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Literature / The Hundred and One Dalmatians

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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 "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 intent to make Dalmatian-skin coats. Pongo and Missis rescue them all and return triumphant with 97 puppies in tow. A rescued nurse-dog named Perdita and her long-lost beau round out their numbers to 101, Cruella and her husband end up financially ruined, and the Dearlys buy the same country estate where the pups were originally held prisoner.

The book was adapted several times by Disney into 101 Dalmatians. Smith also penned a lesser known sequel, The Starlight Barking (1967). Taking a sci-fi Genre Shift, the story begins with the entire human population of Earth falling into a sleeping trance. As the dogs take control of society and gain superpowers, they learn that alien dogs from the dog star Sirius are responsible. Believing humanity will inevitably destroy the Earth and themselves in a nuclear war, they wish to take all the dogs away back to their home planet and erase dogs from all human memory. While many seriously consider the offer, ultimately the dogs of Earth decide they cannot abandon humans and will take their chances staying on Earth.

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

  • 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 realize they aren't that different.
  • Author Tract: 101 Dalmatians is not Dodie Smith's only work with a strong pro-animal, anti-fur message, only the one that features both subjects as major themes. Most of her other works usually manage a sly jab about the author's opinion on furs, but tend to handle the anti-fur message more subtly, usually by pointing out how ridiculous people look in fur (famously in I Capture the Castle, Rose — who acquires her coat by pure happenstance and who doesn't even like furs — ends up in a humiliating predicament after being mistaken for a bear) or by making the antagonist a fur-wearer. Many of her other works also feature at least one notable canine companion.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Cruella, obviously. Aside from her love of furs and plans to turn a large number of puppies into coats, she also mistreats her own cat and drowns all the kittens said cat has given birth to.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Cruella's cat takes a liking to the Dearlys, and by assossiation the dalmatians, because unlike Cruella, the Dearlys treated her with kindness. In the climax, she simultaneously gets her revenge on Cruella and helps out the dalmatians by letting them in to destroy all of the De Vils' stock of furs and drive them bankrupt.
  • Better the Devil You Know: Upon learning Cruella isn't the sequel antagonist, Pongo "almost wished she were" since she's "the devil he knew" and he felt someone unknown and more powerful was in charge.
  • Beyond Redemption: Any dog which bites a human, at least in Missis's view. She is perfectly willing to bite Cruella or the Badduns, but she justifies that on the grounds that they aren't really human (and in Cruella's case, at least, she may be right).
  • Big Bad: Cruella De Vil.
  • Big Eater: Missis is rather obsessed with food, to the point where of all the weird things that happens in The Starlight Barking, the one thing that truly astonishes her is that she isn't hungry.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • Hill Hall ("Hell Hall" to the locals), the country manor belonging to Cruella's family where the puppies are kept.
    • Also, Cruella's London home, the interior of which seems to be made entirely out of marble.
    • The Dearlys' home isn't described much but presumably also qualifies, as it's in the Outer Circle which was (and is) one of the most prestigious locations in London.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Cruella's food is not only oddly colored, it all tastes like pepper — even the ice cream, which is black. She got expelled from school for drinking ink. And during the Dearlys' dinner party, she grinds huge amounts of pepper over everything before eating it, including the fruit salad.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Cruella. She genuinely doesn't see why Dalmatian dogs are supposed to be beloved family pets instead of mindless fur animals. But since she has the drive and wherewithal to do anything she likes, she's terrifying.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: The Staffordshire Terrier, who's good-natured but very energetic and has a limited grasp of personal boundaries. (Dodie Smith knew her dog breeds.) 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 silly, vain, selfish, and baffled by abstract concepts such as "left". Then again, many dogs are — and Pongo is very aware that while Missis may not be as clever as he is, she has better instincts. She has become a lot hardier and more down-to-earth by the end of the book.
