Literature / The Hundred and One Dalmatians

A 1956 children's novel by Dodie Smith, alternatively titled The Great Dog Robbery.

Pongo and Missis are a pair of married Dalmatians who have just become the parents of a litter of fifteen. They belong to a newlywed couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, who live in a tiny place near Regent's Park. Their domestic happiness comes under siege, however, when Cruella de Vil, a Rich Bitch and distant acquaintance of Mrs. Dearly (with an inordinate love of fur), attempts to buy the puppies. When she's told that they're not for sale, she hires thieves to kidnap them. When Scotland Yard is unable to find them, Pongo and Missis set out to rescue their puppies themselves, following a tip gained through the secret, nationwide "Twilight Barking" network of dogs.

The anxious parents find that Cruella has imprisoned their puppies in her country estate (along with 82 she had previously acquired), with the intent to skin them and make spotted Dalmatian-skin coats. Pongo and Missis rescue them all and return home triumphant with 97 puppies in tow. A rescued nurse-dog named Perdita and her long-lost beau round out their numbers to 101, and the Dearlys end up buying the same country estate where the pups were originally held prisoner.

The book was adapted several times by Disney into 101 Dalmatians. Dodie Smith also penned a lesser known sequel, The Starlight Barking (1967).

The 1956 children's book and its 1967 sequel contains examples of:

