|Image courtesy Lionel Trudel|
What’s your favorite piece of folklore involving dogs?
The neat thing about folklore is that it is always changing and evolving. I sometimes hear someone telling a story, and I don't recognize, until about halfway through, that they are telling a variant of the story that I already know. Yet I still find it special because they are adding something to it, changing parts of it, so that is new and novel. So, the truth of the matter is, I have no particular favorite piece of folklore, since none is set in stone. My favorite at any point in time is the one that I am listening to then.
What’s your own relationship with dogs? Do you have any dogs at the moment? What are their names, and what are they like?
I have had dogs all of my life, and I enjoy training them as well as just hanging out with them. My only real, continuing sport activities have to do with dogs. I compete with them in obedience competitions, rally, tracking and other such doggie activities. Then, afterwards when we go home, I flop down on the sofa, and my dogs form a warm and fuzzy pile of life beside me.
|Stanley with his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Ripley. Courtesy University of British Columbia|
Right now I have two dogs. The adult is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Ripley. Although he holds titles in obedience competition and rally obedience, he is basically just a love sponge. My puppy is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Ranger. He is at that puppy stage where he is less a dog and more like an orange, furry alligator, chewing on anything he can reach. He is great fun and it is good to have a Retriever back in the family since they tend to have the work ethic that I like in dogs, and are clever enough to figure out what they need to do next, even when I am unclear in my instructions to them.
You’ve travelled a fair bit, collecting stories – what’s the most memorable setting you’ve been in where you’ve been told a story, and why? Did it affect the story?
Several of my stories come from the American South, and were told to me by people who did not have high levels of education, and only limited worldly experience outside of their own home region. Still, these were people who loved and understood dogs, and who drew a lot of joy from being around them. More than one of these stories was told to me while we were sitting on the porch, sipping bourbon, which may or may not have been legally produced. So although the setting did not necessarily affect the nature of the story, it is true that whenever I sip a little bourbon I often find myself fondly remembering some of those tales that were told to me on sunshiny days in the south.
What was it like getting to meet so many different people from different backgrounds, and hearing their stories?
I love meeting people! Although I have met many different folk from many different cultures, and of many different races and ethnicities, I don't know whether it is their differences that fascinate me, or their underlying similarities. Regardless of background or upbringing, it is always fascinating to see how their eyes light up when they are telling a story, or talking about a dog who they have lived with and loved. When you sit down with a person and share either a story, or a personal reminiscence, the barriers between you crumble. If you have told the story to someone, or listen to a story that they have told you, you are no longer strangers, and you can share in the warmth of being with somebody you are comfortable with.
From a psychological standpoint, do you think that we, as humans, have a need to tell and hear stories, and why do you think that is?
As a psychologist I think that we love to hear stories told by other people because we feel that we are sharing something with them, and they are giving us a glimpse into their life or their history. The story that we hear in our minds is not necessarily the story that the storytellers are telling. Since there are no images but only the sound of their words, we can paint the pictures in our mind and make them as exciting and as fanciful as we choose. And not only the listener benefits, but the storyteller does also. When I tell a story I love to see the expressions on the faces of the people I am telling it to, when they suddenly realise where the story is going, discover the strange twist that bring the tale to a conclusion, or learn about the clever way in which the major protagonists solve some apparently impossible problem. Perhaps even better is the fact that in many cases we are ‘paid’ for telling a story. If the story is interesting and fun it is very often the case that one of your listeners will respond by telling a story of their own. You get to take their tale and add it to your collection when you leave, and in that way you take a bit of them home with you in a much more intimate way than if it was merely a photograph taken at the time.
Do you think we’re influenced by the stories we hear, and do you think we influence the stories we tell?
Some stories are merely fun and entertaining, and have no greater influence on us than watching the next episode of a favorite television series. Still, sometimes stories make you think, and most often make you think about important things, such as right and wrong, or the meaning of friendship, or what may be behind our deeper religious and spiritual beliefs. However, if stories do nothing more than entertain someone for five or 10 minutes, that is value enough. One well known clinical psychologist once told me that if a person finds just half a dozen things every day that make them smile or laugh, then that person can be said to be having a good life. So if one of these stories produces a smile or two I suppose it’s a contribution toward improving a person’s quality of life, at least for that day.
What made you want to compile these stories into a book?
There are many reasons why I gathered these stories into a book. I collect stories the way that other people collect stamps or coins. Still, stories are different than physical objects. If you have a collection of fine postage stamps you may be able to derive some joy by browsing through your albums. However, a story really only gives you joy when you hear it, or get to tell it to someone else. So, for selfish reasons, I wanted the joy of being able to tell the stories to a lot of other people in the hopes that they would enjoy them the way that I do. I also wanted to show that these folk tales and myths are not objects that came from the distant past, or from primitive cultures that don't share access to television or the Internet, but rather are things that ordinary people today still tell, and pass on. This means that part of what I wanted to do when presenting these stories was to say a bit about when and where I was when I first encountered this particular tale, and who it was that told it to me. Sometimes, the people who tell these tales are just as fascinating as the story itself.
