The Dog Department
James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking Poodles
Publication Date: April 2001
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"On the lawns and porches, and in the living rooms and backyards of my threescore years, there have been more dogs, written and drawn, real and imaginary, than I had guessed before I started this roundup."
Here is James Thurber, arguably the greatest humorist of the twentieth century, on all things canine. In The Dog Department, Michael J. Rosen, a literary dogcatcher of sorts, has gathered together Thurber's best in show. Here we have the stylish prose and drawings from Thurber's Dogs (which connected the words "Thurber" and "Dog" as inseparably as "Bartlett" and "Quotation," as "Emily Post" and "Etiquette"), along with unpublished material from the Thurber archives, a great sheaf of uncollected cartoons, and two dozen "Talk of the Town" miniatures from The New Yorker — the consummate dog book from an artist of extraordinary pedigree. What other author can claim to have penned his own personal breed? The Thurber hound is a creature as unmistakable as Disney's mouse or Playboy's bunny.
In The Dog Department you'll find standard poodles, Scottish terriers, an Airedale, a rough collie, an American Staffordshire terrier — all Thurber family members who inspired quintessential dog tales. For instance, there's Muggs, "the dog that bit people," an avocation that, each year, required Thurber's mother to send her famous chocolates to an ever-growing list of Muggs's victims. There's also a fair share about bloodhounds, German shepherd dogs, and pugs. But what you'll find remarkable and comforting is that reading Thurber from fifty or even seventy-five years ago is akin to reading about dogs today — or about dogs from the previous century, as Thurber grew up reading — or about dogs, we hope, from this new century we've just entered. The Dog Department is proof that Thurber's work defines the canine canon.
James Thurber (1894)-1961) created some thirty volumes of humor, fiction, children's books, cartoons, and essays in just about as many years. A founding member of The New Yorker staff, Thurber wrote and illustrated such enduring books as The Thurber Carnival and My Life and Hard Times, which have appeared in countless editions and dozens of languages throughout the world.