  • Accidentally Accurate: In universe. While resting for the night in an old country estate, Pongo is startled when the elderly owner (who thinks he is seeing the ghost of dogs from his childhood) calls him by his real name. Then he remembers that he was named that because it was a common name for Dalmatian coach dogs.
  • Ascended Extra: Cruella's white cat and the Staffordshire Terrier are minor (if important) characters in the original novel, but are major characters in the sequel, and quite a bit of the novel is dedicated to the Odd Friendship that springs up between them when they realise they are Not So Different.
  • Alien Lunch: What Cruella eats (food in bizarre colours, all of which taste of pepper, even the ice cream, which was black) could very well be that.
    • She got expelled from school for drinking ink.
      • And during the Dearlys' dinner party grinds huge amounts of pepper over everything before eating it, including the fruit salad.
  • Big Bad: Cruella De Vil.
  • Big Fancy House: Hell Hall, the manor where the puppies are kept.
    • Cruella's, and to a lesser extent, the Dearlys' London homes also qualify, as the Outer Circle was (and is) one of the most prestigious locations in London.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Cruella, as opposed to her Ax-Crazy depiction in other works. She genuinely doesn't see why Dalmatian dogs are supposed to be beloved family pets instead of fur animals like everything else. But since she has the drive and wherewithal to do anything she likes, she's terrifying.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: The Staffordshire Terrier. His owners are very proud of him and give him affectionate nicknames like "The Canine Cannon Ball" and "Misguided Missile".
  • Brainless Beauty: Missis is described as very pretty and brave but also somewhat vain, selfish, and baffled by abstract concepts such as "left". Then again, many dogs are.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted.
    • Well, averted by Willow but subverted by Cruella's cat. She is initially hostile to the Dalmatians but the book makes a point that this was only the result of mistreatment by her owner (Cruella had drowned thirty-three of her kittens), and she befriends the Dalmatians — we eventually learn that she stayed with Cruella for so long because she knew Cruella was heading for a bad end and she wanted to be there to witness it.
  • Classic Villain: Cruella De Vil.
  • Comically Missing the Point: At one point the puppies rest in a church. They assume the kneeler cushions are puppy-sized dog beds and that the nativity scene is an odd kind of television.
  • Cruella to Animals: The Trope Namer.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cruella's white cat. Especially in the sequel, where she plays a larger role.
  • Demoted to Extra: Several characters in The Starlight Barking; most notably Cruella, who is discussed often but only actually appears once — and even then she spends the entire scene asleep.
    • Almost as notable with Lucky, who is one of the major puppy characters in the first book but is pretty much a background character in the sequel.
  • Disney Death: Cadpig, who was born nearly dead and was revived by Mr Dearly.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Cat in this case; Cruella's white Persian reveals that Cruella keeps her husband's stock of fur in the house, and she lets the Dalmatians in so they can destroy it.
  • Dog Walks You
  • Fearless Fool: Lucky, and to some extent Cadpig. The Staffordshire Terrier and Cruella's white cat have traits of this as well.
  • Fur and Loathing: The trope didn't really kick in until The '80s, so this is more a prototypical example (if not the Ur-Example).
  • Genre Shift: The Starlight Barking, the sequel to the original book, is a fairly bizarre departure from the mundane (except for the sentient animals) setting of the first book featuring Sirius, Lord of the Dog Star, a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who, concerned about the possibility of nuclear war destroying dogkind, causes all humans and other animals to fall into an unnaturally deep sleep. This is likely a significant part of the reason why the sequel never saw a film adaptation and has subsequently been almost forgotten.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Perdita recalls a time, not long after she grew up, when she "felt a great desire to marry".
    • Cruella, in keeping with her "devil" theme, has an above-average fascination for fire. At one point in the novel she stops her car and temporarily drops the chase of the dalmatians in order to watch a bakery burn. Though nothing is ever stated, older readers might note that her glee at seeing the fire burning almost takes on a tint of sexual excitement and ecstasy.
  • Gold Digger: Cruella married a furrier for his money and, of course, all the furs he could give her. She even insists he keep his stock at the house so she can wear anything she likes. This comes back to bite her on the arse, hard, when Pongo and Missis break into her house and rip the whole lot to shreds.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Parodied in the scene where the Staffordshire Terrier is introduced. When Pongo and Missis meet him, he is reading a newspaper page and appears to be smoking a pipe... but it turns out that the pipe is actually made out of sugar, and he's not smoking it but eating it.
  • A Hero Is Born: 15 of them!
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: Fur is bad because a Manipulative Bitch like Cruella likes it.
  • Ill Girl: Cadpig. She's delicate and weaker than other puppies, thus requiring special care, though she's stronger than most of them in spirit.
    • Averted in the sequel, where the adult Cadpig is a healthy and energetic dog, and her spirit remains unchanged from her puppy days.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Cruella's husband. The dalmatians initially pity him, but the cat tells them that he's just as evil as his wife, but he's weak and bad, whereas she is strong and bad.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The boy who meets the dalmatians on their trip across country. He lures them close to him by offering food, then throws rocks at them, injuring Pongo. Pongo wants to go back and bite the child in retribution, but Missis talks him out of it, asking him to forgive him because she knows that young creatures can cause pain without realizing it.
    • Aveted with young Tommy, the Colonel's young charge.
  • The Klutz: Roly Poly. He's always tripping and bumping into others by accident, which turns out to be a Chekhov's Skill as it's his mishap with a bag of soot that gives Pongo the idea for the dalmatians to disguise themselves as black dogs. In the sequel, Roly Poly's klutziness has only grown with age, as a small clumsy puppy has now become a large clumsy dog whose accidents and bursts of clumsiness are proportionally bigger.
  • Ladyella: Cruella is more cruel than not.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There are hints that "de Vil" is not just a Meaningful Name but is a literal description of the members of the family ("de Vil" = "devil"). Cruella is always too cold, loves blazing fires, eats nothing but spicy foods and tastes of pepper when one of the puppies nips her. The sheepdog also tells Pongo stories about an ancestor of hers with "a long tail".
  • Meaningful Name: Cruella de Vil is cruel and the villain of the book. How unforeseen.
    • Her country estate is named Hell Hall ("Hill Hall" before the de Vil family bought it).
    • Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler invoke this. After they meet and have a good laugh over their names, they decide to train to be an actual cook and butler, since that is what the Dearlys need at the moment.
    • The book's Perdita is a stray; Mrs Dearly names her Perdita because it is Latin for "lost".
    • The Badduns are both bad 'uns.
  • Multicolored Hair: Cruella. Even more spectacularly by the end of the book; the black half turns white, and the white half turns an unattractive shade of green, apparently from stress.
  • The Musical: Surprisingly followed the book, rather than the Disney versions.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Cruella de Vil, naturally.
  • Nearly Normal Animal: Pongo and Missis, particularly Pongo, who can understand concepts like left and right, devoured Shakespeare in his youth (in a tasty leather binding), and can even read.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Transport in Cadpig's Cabinet in The Starlight Barking are gentle parodies of the actual Cabinet ministers at the time.
  • No Name Given: The adult couple are simple "Mr Dearly" and "Mrs Dearly."
    • Several of the dog characters are never named, referred to only as their breed, such as the Collie and the Staffordshire Terrier; though the latter gets many affectionate nicknames from his owners, we never learn his real name and the narrative always refers to him as "the Staffordshire."
    • Even Pongo and Missis's fifteen puppies are mostly unnamed by the narrative and appear only as a group instead of as individuals. Only four are given actual names and characterizations: Lucky, Patch, Cadpig and Roly Poly.
  • Noodle Incident: The Dearlys can afford a nice house near Regent Park because Mr Dearly, a financial wizard, had "done a very great service for the government". Later they can afford to move to the country (and buy Hill Hall) because he had done yet another "very great service".
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In-universe example with Lieutenant Willow, who is known only by her nickname, "Tib," which most of her friends think is her real name. She does, however, introduce herself to Pongo and Missis by her real name and is generally called "Lieutenant Willow" by the narrative.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Cruella always appears wearing loads of jewellery and "an absolutely simple white mink cloak."
  • Plucky Girl: Cadpig may be small and sick, but she's got fighting spirit.
  • Rich Bitch: Cruella.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Cruella's white Persian cat. Subverted, in that the cat hates Cruella and Cruella herself keeps her only because she's a valuable pedigree.
    Cruella: I don't like her much. I'd drown her if she wasn't so expensive.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After rescuing the puppies, the dalmatians break into Cruella's house and destroy every fur that she owns. This wasn't just about revenge, though: Pongo was trying to put the de Vils out of business so that they couldn't try again with another group of dalmatian puppies. (Missis, understandably, had less noble motives).
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: The Colonel in the sequel. In the original book, Pongo mistakes him for a bumbler at first but he soon reveals himself as a very smart and competent dog. In the sequel, he's become a genuine bumbler and far less smart than he himself thinks, needing Captain (formerly Lieutenant) Willow to explain things when he misunderstands them — a very clear Shout-Out to their characterisations in the Disney movie.
  • Too Many Babies: The premise.
  • Xenofiction: Although for the most part a fantasy story, there are shades of this, as it's made clear that dogs think very differently from humans. Missus may not know right from left, but the fact that Pongo does know right from left is treated as rather remarkable and proof of his advanced intelligence.
  • Villain Ball: There was no reason at all for Cruella to kidnap the Dearly puppies. She already owned 82 dalmatian puppies, which should have been plenty to start her fur farm. The only thing that taking the Dearly puppies accomplished was 1) Wasting money (she paid more to the dog thieves than she had for any litter), 2) Bringing unwanted police attention (nothing she'd done before was illegal), 3) Causing her husband's business to be destroyed by 99 extremely irate Dalmatians.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Nanny Butler in her trousers, given the era.
  • Your Other Left: Missis, while trying to get directions from an elderly dog.

Alternative Title(s): One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Starlight Barking