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Literature / Hank the Cowdog

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"It's me again, Hank the Cowdog."
Hank, at the beginning of each book.

Hank the Cowdog is a series of children's books written by John R. Erickson starting the titular hound. The adventures consist of the goings-on at the West Texas ranch where Hank acts as the "Head of Ranch Security." He is assisted (if you can call it that) by Drover, his sidekick and a chronic coward. Together, they work tirelessly to keep the ranch safe from any threat, be it moles in the garden or blood-thirsty coyotes raiding the chicken coop, with Hank's ego and Drover's bad leg providing plenty of humor along the way.

In September of 2020, a podcast series adapting the eleventh book was released, starring Matthew McConaughey.

This series provides examples of:

  • And the Adventure Continues: More than one book has ended with this tone, implying that the work of the Head of Ranch Security never ends.
    Hank: Case closed, and back to work!
  • Animated Adaptation: The first book was adapted into an episode of CBS's Storybreak.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: In ''The Case of the Double Bumblebee Sting" (#22), the local Vet explains that snake-bitten dogs develop an immunity to the venom. "Next time he gets bit, he won't get so sick".
    Sally May: Next time? You don't think he's learned his lesson from this?
    Vet: (Laughs) No, they never learn. Sometimes they go back to the same place and the same snake, do it all over again. Until the snake either moves out, or dies from exhaustion.
    • Which Hank does at the end of the book. Thankfully, the Vet was right about the immunity.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care:
    • In The Big Question, Miss Viola gives Hank a couple of oatmeal raisin cookies (though Drover ends up eating both of them). Raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. Later in the story, Hank eats a plate of cookies and candy, including "chocolate fudge", and is not shown to have been affected at all. In reality, he would have gotten very sick.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Beulah (collie next door who has a boyfriend) and Missy Coyote (coyote princess who was once offered to Hank if he would attack the ranch).
    • Beulah herself has the choice between Plato (Betty) and Hank (Veronica). She consistently chooses Plato, but there are hints that she'd like to choose Hank.
  • Bowdlerize: In the original magazine story that debuted Hank, Hank says Loper has two additional names for him when he’s angry: “Damnit” and “Damnittohell”. In the 20th anniversary book and the Homeless Pooch audio, “Damnit” is replaced with “Dangit” and the second name is dropped entirely.
  • Braving the Blizzard: In Lost in the Blinded Blizzard, Loper calls Slim in the middle of a snowstorm and says the baby has croup and needs medicine. Slim ties a bag with the medicine around Hank's neck and sends him to the house.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs:
    Drover: She had pretty brown eyes...
    Hank: Were they pretty and brown or pretty brown? This could be important!
    Drover: Both. They were pretty and brown. And pretty brown.
  • The Case Of: The series began using this pattern with the eighth book, The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse. At this point, the majority of the books in the series follow this template.
  • Cats Are Mean: Pete the Barncat often teases and takes advantage of Hank and the other characters. Other cats aren't shown to be much better.
  • Cool Uncle: Hank to his sister's children (puppies?). His sister has a different opinion.
  • Draw Aggro: In "The Case of the One-eyed Killer Stud Horse", Hank gets Tuerto's attention so Little Alfred's cousins Amy and Ashley can get to safety. He originally plans to do this in such a way that he can stay out of Tuerto's range, but when the horse says he wants the girls, Hank goes for the jugular.
  • Drunken Song: "Monkey Business"
  • Exit Pursued By Two Coyotes: Sinister the Bobcat in Lost in the Dark Unchanted Forest.
  • Eating Pet Food: In "The Case of the Measled Cowboy", Little Alfred fixes Slim a plate of hash when he's down with the measles. Later, Slim notices the can it came out of and states that it was dog food.
  • Expospeak Gag: Hank usually describes his physiology as if he were a high-tech piece of machinery, especially when he's getting ready for a fight.
  • Extreme Omni-Goat: The story The Case of the Dancing Cowboy (which was originally serialized in newspapers and later released via audio, but not in a printed form) has Drover mentioning how he once knew a goat who "ate tin cans and ketchup bottles''. (And rose bushes.) Hank doesn't believe a word of it.
  • Fantastic Racism: The coyotes are portrayed like stereotypical Native Americans of The Western genre, with a leader named Chief Many-Rabbit-Gut-Eat-In-Full-Moon.
    • Hank acts this way towards Cats, Bird Dogs, and any Yip-Yip breed of dog.
  • Girl Next Door: Beulah, the neighbor's collie.
  • Good Ol' Boy: The cowboys, especially Slim. Rip and Snort are described by Hank as "good 'ol boy coyotes" who love nothing more than fighting, eating, and singing (in that order).
  • Guile Hero: Hank likes to think he's this, but more often than not his schemes blow up in his face. He has his moments though, such as in "Murder in the Middle Pasture" when he escaped a nasty situation involving a Gang of stray dogs and the Coyotes by goading them into fighting each other. He repeats the trick in Every Dog Has His Day by siccing Rip and Snort onto Rufus the Dobermann.
  • G-Rated Drug: Averted on numerous occasions. In the first book, Hank, Rip, and Snort eat a bunch of fermented silage, which as Hank helpfully informs us contains alcohol. The three of them start staggering around, slurring their speech, and singing Drunken Songs. Hank even refers to this event in a later book as "getting plastered". Then, in Monkey Business, in a dream he straight up downs a bottle of beer with the monkey that has been chasing him. Another drunken song ensues. The cowboys are also frequently seen chewing tobacco.
  • Hellish Horse: Tuerto the titular "one-eyed killer stud horse" of Book 8, who speaks with a Mexican accent and seems to get an unhealthy amount of enjoyment from trampling dogs and small children.
  • Heroic Dog: Hank, having sworn an oath "to protect and defend all innocent children against all manner of monsters and evil things."
