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The following review appeared 23 November 2016 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Animals are prominent in Mark Twain's writings. A frog brought him his first national fame--actually, two frogs--one that hopped and one that did not. A dog tells one story (although Mark Twain's name appears as author), and a horse and an elephant are each the focus of other stories. Blue jays and crows behave exactly like humans. Cats, both dead and alive, make memorable appearances, and one medicated cat performs somersaults. An elephant vanishes, and a motley crew of creatures mount a scientific expedition. In fact, animals densely populate his shorter sketches and newspaper work, and they are found in nearly every one of his longer writings and story collections: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1867), The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), Sketches New and Old (1875), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Stolen White Elephant (1882), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), Tom Sawyer Detective (1896), Following the Equator (1897), A Dog's Tale (1903), What Is Man? (1906), A Horse's Tale (1907), The Mysterious Stranger (1916, 1963, 1968), and Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924, 2010, 2013, 2015).
Animals figure prominently in Mark Twain's personal life as well. He frequently appears in photographs with both dogs and cats--more often with cats--and he once sat with a fake cat curled in his lap. He was surrounded by cats in his youth and his old age, but it was a dog that was in his room in his last days. Some of his Langdon relatives were very nearly killed before his eyes when their carriage was carried away by a runaway horse, and his daughter Jean narrowly escaped death when the horse she was riding was struck and killed by a street-car. He welcomed most animals that came his way, but a snake that slithered into the library of his Hartford home was promptly tossed out a window with fireplace tongs.
Twainians will fondly recall Robert M. Rodney and Minnie M. Brashear's The Birds and Beasts of Mark Twain (1966), Janet Smith's Mark Twain on Man and Beast (1972), Maxwell Geismer's The Higher Animals, A Mark Twain Bestiary (1976) and Shelley Fisher Fishkin's more recent Mark Twain's Book of Animals (2010). These artfully illustrated volumes document Mark Twain's depictions of the animals already mentioned above, as well as bears, chameleons, mules, turkeys, buffaloes, cows, assorted insects, monkeys, kangaroos, camels, coyotes, and fish. And that's not all! Who among us can forget, far off in the empty sky, the solitary oesophagus that slept upon motionless wing?
But these other animals don't rank as high in Mark Twain's estimation as cats and dogs. The human race may have been damned, but not cats and dogs. Twain's daughter Susy famously said her mother loved morals, but her father loved cats, and she was right. No matter where he lived he always had cats in his life. While the same cannot be said for Twain's relationship with dogs, he wrote an entire book about a dog--not a cat, and he wrote to his friend William Dean Howells that he hoped to go to dog's heaven, not man's.
So it seems inevitable that well-known Mark Twain scholars Mark Dawidziak and Kent Rasmussen would come along, and it's suddenly Twaining cats and dogs: Abner, Agnes, Bismark, Bummer, Catullus, Cataline, Cattaraugus, Catasauqua, Motley, Stray Kit, Fraulein, Lazy, Buffalo Bill, Soapy Sal, Prosper le Gai, Cleveland, Fix, Peter, Sin, Satan, Famine, Pestilence, Sour Mash, Tom Quartz, Appollinaris, Zoroaster, Blatherskite, Lazarus, Babylon, Bones, Belchazar, Elihu Vedder, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Germania, Bambino, Andrew Jackson, Ananda, Annanci, Socrates Goldenrod Slee, Jo Cook, Sackcloth, Sackcloth, Ashes, Tammany, Sinbad, Danbury, Billiards, Aileen Mavourneen, Mark Twain and Mark Twain. The listings of two Sackcloths and two Twains are not typos. This cloudburst of cats and dogs is not a complete list, but most of these dogs and cats appear in the two volumes just published. If you want to test your Twainian credentials, identify which of these are dogs and which are cats, and then read these books to check your answers.
Dawidziak collects together forty stories and extracts from Twain's writings about cats, and Rasmussen has gathered forty-six about dogs. The pieces selected range from entire stories to short extracts from a variety of sources that include well-known newspapers, obscure newspapers, Twain's correspondence, Twain's own memoirs, and other memoirs by his longtime housekeeper Kate Leary, his lecture agent James B. Pond, and his daughter Clara. Each story is sourced, and all are introduced with informed and light-hearted prefatory notes. Rather than original art work like the Geismer and Fishkin volumes, these two little tomes are generously illustrated with original photographs of Mark Twain posing and playing with dogs and cats, and illustrations from early editions of Twain's writings, as well as some from other contemporary sources. Both volumes are designed to appeal to general readers and serious Twainians alike.
Readers will find these books hard to put down once they browse the contents pages. The cat stories are grouped into six categories: "Cats Who Eat Cocoanuts, Smoke Cigars, and Get Blown Up"; "No Home Complete Without a Cat"; "Give Me a Cat"; "What Is [sic] Dead Cats Good For?"; "Lions and Tigers and Twain"; and, "No Ordinary Cats." The dog stories are likewise divided dogmatically into six sections: "Mark Twain in the Company of Dogs"; "Uncommon Canines"; "Put-Upon Pooches"; "Party Animals"; "Dogs With Foreign Accents"; and "Lessons We Can Learn from Dogs." The books are equally enjoyable whether the pieces are read in order or at random, and along the way every reader will learn something new.
Every Twainian will see the familiar expected episodes--the dog that disrupts the church service, the cat that swallows painkiller, the fatal encounter of fifteen dogs with a Good Little Boy, the cat in the ruff--but no Twainian will be familiar with all of them. There will be some surprises--an obituary for a famous San Francisco dog, an entomologist who identifies the species of beetle that pinches the nose of the dog that disrupts the church service (and names a beetle after Twain--Sonoma twaini), some cats who fall asleep on command, and how Twain uses a cat to argue against Shakespeare's authorship of the plays that bear his name. Readers can enjoy Twain's canine description that inspired Chuck Jones to create his famous Roadrunner cartoons, and mourn the violent death of a handsome cat that Twain dubbed the "mascat" of the Aquarium, his club for his surrogate grand-daughters, the angelfish. This list could be extended, but only at the risk of teasers morphing into spoilers.
Some avid readers will dog-ear these books. Librarians will catalogue them. Some will buy them as gifts for their cater-cousins. Some will be catapulted to new heights by reading them right away, while others may hold off for the dog-days of summer. But get to your nearest bookshop any way you might--by dogcart or by catamaran--and obtain these books. It would be a dog-gone catastrophe not to. I daresay, only somebody dog-tired or catatonic, or perhaps just resting on a catafalque, could do without them.