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Sunday, May 22, 2011

cover of Dogsbody

dogs·bod·y: A person who is given boring, menial tasks to do; naval slang for someone of very little importance.

Like the title, this book works on so many levels; it is well worth repeat readings. The luminary of the dog-star Sirius, as punishment, is sent to Earth where he is born as a half-breed pup. So, he is literally born into a dog's body, but in the process, he's also given a pretty low status, especially for someone who used to be something like an angel. I've lost track of how many times I've this book, but I still had new insights into the book this time around. When I first read of Diana Wynne Jones' death, my first thought was that I should re-read my favorite of her books as a kind of memorial, and this was the first favorite DWJ book that came to mind (although then I remembered the Chrestomanci books, and Howl's Moving Castle...).

As I think about it, it's really a testament to Jones' skill that she can make luminaries of stars, humans, dogs, and dark creatures of mythology all walk the same Earth and live in the same universe-- and all the pieces fit together beautifully. Sirius, as a dog, gives us a perspective on Sol, the luminary of Earth's system-- a lesser luminary than Sirius, Sol is still brash and clever, and quite proud of the beautiful gem that is Earth. Even the relationships between Sol, Earth, and the moon are fascinating; they do as Sol tells them, but when the moon wants to help Sirius he works around the exact command. Earth is sheltering one of her own dark, unhappy creatures-- and Sirius is amazed that Earth should hold a creature so powerful, who can stand up to a luminary in a way (and, in a way, is the perfect antithesis to a luminary).

Sirius has been sent to Earth to retrieve the Zoi that fell there in the dispute with his Companion and another luminary. When he is nearly drowned as a puppy, he is rescued by the child Kathleen. We soon learn that Kathleen loves all manner of life-- the cats around the house, her huge dog Leo, anything-- even in spite of the terrible way she is treated by her aunt, negligent uncle, and the rude boys at school who make fun of her for being Irish (her aunt and uncle have taken her in because her father is in jail, for some kind of involvement in Irish rebellion, it seems). When Sirius finally discovers the dark child of Earth (Annwn) who has found the Zoi (but cannot use it), Sirius runs with his dogs in the hunt in order to ask a favor-- but his litter-mates from the town, and Kathleen and her cousins all manage to get dragged in by the end of the hunt. The dark Master of the hunt held on to the Zoi because he hoped it could help him, but he knows it is powerful and dangerous, too. When he asks Sirius how it works, Sirius explains: "if you think of all power as a kind of movement ... then a Zoi is composed of the movement behind the movement. It's the stuff of life itself." After this explanation, the Master understands why he is unable to use the Zoi-- he claims he is stronger than Sirius, but that it is a "different order of being", because his power is that of darkness and stillness. The Master asks Kathleen to use the Zoi on his behalf-- somehow, sensing that she could, although Sirius is afraid for her to touch it (the Master tells us that the Zoi killed the hound who first found it). I think this may be another indication that the children of Earth are more powerful and important than a luminary might give them credit for; but I think the bigger reason is one of those details I hadn't connected before-- Kathleen's love of life and all things living gives her the ability and the grace to handle the movement and power of the Zoi.

This is one of those beautiful, perfect books that you almost wish had a sequel (or at least wish there were other stories in this wonderful, unique universe), but at the same time you understand why it ends where it does.

Author:Diana Wynne Jones
Date published:1975
Number of pages:261
Notes:repeat reading


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