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Literature / Fluke

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A 1977 novel by James Herbert.

A newborn puppy, on acquaintance with his London street market environs, suddenly finds he can see a surprisingly lucid range of colours. Separation from his mother and siblings immerses him in a world of frightening bustle and size, from which he gratefully shelters in the kind arms of his new owner. However, things don’t work out, and he ends up in an animal shelter.

Troubled by fleeting memories of having a body like one of the “giants” in charge of this place, his confused lamentations disturb the other animals, which persuades the vets to put him down. He flees onto the streets, and is found by veteran street dog Rumbo, who trains him to find food.

Shelter in a scrapyard, and occasional food supplied by its “Guvnor,” lend consistency to the wayward lives of Rumbo and his “squirt” protege. Uncanny ability to find nearby hidden food earns the young dog the name Fluke. A police investigation of the yard eventually steers Fluke out of the city and along a strangely familiar country road…

A fondly remembered film adaptation was released in 1995. If you're looking for the novel by Christopher Moore, see Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings.

The 1977 novel provides examples of:

  • All Dogs Are Purebred: Averted, Fluke seems to be a crossbreed of labrador and terrier; Rumbo a predominantly dalmation mongrel.
  • Animal Talk: All non-human animals, it seems, have some level of telepathic understanding of both their own and other species; the words between them are thought rather than spoken.
  • Automobiles Are Alien: Fluke is initially terrified of cars.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Rats stir in Rumbo a fury which scares Fluke.
    • Dogs in general, Fluke says, hate being called dirty.
  • Big Fun: Jolly, heavily overweight Bella briefly takes in and feeds a rapturously grateful Fluke.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The apparently kindly Miss Birdle alternates between benevolence and vicious cruelty.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Rumbo maintains a general disdain for other dogs, supposedly for their adherence to humans.
  • Canine Companion: Despite his principled disdain for domestication, Rumbo is fiercely loyal to the Guvnor, supplier of shelter and occasional food.
  • The Casanova: Rumbo occasionally disappears for dalliances with lady doggies.
  • Cats Are Mean: Somewhat deconstructed; Victoria, while horrible to Fluke, seems to act as much out of instinct as malice. A fieldmouse in her clutches rouses sympathy with Fluke’s human tendencies.
  • Cheerful Child: Young Gillian is delighted to be acquainted with a somewhat eccentric crossbreed...
  • Cigar Chomper: The Guvnor.
  • Country Mouse: Fluke’s previous incarnation, on several farm jobs, acquired an impressive grasp of natural history.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: A vixen, encountered in a forest, uses Fluke as a decoy in a farm raid.
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Defied. While Rumbo disdains the instinctual naivety of animals in general, and Fluke often laments his own, he ponders human condescension to dogs to be inspired by dogs’ occasional appearance of foolishness, and tendency to overexcitability. He and Rumbo are actually quite shrewd.
  • Dogs Hate Squirrels: Averted. Fluke bids one a cheerful good morning. He's also very happy to find Rumbo to have been reincarnated as one.
  • Domestic Abuse: Outwardly kindly Miss Birdle viciously kicks Fluke in the ribs, locks him in a room for three days, and attempts to batter both Fluke and Victoria with a rake.
  • Empathic Environment: Discussed, in regard to the bereaved home of Fluke’s previous incarnation. "It’s people who create atmospheres, not wood or brick, nor accessories — they only create surroundings."
  • The Fagin: Subverted; Rumbo trains Fluke to steal food, but for their mutual survival.
  • Flat "What": Of all reincarnated souls, insects are said to be the most spiritually advanced. Fluke is surprised.
  • Food Porn: Fluke’s persistent hunger leads to tantalisingly vivid descriptions of any available food. If you like sausages, chances are this book will put you in the mood for some.
  • Heroic Dog:
    • While police pursuit of the Guvnor is legitimate, Rumbo defends him with fierce loyalty.
    • Fluke critically aids Rumbo against a particularly large and vicious rat.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While Rumbo defends him from the police, the crooked Guvnor climbs a stack of cars, one of which comes loose and crushes Rumbo to death.
  • Homeless Person: An elderly homeless man, in his near-death state, may have some understanding of the life story told him by a stray dog.
