Doggone Rintintin


From Betsy Kepes, part of the NCPR book club team and a regular book reviewer for the station:

I wouldn’t say I’m a “dog person,”  though I like dogs and have fond memories of Frodo, the long-haired mutt that was a part of my growing up. (My father and older brother, age 8, were reading aloud The Lord of the Rings at the time we traveled out to the farm where a litter of puppies needed homes). When Susan Orleans’ book, Rintintin, made the list for my book group, I looked forward to reading it. I liked her novel The Orchid Thief and a book about a famous dog sounded like fun.

It wasn’t.

Susan Orleans spent years researching the man who found the first Rintintin during WWI, a dog-loving American soldier who discovered a German shepherd bitch and her litter of puppies in a bombed-out kennel in Germany. He kept two of the puppies and named them Nanette and Rintintin. The real Nanette died but a fake Nanette was later put on screen as Rintintin’s “wife.” The finding of Rintintin was interesting, but it was only part of a chapter. As I plodded through the book I realized that this was a dog book that wasn’t really about a dog, not like The Call of the Wild or Old Yeller, both books that have caused me to run and get a box of Kleenex. Rintintin is a book about the idea of a dog and I’m not quite old enough to remember the Rin Tin Tin TV show, so it was just an idea for me, no visuals at all.

I do remember watching the Lassie TV show and to this day the sight of a collie makes me smile and start humming Greensleeves, the old English melody that was the theme song for the series. Because of Lassie, collies have always seemed the most noble breed of dogs to me.

German Shepherds scared me when I was a kid –they were big and barked and policemen walked with them—so maybe I wasn’t the target audience for Orleans’ Rintintin. Still, it was disappointing to read a dog book that left me cold. I mean I’ve liked all the others, from A Hundred and One Dalmatians to The Incredible Journey to an old series of dog books that I checked out of the Colton library. I don’t remember the titles or the author but I read them aloud to my oldest son when he was about six years old. They took place in the Rockies and near the end of each book—when the heroic dog wandered off into the mountains to die in a high cave—there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I think I’ve learned something though. I like to read dog stories but not biographies about dogs. And I’m curious about other readers out there. What classic, or new, dog stories have I missed?

  1. Ellen Rocco says:

    Thank you, Ann, for drawing our attention to your non-fiction work on the history of Rin-Tin-Tin…great to connect the dots this way. And, I grew up with the hyphenated version of writing the dog’s name…not the version used in the Orleans book.

  2. Sorry to say that the part you liked is probably not true. The story of Rin-Tin-Tin’s birth on a battlefield in September of 1918 very likely is myth. The first story that Duncan told (in October, 1919, to the Los Angeles Times) — and that three officers of his squadron told — goes like this: Duncan and his mates found an adult German shepherd male on the battlefield, and Rin-Tin-Tin was one of a litter born to him and a female German shepherd. That means he was born around the time of the Armistice. Evidence shows that story to be the true one. In a photograph taken after the 135th Aero Squadron arrived back in the United States in May, 1919, Duncan sits on the ground with Rin-Tin-Tin in his arms; next to him is another man with Nanette, Rin-Tin-Tin’s sister. Rin-Tin-Tin’s ears are floppy; Nanette’s stand straight up. German shepherd puppies’ ears start to stand up when they are five or six months old. (That’s also the age the puppies appear to be, not the nine months they would have been had they been born in September.)

    See my book, Rin-Tin-Tin: The Movie Star, available on Amazon. (But maybe you want to stick to fiction.) (paperback) (ebook)

    • Once again poor ann Elwood tries to mislead people about the accurate history of RIN TIN TIN. One galring fact she contines to incorrectly spew is that a German Shepherd Dogs ears do not stand until they are 5 months old – that is simply NOT TRUE. Bless her heart, she wants her version of history to be correct so bably that she continuously distorts the actual facts.

    • I have two German Shepard sisters who moved in with me when they were about 6 weeks old and their ears were erect from the first day they began living with me.