Fear and Black Dogs August 30, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary, Modern , trackback
Black dogs – and we’ve covered a few posts on this subject with fairy dogs and the black dog of Bungay: why are they so frightening? Ian McEwan’s best novel is probably Black Dogs in which idealism destroys evil catches the terror of big black canines perfectly. But Beach was terrified too in his recent reading of Shock. Two passages stand out. The first is when David Waldron has a night-time encounter with a giant dog in his backyard, which kills his cat in front of him. He heads back into the house and comes out again in the morning to find that the dog is a friendly (cat-killing) bull terrier cross with a wagging tale. Then, second, there is the even more striking case from Christopher Reeve, local Bungay historian.
A few years ago, I was asked to give a talk about the Black Dog to Bungay Primary School pupils. The subject is on their curriculum because it forms a significant part of of local history. The children, about forty of them, were about six to nine-years-old, and they assembled with their teachers and a some parents in St Mary’s Church where the historic event had occurred. I narrated the story, and then because they seemed very concerned about it, emphasized that the event had happened a long time ago, and there was no reason to fear that the Black Dog might still be around.
That last sentence is not going to sound very convincing to a seven-year-old is it? Sure enough one little girl contradicts him: apparently her grandmother has seen the Shock! And other children’s back her up. (Nothing like seeing a local expert outflanked by kids.) That week the history teacher got a number of complaints from parents about nightmares and crying fits. And, well, they might. The most terrifying images in Waldron and Reeve’s book are actually the children’s pictures of the black dog: it was a stroke of genius to put them in. There we come closest to the visceral fear that a dog in the dark can cause. Now the question is a simple one, why: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Is it just a natural instinct against one of our traditional enemies, the wolf, or is it something more? Are we relieving the drama of hunter gathering or plunging into some Jungian whirlpool of associations? And where do Alien Big Cats come into all this. Why aren’t there more Alien Big Dogs?
31 Aug 2013: CS writes: Apologies if you covered this topic in the past, or tangented it, but I’m still putting it out there. Black Dog Bias “Black dog bias is a veterinarian and animal shelter phenomenon in which black dogs are passed over for adoption in favor of lighter-colored animals. Black dog bias is also known as “big black dog syndrome.” Shelters often use the term BBD, or big black dog, to describe the type of larger dark-colored mixed-breed typically passed over by adopters.” Maybe it has roots in folklore’ Then there is Ivo: I’ve studied the subject of the black dog for years. Here in Holland we have numerous stories with black dogs. A lot of them are so called kettinghonden (chained dogs), dogs of farmers, chained outside. They let their presence known by rattling a chain, just like ghosts and some ufo stories. On the subject of fear: in the talk radio show of Theo Paijmans in ca. 1997 (I was his sidekick and note taker on the show) there was a caller who saw a big orange orb of light which flew next to him, about 10 yards away on the right. It followed him for about 100 yards, after which it flew away. The sighting is not that remarkable, but he told the audience that he was afraid, very afraid during the encounter. He was an ex-marine (aren’t they all:-) and he said he was afraid of nothing. But the moment the orb came into view and started to follow him, he felt afraid, more afraid than ever. He had never been so afraid of something in his life. What, indeed, is this fear. Numbers of ufo sighters mention this fear, Bigfoot sighters as well. It seems that the paranormal has a fear component, which seems to make it a physical something. Something intrusive into our reality. Yeeps!’ Finally we have the great Mike Dash: I think the imagery of Hans Christian Anderson helps to explain their impact … I still vividly remember the fairy story (The Tinder Box) about the dog with eyes as big as saucers, and the one with eyes as big as mill wheels, etc. It’s something that’s familiar (a dog) that morphs into something that is supernatural (a very big dog, with very peculiar eyes) – that is, the supernatural sneaking up on us when we are unawares, and getting right up close before the big jump cut. PS – Are you familiar with the tale of the Grey Dog of Meoble? That’s my personal favourite. Thanks to Mike, CS and Ivo.
2 Sep 2013: Ivo (not Ivor as I wrote before apologies), sent in this second part. I’ve been going through some of my books on folklore to see if fear was a factor in the Dutch stories on black dogs, but so far not much luck. Fear come into play with almost every ghost story, and black dog stories are a form of the ghost story. A curious story on a man called Jan Betz, a tailor at Bergeik, who in 1827 wanted to go home at night, wandered over the fields and met a monster or ghost (invisible?). He got stuck there (Oz factor?), but managed to poke the thing with a stick for some time. Did anybody say these stories have to make sense? Anyway, he was scared out of his mind and later on saw and heard ghosts on the road. Another story with Betz in it relates that he accompanied a young daughter and that they saw a dog besode the road. Betz wanted to hit it with his stick. Meanwhile they heard the rattling of chains, but saw nothing. Betz then saw a sheep. Betz carried the fainted, frightened daughter to a house nearby. Source: Willem de Blécourt, Volksverhalen uit Noord Brabant, (1980 Het Spectrum), 2.58 & 2.69. More stories on ghosts and monsters there at Bergeik; and more aggressive men with sticks, who hit these monsters and ghosts. Maybe there’s a connection? The men are frightened and arm themselves. What are they frightened of? Wandering alone at night in the countryside can make someone frightened. Also, the stories are anecdotal and have absurd elements. This seems to say they are made up or are sightings of illusions. I’ve been collecting and studying stories and anecdotes about ufos, ghosts, fortean stuff, faeries and other strange things for over twenty years now and most stories can be brought back to illusions, fear and superstition. Even though, they are still fascinating. Some ideas, picked up whilst reading Bob Trubshaw (Ed.), Explore Phantom Black Dogs (2005 Heart of Albion Press): The black dog is the apparition of a wicked person (sometimes) and wickedness is scary. Also: the black dog is the devil, a famous scary entity. Maybe: the black dog is a natural phenomenon and its energies play havoc with our brain. Or: lots of black dog stories are played out in the open field, far from civilization; so when someone walks these fields and roads late at night, fright can overcome them; their fear makes it into a black dog – a known element of ghost stories. Strange: numerous tales of black dogs are of the ‘guardian’ type, in which the fear has gone. See Harte, ‘Black dog studies’, in Trubshaw (2005) for the changing role of the black dog, from evil spirit, to guardian and a whole lot more. Some people thought that to see a black dog was an omen of death; someone would die after seeing the dog. Isn’t that enough to put a scare in your pants? On another note: I love the element of the chain: it is around the neck of the animal, or it is heard but not seen, it rattles or jingles, it glows, it is dragged. Crazy stories! Also very interesting: Simon Burchell, Phantom Black Dogs in Latin America, 2007 Heart of Albion Press. Thanks Ivo and sorry again about the name mix up!