  • Honest John's Dealership: The Guvnor’s scrap trade includes illicitly modified cars.
  • Howl of Sorrow:
    • Fluke, when Rumbo is killed.
    • Fluke again, on confirmation that he’ll never resume his human life.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Fluke’s early impressions of humanity are of inscrutable giants who may bestow threat or kindness.
  • I Take Offence to That Last One:
    ”What exactly have you got against us rats, friend? I know we're loved neither by man nor animal, but you have a special dislike, haven't you? Is it because we're scavengers? But then aren't you worse? Aren't all captured animals the lowest scavengers because they live off man - as parasites? Of course, you can't even dignify your existence with the word captured because most of you choose that way of life, don't you? Do you hate us because we're free, not domesticated, not...” he paused, grinning slyly, “... neutered as you are?”
    Rumbo bridled at this last remark. “I'm not neutered, rat-face, they'll never do that to me!”
  • Intergenerational Friendship: At several months old, Fluke befriends Rumbo, at about five years old; quite a gap in dog years.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Horrifically subverted with Miss Birdle.
  • The Lost Lenore: Inverted; reincarnate memories of Carol and Gillian rouse in Fluke and eventually desperate longing.
  • Lovable Rogue:
    • Street-hardened Rumbo can be a bit brusque, but likes a laugh, and cares for Fluke.
    • Lenny, a young employee of the unscrupulous Guvnor, playfully hones Fluke's knack for finding hidden food.
  • Meaningful Name: Several of the Guvnor's employees place bets on Fluke’s ability to find hidden food. The Guvnor laughingly dismisses the ability as a fluke, and thus christens the dog.
  • Mr. Exposition: A badger, in regard to the matter of Reincarnation.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: On attempt to crash the car of business partner Reg, mistakenly believed to have killed him for his wife and business, a revealing memory flash has Fluke stunned with remorse. Happily, both survive relatively unharmed.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Insubstantial figures occasionally seen by Fluke and Rumbo have an air of confusion or sorrow. Closer than living humans to the spiritual plane occupied by animals, they haven’t yet reached the level of development surpassed by reincarnation.
  • The Paragon: The badger tells Fluke of the educative, redemptive nature of reincarnation, and ponders that Fluke’s clear retention of human memories may herald a turning point in this cosmic process.
  • The Pollyanna: "Natural optimism" enables animals to recover more quickly than humans from grief.
  • Precious Puppy: An unnamed middle-aged man buys Fluke from a street market, implicitly as compensation for inability to have children. While he’s fond of Fluke, the wife isn’t so keen.
  • Reincarnation: Believed to be commonplace, (although not as much in later Herbert novels); its purpose is for learning of “acceptance from all levels.”
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Averted by a venomous adder with whom Fluke has a friendly chat.
  • Selective Slaughter: Averted; Rumbo’s war on rats is waged with just as much viciousness on a mother and newborns.
  • Shout-Out: Fluke and Rumbo meet ”...the biggest rat I'd ever seen, more than half my size...”
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Fluke senses in the Guvnor a curiously even blend of kindness and cruelty.
  • Tragic Bromance: The closely shared, pragmatic life of Fluke and Rumbo culminates with a police raid on their adopted scrapyard home, in which their kind but crooked master climbs a stack of cars, one of which falls and crushes Rumbo.
  • True Companions: Survival firmly unites Fluke and Rumbo.
  • Unexpectedly Human Perception: Shortly after birth, Fluke is disconcerted by the re-emergence of ability to see colours beyond the range of a dog’s perspective.
  • Urine Trouble: The young Fluke unintentionally widdles on his veterinary captor, whose disquiet buys Fluke time to bite the man’s wrist and escape.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After Rumbo slaughters a mother and newborn rats, he and Fluke, bewildered by each other’s respective savagery and sentiment, don’t speak for days.
  • Wild Wilderness: Fluke finds nightly forests to have an ominously chaotic mystique.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Following the emotional closure found in brief reunion with his wife and daughter and learning the cause of his human death, Fluke embraces with fascination and delight the varied heights of canine existence.
  • Xenofiction: While animals converse telepathically with each other, their understanding of human society is limited to an instinctual, outside perspective. Due to having been human in previous lives, Fluke and Rumbo have somewhat clearer cognition.