The first thing we associate with a dog is loyalty. Stories abound about dogs who don’t eat their food till they see their master or dogs who travel hundreds of miles to be with a family that has moved away without them. Dogs that bravely rescue children from drowning or fires. Stories about dogs that fought the war or climbed mountains with their owners. How strange it was for me then, to come across Mister Dog by Margret Wise Brown and illustrated by Garth Williams. Mister Dog belonged to himself and no one else.
Crispian’s Crispin wakes up on his own, made his own breakfast, went for a walk by himself. He chose to chase butterflies or take a rest under the shade of a tree. Crispin played with fellow dogs when he met them and ran after cats and rabbits when he came across them. Oh, his own master Crispin was.
On one such glorious independent day where Crispin belonged to himself, he came across a little boy who too belonged to himself. Crispin invites the little boy to live with him, an invitation the boy accepts.
The two new mates get themselves something to eat from the butcher shop- Crispin gets a bone and the boy a lamb chop. They both go back to Crispin’s duplex and rustle up a meal, with each garnishing it as per their own taste.
After a good meal, they both snuggled to sleep each dreaming their own dreams. Boy and dog get along very well, but they each do what they choose to do. They do it together sometimes and sometimes on their own giving each other the space to belong to themselves. Their love of being independent brings them together.
Describing Crispin the author says:
Crispin’s Cripian was a conservative-
He liked everything at the right time-
dinner at dinner time,
lunch at lunchtime,
breakfast in time for breakfast,
and sunrise at sunrise,
and sunset at sunset
And at bedtime-
At bedtime, he liked everything in it’s own place-
the cup in the saucer,
the chair under the table,
the stars in the heavens,
the moon in the sky,
and himself in his own little bed.
Well, I’m not sure if a conservative does that but that independence and freedom do not mean a lack of responsibility or discipline, I loved.
Independence has become a fast disappearing dream for so many where economic compulsions push people further away from their dreams and into the daily grind. Children too are sucked into this since they sometimes see so little of their parents or family. To be the master of one’s own time, to work and play as per one’s mood is perhaps the real luxury of children.
Mister Dog brings to mind R.L.Stevenson’s wonderful poem The Vagabond in which he says,
Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river –
There’s the life for a man like me,
There’s the life for ever.
Crispin is not quite the vagabond, but he treasures his independence and way of life above all things.Crispin’s love of belonging to himself is reflected in these lines from the book:
Then he took himself for a walk. And he went wherever he wanted to go.
“Just walk and sooner or later you’ll get somewhere”, he told himself.
Soon he came to a country where there where lots of dogs. They barked at him and he barked back. Then they all played together.
I would strongly recommend adults to read this book more than children, to remind ourselves of the time when we belonged to ourselves and a slow retracing of our steps to go back there. Mister Dog may have been written in 1952 but is perhaps even more relevant today than it was back then.