Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Gospel According to... Dog (by Peter Ward)

And what is a dog doing on the unicorn's blog, I hear you ask? Well, it's all because of a little book called The Gospel According to Dog which the author, Peter Ward, kindly sent me for review.

The Gospel According to Dog by Peter Ward

This book claims to be “the greatest story ever told by a dog”, and it certainly gives a unique viewpoint of the better-known accounts from the New Testament by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Kal is just a small, orphaned puppy when Peter the Fisherman rescues him from a gang of youths and takes him out on his boat. Growing strong and fierce on fish heads, Kal joins the disciples when his master Peter is called from his nets by Jesus to become a fisher of men. Kal follows the disciples to Jerusalem, where he takes his guard duty for his new pack very seriously. Along the way, Kal witnesses miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and later treats us to a unique dog’s-eye view of Judas’ betrayal.

I very much enjoyed the challenge of matching Kal’s dog-speech to the locations and characters in the Bible stories. Human names for things like “Big Water” (Sea of Galilee) and “Wisest One” (Jesus) are sprinkled sparingly through the text, since Kal sees everything through the eyes of a dog and is often puzzled by the actions of his “Great Ones” (humans)! I especially liked the way Kal befriended Judas, giving us a glimpse into the troubled disciple’s mind when Jesus is arrested and sentenced to death after being betrayed by Judas in the “Praying Garden” (Gethsemane).

This neat little book (I have the paperback version) is charmingly illustrated in black and white by Lucy Burns, with the addition of “smells” sprayed across the pages as colour-coded dots that only dogs can read. I wasn’t quite so sure about these dots where they strayed across the text, but that might not worry younger eyes and they do help to make the book memorable.

With its doggy narrator and Kal’s often humorous innocence, this book has obvious appeal for younger readers. But the subject matter gives it an additional depth, which would make "The Gospel According to Dog" a good bedtime story, or for use as a class reader with obvious potential for discussion.

The unicorn was very pleased to meet Kal, so he asked the author Peter Ward for an interview to find out more…

Portugese water dog

Retelling the gospel stories from a dog's point of view is a great idea! Why did you decide to use a dog, rather than any other kind of animal mentioned in the Bible?

Peter: The kernel of the idea came from the Portugese water-dog which, in the days of pre-mechanised fishing, was important enough (in terms of its practical functions) to be counted as one of the crew. So I thought, why not have St Peter, a humble fisherman, with his own water-dog..? Except I called it a 'fisher-dog' rather than a water-dog. Also dogs have much more of a connection with us humans than any other animal, so I thought the reader would be able to identify most strongly with a dog, rather than a donkey or camel or whatever.

Or a unicorn, I suppose! How did you come up with the distinctive dog-language Kal uses, such as "Great Ones" (humans) and "shouting" (barking)? How easy was it to remember to use Kal's words as you wrote the book?

"Great Ones"
I simply tried to imagine how dogs perceive us, being their providers of food, shelter and sometimes if they're lucky (in Kal's case) affection; and especially regarding shelter, we provide fire. This is the single most impenetrable mystery, to a dog, of our powers, and just on its own would earn us humans the accolade of 'Great One'!

When Kal is trying to tell his human masters something, as far as he's concerned he's talking, it's just that we can't understand him rather than vica-versa! To use the word -barking- wouldn't have fitted at all with the 'world view' of Kal that I was trying to put in place for the reader.

Other words in the dog-language were more an imaginative thinking process of: what would you call [X] if you don't have a particular word for it? Hence the sun becomes the great-yellow-so-that-all-things-can-see. Kal knows the word for the moon, but not the stars, so they become the 'glittering stones in the sky that guard it' and stop it from falling from the sky - which is why dogs always bark at the moon to make doubly sure it won't fall on us!

Once you've been through the process you don't really forget the words you've come up with, so it wasn't an issue remembering them.

You can tell Kal the moon won't fall on him... that's one of the things unicorns take care of with our magical horns. Did you base Kal's story on any one of the gospel accounts in particular?

Peter: Not particularly. And the episodes I chose more or less 'presented' themselves to Peter: me as my strongest childhood recollections of the Gospel story. I'm well aware that I've actually missed out quite a few episodes. Perhaps these may be stronger recollections than other people's as I am a 'cradle Catholic' and still semi-practising.

Were you able to explore any new angles to the gospel stories by using Kal's viewpoint?

Peter: Definitely, if you consider a dog's perspective a new angle! Perhaps what I wanted to show most, using Kal's viewpoint, is his total acceptance of the "Wisest One" from the minute he comes across him. Kal just knows he (Jesus) is something very special, and can't understand why his Great Ones just don't 'get' Jesus. As he (Kal) observes after Jesus has calmed the waters: 'I wondered if the Wisest One would teach his Great Ones what he had done that day. But I knew they would be too afraid to learn, and the Wisest One would be a white-beard by the time they even started to understand a smallest part of his mysteries.'

True! The use of smells represented by coloured dots on the pages is an interesting idea... are there any plans for a "scratch-and-sniff" book with real smells in the future? (I could use my horn for the scratching part.)

Peter: Not really. Interesting idea though!

Thank you very much, Peter and Kal!

You can tweet your own questions to Peter @gospeldog.


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