Richard Adams’s talking animal story The Plague Dogs
(1978), with its deeply genre-atypical mode of narration, offers a multiplicity of avenues to explore the literary animal as animal. The story draws much of its power from the psychological complexity and related unreliability of both canine narrators, two research lab escapees gone feral. Both the terrier Snitter and the black mongrel Rowf are mentally ill and experience a highly subjective, part-fantastic world. In episodes of zero focalization, a sarcastic voice comments on the plot from the off, aggressively attacking a thoroughly anthropocentric superstructure the protagonists themselves are oblivious of, and presenting all that is normally constructed as “rational” in the implied reader’s world as a carnivalesque farce. Combining these equally unreliable narratives, The Plague Dogs
creates a unique mixture of what Phelan (2007) calls “estranging” and “bonding” unreliability and brings to light the devastating consequences of anthropocentrism. The Plague Dogs
not only defamiliarizes a genre usually committed to conventional means of storytelling, but the dominant Western conception of the status of animals in the world, showing that once we start to read the animal as animal, this sets into motion an avalanche of other concepts in need of re-reading, among them the very ones making up the fundamental pillars of Western societies’ anthropocentric self-conception.
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