You say in the book’s introduction you get the feeling that the universe isn’t composed of atoms, but of stories – can you elaborate on that?
If you ask the average person about their life and their world they will not tell you that they live in a house which is composed of bricks, which are composed of molecules, which are themselves composed of individual atoms. They will instead tell you a funny story about what one of their children did today, or the strange situation which their wife or husband found themselves in yesterday, or another tale about how their Aunt Sylvia taught them to make the same kind of meat pie that they are serving tonight for dinner. The stories that we tell, or remember, make up the fabric of our daily being – not atoms.
Who do you think will enjoy these stories – what ages? Are they well suited to being read aloud? (we can tie this one in with your excellent reading!)
I believe that these stories are pretty much for all ages. All of the stories that I tell were told to me by adults, so obviously they are enjoyable for adult-aged people. However, many of these are the same stories that we tell to children, and children love them. Children love being read to, and I tried to write the stories in a conversational tone which would make it easy to read them to someone else.
Can you tell us a story or a tall tale about a dog in your own life?
This story has to do with the first time that my beloved Cairn Terrier, Flint, encountered the great dog beast in the sky. In Vancouver, British Columbia, electrical storms with lightning and thunder are relatively rare, and Flint must have been around a year and a half old when he encountered his first. I was sitting at my dining room table surrounded by many sheets of data from a research project when suddenly Flint froze. He spun around, looked up, and then dashed for a window with such fervor that I stopped my work to watch him. A moment later, my own less sensitive human ears picked up the rumble of distant thunder. Flint was growling and making a low throaty noise, much like the sound of thunder. Suddenly, there was a bolt of lightning, followed by a burst of thunder, to which Flint responded with angry barking.
Many dogs have a fear of thunder, which sounds to them like the ferocious growls of an enormous dog, or some similar animal who is threatening to attack them, and that beast that they think they are about to encounter is far too large to fight off or defend against. The idea that thunder was the sound of dogs growling has made its way into a number of myths. My favorite comes from a tribe of Plains Indians in the Northwestern United States, who told stories of the Fire Cat: a puma, who is the sun’s pet. When the sun is shining, Fire Cat sleeps and absorbs some of the sun’s fire and heat, but when the sun disappears because it is obstructed by storm clouds, Fire Cat becomes angry and unleashes the fire he has stored in the form of bolts of lightning. If he isn’t stopped, he could burn out great forests and plains and destroy everything on earth, so the Great Spirit created the Thunder Dogs, whose job it is to chase away the Fire Cat before he does too much harm. That is why every lightning bolt is followed by the clamor of growling Thunder Dogs who have come to drive off Fire Cat. It also explains why the noise of the Thunder Dogs’ warning growls can be heard long after there are no more lightning bolts – they are making sure that Fire Cat has run away to hide, and will stay away until the sun returns.
After another flash of lightning and burst of thunder, Flint barked angrily again. Instead of cowering from the great dangerous dog growling in the sky, like any sensible dog his size might do, my courageous little terrier had appointed himself a member of the Thunder Dogs, Guardian of the Earth, Enemy of the Fire Cat who was raining lightning upon the helpless denizens of this world. I got up and went to window just as another lightning bolt struck.
Flint barked again and I joined in, shouting, “Get away Fire Cat! There are too many brave and strong dogs here, and we will bite you if we catch you! Ruff-ruff-ruff! Get him, Flint. Ruff-ruff-ruff!”
Flint looked at me with his eyes alight and his tail straight up in the air, and then ratcheted up the level of his barking and growling. Just then, my wife, Joannie, came into the room.
“What’s going on here?”
“Flint and I are helping the Thunder Dogs chase away the Fire Cat before his lightning can do anybody any harm,” I replied with a smile.
“You’re teaching him to bark at lightning and thunder?” she asked.
“It’s the sacred duty of any brave and noble dog.”
“Is it the sacred duty of their university professor owner to bark at the sky as well?”
“In times of danger every citizen must contribute what he can.”
Joan looked at us, exasperated, and said, “I can accept living in a madhouse, but does it have to be such a noisy madhouse?”
“We’ll stop as soon as Fire Cat has gone away,” I reassured her.
For the rest of his life, Flint would growl at the sound of thunder and bark at the window. I was not as brave as my dog, however, and rather than upset the woman I love, I refrained from helping the Thunder Dogs – at least not when Joannie was within earshot ...
You can hear Stanley giving a fantastic, exclusive reading of one of his favourite stories from the book here.
Gods, ghosts and black dogs – The fascinating folklore and mythology of dogs, will be available to buy from the Hubble & Hattie website later this month. To find out more, or to be notified when books are available, click here.