Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Messenger: Shade

As many of you know, I love dogs. (Cats, too, but alas, I'm allergic to them). Perhaps that's why I'm especially attached to a dog who appears in The Messenger — Shade, who is a cemetery dog.

Although not all readers will stop to figure this out, Shade is actually the oldest of the characters in the book, although there is nothing decrepit about him. He's a large, long-haired black dog. Shade is Tyler's benevolent and protective companion. Although Tyler's existence has been one that has denied him long-lasting human relationships, he has had the comfort of Shade's loyalty.

Mysterious, large black dogs are a staple of fiction and folklore, whether as ghosts or fierce inhabitants of the moors near Baskerville. They guard the gates of Hades, or come upon unsuspecting riders at midnight.

Cemetery dogs are part of the legends of many societies, and their roles vary from tale to tale and place to place. Seen racing next to a carriage at night in England, they would presage death, as they would if they walked into a church during services. In present day, they might cause a car crash on a lonely road at night. These large black dogs are often said to have glowing eyes. They would most likely be encountered near bridges or at a crossroads (the latter are often described as places of mystical power, perhaps because they are places of transition). In some places they work for demons, snatching souls and taking them to the devil.

Yet other tales portray them as wholly benevolent. They may guide lost travelers. They may loyally guard the grave of a person they were close to in life.

Cemetery dogs, in particular, often have the task of guarding graveyards. We could probably use a few more cemetery dogs now. Although perhaps more of a problem in the 19th century, grave-robbing is not entirely a thing of the past. I imagine that people who believe a large black (perhaps supernatural) dog is fiercely protective of a cemetery might think twice about disturbing those who rest there.

By the way there are real-life dogs known as cemetery dogs at the Historic Congressional Cemetery and a few other places. They aren't Shade, but like him, they do play a role in protecting and caring for cemeteries.

One of my own real-life dogs, Britches, had an influence on Shade's appearance. You can see him above (we were out visiting that day) and can probably tell that he's a wonderful old fellow. You may also notice that when he was younger, he posed for the photo used by my sister, Sandra Cvar, to create the print that eventually ended up, full circle, among the images at the top of my site and this blog.

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