It was relatively quiet in the apartment –– nothing but the tapping of keys as Gwen worked on her laptop, and the papery flutter of Eleanor turning pages in her book –– when the door to Dania’s room suddenly burst open. She stood, holding a copy of The Starlight Barking in one hand, and gripping the door frame with white knuckles.

Gwen looked up, and immediately grinned in anticipation. This face, this exact reaction, was precisely the reason why she had suggested the pair of books to her friends in the first place. While Eleanor hadn’t quite delivered, the expression now frozen to Dania’s face was more than enough.”

“So? How was it?” Eleanor asked, lazily.

“I…don’t…how…” Dania stammered. She flipped though the pages again, and sure enough, she hadn’t imagined it: an illustration of a child, driving a tractor, hovering above the ground on a bed of floating dogs.

“…um…” she pushed for any words to describe the novel. “…what?

“Yep, there it is,” Eleanor said.

“So let’s discuss,” Gwen said, putting her computer to the side. “Quickly, I’m neck-deep in work.”

“Uh, I don’t know if this is going to be a quick conversation,” Dania said, sitting down and holding onto the armrest of the couch. “I have about a thousand questions right off the bat.”

“All right, slow down,” Gwen said. “Let ‘s focus on the first book only, for now. Just The Hundred And One Dalmatians.”

“Works for me,” Eleanor said. “I’ve got criticisms of both.”

“Okay, cool,” Dania said. She took another deep breath, and returned to a calm place.

“All right.” Gwen picked up the book, lying on the coffee table. “Thoughts?”

“It’s okay,” Eleanor said. “Nothing too special.”

“Agreed,” Gwen said. “Mostly fine. I was surprised by just how close to the Disney movie it was, however.”

“Yeah, I caught that,” Dania said. “Like, even the tiny little things like what TV program Horace and Jasper are watching at Hell Hall. What a weird little detail to include.”

“Especially when you’re deleting entire characters, like Mr. De Vil and Tommy the bilingual two-year-old,” Eleanor agreed.”

“Was he bilingual?”

“English and Dog.”

“Not Horace and Jasper, though, remember?” Gwen found the page. “Saul and Jasper.”

“An incidental change, but yeah,” Eleanor said. “I thought the parts with the Baddun brothers were honestly the best written parts of the book. Not that it was groundbreaking, but it was the only time we got any really interesting backstory or descriptions.”

“I thought the opening was descriptive,” Dania said. “Maybe a little rushed, but so is the Disney movie.”

“I don’t know,” Eleanor said. “It felt very action-based. Lots of descriptions of, ‘the character did this, and then this happened, so they did this, but then this.’ Not a lot of internal monologue or emotional threads to follow.”

“There are a few strong moments,” Gwen said. “I love the moment with Cadpig about to die but Mr. Dearly rubs her back to life.”

“Also made it into the Disney movie!” Dania said. “I always wondered why they included that moment.”

“That’s the note I kept making throughout the book,” Gwen said. “Reading the original novel actually tells me more about the Disney movie than it does about the book itself. I’m left with so many questions about the fidelity in adaptation. There are some moments that get perfectly preserved directly from the book, and other scenes and characters deleted outright. But I can’t think of anything that the movie added out of nowhere…right?”

“The ending is different,” Eleanor said. “They gave it a better dramatic film ending.”

“Well, I think the puppies tearing through Cruella’s house and destroying all of the fur coats would have made for a great ending to the movie,” Dania said. “But we don’t really know much about Cruella in the movie. She’s just the villain.”

“She’s more fun in the movie, though,” Eleanor said. “She’s just mean and sort of boring in the book. The small detail that everything in her house tastes like black pepper is a nice detail, but what does it build to?”

“Again, it’s a constant question of why they included what they did when adapting it,” Gwen said. “You’d think Cruella’s white cat would have made it into the film. Or the dog on the moving van at the end.”

“Or Cadpig!” Dania added. “I love Cadpig! How did they not make her into the lead puppy of the movie? She’s toyetic.”

“It’s very confusing,” Gwen said. “After all, Cadpig is the only puppy with a distinct arc in the book: she goes from being the weak runt of the litter to pulling her weight in the very end.”

“Not to mention her obsession with the television being of the few character traits given to the puppies,” said Eleanor. “Pongo and Missus are enjoyable enough to follow, but none of the other puppies are particularly interesting.”

