make more than a few readers’ hearts melt. However, he does remain rather incidental to the plot and serves more as an anchor for Remy’s character rather than being his own beast. It’s a worthwhile urban fantasy series that gets an extra bump because of Marlowe’s presence, but these other two do beat him out.
Ghost certainly has been a spooky fixture in A Song of Ice and Fire, giving Snow an unlikely companion even when his own family, friends, and allies turn against him. Ghost is a bit more active in the stories and occasionally gets a more important role that pushes the plot forward. However, he still often gets lost in the ever-growing mix of characters and his personality and motives don’t evolve much as the story continues.
The final prize, then, goes to Mouse–who incorporates both the doggy nature we love plus vicious capacity in the many action scenes that compose these books…and also enjoys series-wide development as his own character that puts him on par with many of Dresden’s other major support cast members. Mouse has undeniable personality, acting at times as comic relief, as an emotional center for Dresden, and as an intimidating footsoldier in the fight against evil. No doubt, he’ll continue to hold his own with this wizard-for-hire for many adventures to come.
And make sure to take the time to give your own pup a hug and thank them for the many times they’ve faced down a demon on your doorstep.
Yours does that, right? No? Just belly-rubs and fetching?
Ah well. At least they’re house-trained.