Did you know that some books that are made into films end up almost completely forgotten? That sometimes, the movie takes on such a life of its own that people don’t even remember that it started way back when with a book? That, when they find the book, they think they already know the story?
That’s definitely the case with this week’s Old Favorite: The Hundred and One Dalmatians. If you think of the title, I’m sure you remember Disney’s Pongo and Perdita, along with Lucky, Penny, Roly-Poly and Freckles. (I know there are more, but those are the puppies I remember.)
But wait! That’s not the REAL story. Did you know that the original dalmation couple is Pongo and Missis? Perdita comes into the story much later, and is definitely not Pongo’s wife. Did you know that there are two missing batches of puppies, or that there are black and white dalmatians, as well as liver-spotted ones? But I’m getting ahead of myself…
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The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith is the story of the young newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler, who look after them, and Pongo and Missis Pongo, their beautiful black-spotted dalmatians. At the beginning of the story, Missis is expecting, and all four humans are excited in anticipating the big day. But first, they have to deal with a dinner party with Cruella de Vil, an old schoolmate of Mrs. Dearly. (They weren’t friends, because Mrs. Dearly was deathly afraid of her.) Although the Dearly’s tolerate the dinner party, Cruella and Mr. de Vil’s idea of entertainment makes the the young couple flee as soon as possible. Dinners that taste of nothing but pepper, adoration of fur, and roaring fires just aren’t to their taste.
On the evening of the Dearly’s reciprocal dinner party, which Cruella and her husband attend, Missis starts to have the puppies. Cruella makes it known that she would like to buy the puppies when they’re older, so she can make a fur coat out of them. As you might imagine, this does not go over well with either of the Dearlys or the Nannies. Missis and Pongo just growl. Cruella is banished from the Dearly household, much to her outrage.
After giving birth to such a large litter (fifteen puppies!) Missis doesn’t have enough milk to give them. And this is where Perdita comes into the story. She’s a stray, who Mrs. Dearly finds on the streets on London, after exhausting all the possibilities of finding a foster mother for the puppies. Perdita, it seems, is filthy, thin, exhausted…and also nursing, although her puppies cannot be found. Under all the dirt, it turns out Perdita is a liver-spotted dalmation. And the Dearly dalmatian total is up to 18.
Perdita tells Missis and Pongo that she’d left her home with a negligent farmer to search for her own missing puppies. She’s content, for now anyway, to stay with the Dearly’s and help care for Patch, Lucky, Roly-Poly, and the little runt of the litter, the Cadpig. (None of the other puppies are named in the story.) She feels her search is impossible, and if the Dearly’s love her, she’s willing to stay.
But then, a terrible thing happens. The puppies disappear. And although the humans know nothing of what happened, Pongo, Missis and Perdita soon hear through the Twilight Barking (a long-distance dog message system) that their puppies are locked up in Hell Hall, Cruella de Vil’s ancestral home. While Perdita stays at home to comfort the human Dearlys, Pongo and Missis take off to find and rescue their puppies.
Their journey is similar to the movie, but not quite the same. Cruella’s schemes with her evil henchmen, the Baddun brothers, are more detailed. Cruella’s cat, and the mistreatment she suffered at Cruella’s hand plays a crucial part in the rescue mission.
Pongo and Missis have more help from dogs along the way, via the Twilight Barking. There’s more about how Pongo and Missis feel, and how they rely on each other through the dangerous trip. The other dogs have more personality and their motivation for helping is shared. The crises and adventures Pongo and Missis face as they try to save their puppies are more harrowing, and their triumph, therefore, even greater. What keeps them going is the help and assistance from not only the dogs they encounter, but also from other types of animals and even a couple humans as well.
Will they find their puppies and get them away from Cruella and the Badduns before it’s too late?
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The Hundred and One Dalmatians was originally published in 1956 as a book, followed by a sequel called The Starlight Barking in 1967. (I loved The Starlight Barking even more than The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Our library doesn’t own a copy though, and I’m limiting Old Favorites, for now, to books in our collection. If you can find a copy though…)
The book quickly became a favorite with readers, enough so that Disney released the animated film 101 Dalmatians based on the story in 1961. A live-action 101 Dalmatians re-imagining was released in 1996, with 102 Dalmatians, a 2000 live-action sequel following. 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, a sequel to the original animated film was released in 2003. There was even an animated TV show in the middle of all of that. Whew! That’s a LOT of dalmatians!
The one thing that did bother me was that only four puppies are named in this book. Even though it would be hard to keep track of eleven others, I think it would be possible. This problem is rectified in the sequel, which does name the rest of the pups.
I loved The Hundred and One Dalmatians, even though I read it well after seeing the movie. The language is rich, and the descriptions of the English countryside from dog-level are wonderful. Their views of their “pets” (as they call humans) and humans who are not pets are eye-opening and often humorous.
It was a joy to discover the basis of the film, and interesting to see how both characters and situations were changed to shorten the story and create a 90-minute film. The novel makes compelling reading, and it is a fun book to share as a read-aloud, especially if you have an animal-lover in the house. (I also think every dog owner should read it for the canine perspective alone.) The story first appeared as a serial in Women’s Day magazine, and is definitely aimed at older elementary (and even adult) readers.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll have an idea of the ending. But please, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the book as well. It’s a whole different take on the story of Pongo, Missis, Perdita and 97 dalmatian puppies…plus one.