“It opens a lot of questions about adaptation,” Gwen said. “Disney is not the only person to adapt the books before. There have been other stage adaptations, closer to the book.”

“I can’t see why,” Eleanor commented. “It’s not that interesting a book. Oh, perfectly serviceable as children’s lit, sure. But I don’t understand why Disney was thinking, ‘yes, this one, we have to adapt this relatively unknown pulp novel.'”

“I think it’s fine,” Dania said. “The movie is the only reason I know about it, sure, but I’m not bothered to have read the book.”

“What about the sequel, though?”

Dania’s eyes widened even more, and her hands raised in protest around her head, groaning.

“I have no idea what happened between the two,” Eleanor said. “Like, maybe she just wanted to make a completely different science-fiction book, and was afraid it wouldn’t sell, so she had to shoehorn in the characters from the first book…”

“You know, I do have a prediction about the reason for the second book being so weird,” Gwen said. “Look at the publication date: seven years after the Disney movie came out.”

“You think Dodie Smith was trying to write another book that would get adapted by Disney?”

“Doesn’t it make some sense?” Gwen asked. “The first book is a relatively plain rescue story,  set concretely in the real world. Easy to adapt. But when film is involved, you can technically do whatever you want.”

“And so,” Dania continued, “we have flying dogs! Telepathic dogs! An all-dog government! Space dogs! A flying tractor being driven by a two-year-old honorary boy-dog!

“Well, where were they going to take the story from there, Dania?” Eleanor wondered. “What possible conflict at Hell Hall could have––”

“It’s baffling to me that they don’t rename it,” Gwen said. “The Dearlys and their dalmatians all move into Hell Hall and just continue calling it Hell Hall.”

“If that’s the element of the book you’re most stuck on, you are extremely forgiving,” Dania said. “I’m more caught up by the appearance of the space dog.”

“Not a terrible idea in theory,” Gwen mused. “Taking the term ‘dog star’ and making it aggressively literal. But it just doesn’t tie together.”

“None of it does!” Dania shouted. “It’s an absolutely mess in every way, and I think I might like it more than the first one.”

“You-–what?” Gwen stopped. She looked at Dania with mock horror. “More than the first?”

“Well, the first one is just sort of boring. Fine, but boring. This one at least has consistent surprises while reading it. Like, I wanted to keep reading to find out where it would go next, at the very least.”

“You know what it feels like?” Eleanor suggested. “It feels like Dodie Smith knew the story she wanted to write, and every single time she realized that she was breaking the rules she set up, she contrived a B.S. excuse to handwave it away. ‘How do the puppies get through locked doors?’ ‘oh, they can open them with their minds.'”

“How do they get back to the center of London so quickly when the travel time in the first book was the entire book?” Gwen added. “They can fly. Sorry, I mean ‘swoosh.'”

“And then ‘The High Swoosh’ when they actually need to fly,” Dania corrected. “Like, how can you not kinda love something so completely ridiculous?”

“I’ll tell you how,” Eleanor said. “Both books are not very well written and only have a few solid ideas holding them together. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to remember half of what happened in the second book more than…let’s say two months from now.”

“Ah, you’re being too harsh,” Dania said. “I like the characters enough. I like that Cadpig has a bigger role in the second book, when she’s basically de facto Prime Minister. I like how serious the second book takes itself, considering how much dumb stuff is happening in it.”

“That’s what I like about the first book, though,” Gwen said. “The tone. It establishes this very clear set of rules for the world, a clear perspective from a dog’s-eye-view that never breaks throughout the novel. That tone allows you to forgive a lot with regards to leaps in logic, when they do happen, in the first book. The second book is so far off the rails that it can’t possibly do the same thing, and thus it feels unfinished and bad.”

“I’m glad I read them, though,” Dania said. “And I’m glad I didn’t know anything about the second one beforehand. The surprise makes it all the better.”

“I might recommend the first one, on the grounds of better understanding the film adaptation,” Gwen said. “But beyond that, the sequel’s mostly a wash for me.”

“I’d rather just hang out with a real group of 101 dalmatians,” Eleanor suggested.

Dania squinted. “Well, where are you going to do that?”

“I don’t know. I just know it would hold my attention better.”


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