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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

I Almost Forgot About You
Terry McMillan
Progress: 76 %
The Gates of the Alamo
Stephen Harrigan
Progress: 67/592 pages
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Joyce Carol Oates
Progress: 17 %
The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis
Progress: 35 %


Bruce - Albert Payson Terhune

Primarily the story of a great Gary Stu of a dog who is sent overseas to serve as a courier dog for the US forces during WWI. Bruce’s family had no sons to contribute to the war effort, so they sent their smart, loyal, brave, etc. pet collie to serve instead. His exploits in France seem to be a fictionalization of the famous real-life war dogs of WWI, Rags and Sergeant Stubby. It’s a heartwarming adventure story.


Bruce’s story reminded me of an episode from This American Life discussing the use of dogs during WWII, where the government actually called on civilians to enlist their family pets in the military. These pets were evaluated and, if they showed promise, trained for military service. Some dogs had Bruce-like tours of duty and either died in combat or returned home after the war. Many more died of disease or illness. What broke my heart a little was the revelation that many of these family pets were simply equipped with explosives on timers and sent running into enemy camps as living bombs.  


The first part of this book is not actually Bruce’s story, but that of his mother, a “second” born of an illustrious bloodline in a professional kennel focused on showing and breeding collies. Scorned and unwanted, she eventually finds a loving home through a series of misadventures.  


Terhune successfully walks a fine line between dramatizing these adventures from the animal’s point of view and anthropomorphizing them into furry little people with fully human emotions. I felt their love and bewilderment and deep sadness, but they retained their essential natures as dogs. However, Terhune was also very much a man of his time, and his story displays some appallingly racist, classist, and sexist attitudes. I was a little amazed at how he sneered at a general prejudice against the female of the canine species, followed by earnest depictions of dog-hating “Mohammedans”, German vivisectionists, nagging housewives, superstitious peasants, creeping murdering “red Indians”, and cruel German soldiers who can be identified by the smell of their sauerkraut diets.


Four stars for the doggie adventure story, minus a star for gratuitous bigotry and some rather boring descriptions of war maneuvers. Originally published in 1920. Read in ebook format using the Free Books app.