English Professor Puts Literature on a Leash
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - As the license plate on his truck proclaims, Douglas Gordon is "Dr. Dog" to his students at Christopher Newport University.
In addition to teaching Shakespeare and freshman English, Mr. Gordon occasionally offers a course on dogs in literature, from Homer's "Odyssey" to the Sherlock Holmes mystery "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to the children's classic "Old Yeller." The course isn't just about heartwarming stories of boys and their dogs, says the 55-year-old Mr. Gordon, who may well be one of the leading experts on dogs in literature.
"It's a serious study of the relationship between man and woman and dog and what all that means about who we are and where we came from," he says in an interview at the "56th Street Kennel," the home he shares with his Irish water spaniel puppy, Ducks.
The dog represents the oldest continuous relationship between humans and domesticated animals, Mr. Gordon says. "Why would you not study dogs in literature, since it is such an ancient human relationship?"
The course delves into what dogs can symbolize, such as evil (think Stephen King's "Cujo") or the embodiment of memories. In Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist," for example, a struggle over the training of a dog really is the struggle over the memory of a dead child, Mr. Gordon says.
Mr. Gordon came up with the idea for the course about 10 years ago during an English faculty discussion about the curriculum. A lifelong pooch lover, Mr. Gordon jokingly suggested a class on dogs in literature.
People began to mention book titles, but "after `Old Yeller' and `Lassie,' what is there?" Mr. Gordon says.
Plenty, he found out as he began to do research.
Dogs abound in storytelling, from the first dog in Western literature, Argus, who appears in Homer's "Odyssey," all the way to modern-day stories for children and adults, Mr. …