  • Homeless Hero: In Slim's Goodbye, the cattle market becomes very lean, and Slim takes off, thinking Loper can't afford to keep him on and not wanting to be a burden. He gets stopped midway to his destination thanks to a number of illegal things about his pickup and winds up having to set up shop in the local town. He even thinks for a little while he'll have to live out of his pickup (not that the place he ends up getting is very impressive either).
  • Horsing Around: Hank hates horses because, not only do they think they're better than everybody else, they will go out of their way to try and prove it.
    Hank: If there's anything worse than pretense, it's reality. And anything that weighs 1200 pounds and bites, kicks, and stomps must be considered reality.
  • I Can Explain: In The Case of the Measled Cowboy, Hank begins to rehearse his explanation to the woman of the house, Sally May, for the tremendous mess that he and her son made in her absence. Subverted in that he admits he can't get any farther than "I can explain."
  • I Was Named "My Name": Hank is content with the Slim naming him that, as that was the name his mother gave him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hank isn't nearly as strong, smart, or charismatic as he boasts he is... but when the cards are down and someone's in danger, he still charges into battle as though he was.
  • Little Known Facts: Hank always tries to impress Drover with exaggerated explanations of natural phenomenon. Drover, of course, believes him.
  • Living Crashpad: On one occasion, Drover ended up on Hank after they jumped a fence.
  • Lord Error-Prone: Hank pretty much epitomizes this trope; he's a canine Don Quixote who actually winds up against legitimate enemies most of the time. There's even a sequence where he and his sidekick, Drover, confuse a thunderstorm with an enemy invasion.
  • Luke Nounverber: The coyotes' names like "Girl-Who-Drinks-Blood".
  • The Owl-Knowing One: Madam Moonshine, the witchy little owl. She often provides magical assistance to Hank when it suits her, although she does have some odd mannerisms, like referring to him as "Hank the Rabbit."
  • Malaproper: Hank himself. Sometimes he catches it and tries to correct himself, with varying degrees of success. Blunt Metaphors Trauma is also a defining narrative trait of his.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Sally May, mother of Little Alfred and Baby Molly. Unfortunately, Hank is quite often the target of her scorn for "corrupting" her children. Still, more than once she's stood up to some pretty serious dangers to keep her kids safe.
    • There's also a mother cat in one book, who runs off a bull when it comes too close to her kittens.
  • Meaningful Name: Tuerto, the eponymous equine from The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse. "Tuerto" means "one-eyed". It's even more appropriate because a Spanish idiom for having bad luck is being seen by a one-eyed person, and anyone who runs into Tuerto without a weapon is pretty unlucky.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Slim's shack. In fact, Slim in general.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Sinister the Bobcat and Scraunch the Terrible.
  • Narrator: Hank tells each adventure himself, if the opening line didn't tip you off.
  • Now You Tell Me: During The Secret Laundry Monster Files, Eddy the Rac rescues Hank from an attempted drowning at the hands of his cousin Bubba. He then tells Hank that Bubba hates dogs and he should never tangle with him in the water.
    Hank [with a stern glare]: That's great advice, Eddy. Too bad you weren't around ten minutes ago when it might have done some good.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Whenever Drover suspects the slightest possible risk, he'll complain about his leg hurting. Once or twice Hank has done the same thing when he's really scared.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Hank may not be nearly as smart as he likes to think he is, but Drover is nowhere near as dumb as Hank thinks he is, particularly when it comes to his own safety.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Hank's actual name is Henry, but only his sister ever calls him that.
  • Pet Dress-Up: In The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse, Little Alfred's cousins Amy and Ashley put a dress on Hank while playing with him. He admits he wouldn't have chosen it, but he puts up with it to make the girls happy. This eventually winds up with him fighting the eponymous horse to protect the girls, still wearing the dress.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: In The Garbage Monster From Outer Space, Sally May has declared that she plans to give Hank away after he runs away and is ultimately discovered rooting around in some garbage cans. Little Alfred tries to make a deal with her. When it fails, Alfred bursts into tears and says Hank is his friend and he loves him. Sally May relents, although she warns Hank about getting into any more trouble.
  • Rascally Raccoon: Eddy the Rac is a cute little orphan raccoon Hank runs into occasionally. He's a nice kid, but his Trickster Archetype creeps up on him often.
  • Spoonerism: Hank is prone to these, e.g. "I pushed the nose open with my door."
  • This Isn't Heaven: At the end of “The One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse”, Hank faces Tuerto, gets knocked out, and the next chapter shows him in Heaven, surrounded by two angels. He then sees Sally May and believes he’s in the other places. He didn’t die. The angels were Little Alfred’s cousins and Sally May scared off Tuerto with her gun.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Played with; Hank tends to flavor the stories to make himself appear stronger and braver than he really is, but when he comes to a really humiliating defeat like losing a fight or running away, he'll tell the reader to send the kids off to bed so they don't hear it.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Hank is terrified of, appropriately enough, snakes. Lucky for him, he's got an immunity to rattlesnake venom since the events of Book #22 (The Case of the Double Bumblebee Sting).
  • Would Rather Suffer: In The Case of the Prowling Bear, Wallace the Buzzard says he'd rather sit on a cactus than say "thank you."
  • The Voiceless: Rip, who only grunts in affirmation ("Uh") or negation ("Uh-uh"). Lampshaded by Hank who tries to get Snort to swear an oath beginning with the line "I, Snort the coyote, and my brother Rip who never seems to talk..."
  • You No Take Candle: The Coyote Dialect as we hear it. Hank talks about it as if it's an actual language, but it's never clarified whether or not we're just hearing a translation.