  • A Cat in a Gang of Dogs: Lt. Tib and to a lesser degree Cruella's cat are the only felines in the story. Both assist the dalmatians.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted for the most part. The cats are friendly to the dogs, but Cruella's cat betrays her mistress in revenge for all the litters of kittens that she drowned, letting the dalmatians into the house to destroy the De Vils' stock of furs.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Eight puppies are just the right age and size to pull the Cadpig's cart. They turn out to be Perdita's lost litter (Pongo hadn't noticed their brown spots because he'd never seen them in good light).
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • The Colonel. He's getting on in years, but he's got skills and knowledge beyond pretty much any other dog in the book. Only Pongo is more intelligent, but even Pongo doesn't have the Colonel's years of experience.
    • The Spaniel who helps Pongo and Missis on their journey. He's ancient in dog years, and one of the most friendly, generous souls in the book.
  • Cruella to Animals: The Trope Namer.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cruella's white cat. Especially in the sequel, where she plays a larger role.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Cadpig. She's delicate and weaker than other puppies, thus requiring special care, though she's stronger than most of them in spirit. In the sequel, however, the adult Cadpig is a healthy and energetic dog, and her spirit remains unchanged from her puppy days.
  • 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 initially appeared stillborn but was revived by Mr. Dearly.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Cruella, in keeping with her "devil" theme, has an above-average fascination with heat and fire. At one point in the novel she temporarily drops the chase for the dalmatians and stands on the roof of her car to watch a bakery burn. Though nothing is ever stated, older readers might note that her glee takes on a tint of sexual excitement and ecstasy. It was in fact so obvious that at least one audio drama adaptation changed the scene into more of an example of Evil Is Petty. The ecstasy angle with its sexual hints is completely dropped; instead Cruella stops to watch the bakery burn because it's so hilarious to see the panicked people running back and forth and trying to put it out.
  • The Dog Bites Back: 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: In This Is My Human fashion, Pongo and Missis think of themselves as putting the Dearlys on the leash and taking them out for some air.
  • Don't Look Back: The climactic moment of the book is when the soot-covered Dalmatians are hiding in the back of a truck and Cruella is about to overtake them. Pongo orders every puppy to close their eyes so they won't reflect the light and give them away. Despite the roar of Cruella's engine and the blinding headlights, every pup obeys... and she passes by without seeing them.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Pongo and Missis' journey to Suffolk and back takes place over about three days. Even Pongo is astonished when he totals up the hours.
  • 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.
  • 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, especially since some of them weren't even paid for.
  • 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.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Discussed. Lucky suspects the Badduns are this because they never change or wash their clothes. Seeing the Badduns does make Pongo believe half humans exist, even if he has no clue what their nonhuman half could be.
    • It’s also implied with Cruella, or at least her great grandfather who maybe the spawn of the devil.
  • A Hero Is Born: 15 of them!
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: Fur is bad because a Manipulative Bitch like Cruella likes it.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Cruella De Vil. Her family's ancestral home is in disrepair, the servants working there receive no pay other than the right to live there and say the TV must be kept on at night because they don't have light bulbs. Most of her jewels are fake. When the furs her furrier husband keeps at home are destroyed by the dalmatians, it's revealed most of them aren't paid for and the De Vils must sell their ancestral home to pay their debts. Cruella also has to sell their real jewels to be able to start a new business.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Cruella's husband seems overpowered by her stronger personality. The dalmatians initially pity him, but the cat tells them that he's just as evil as she is.
  • 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.
  • Like Brother and Sister: At one point, Pongo reflects that he does think of Perdita as a second mother to his and Missis' puppies, but that he loves her like a younger sister rather than a second wife.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Lucky says the Badduns never change clothes.
  • Malaproper: Missis isn't good with large words. For example, she gets offended when she learns the Dearlys will found a "nasty din" of dalmatians, only for Pongo to explain what a "dynasty" is.
  • 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, and owns a country estate named Hell Hall ("Hill Hall" before the de Vil family bought it). Lampshaded near the climax:
      The Staffordshire Terrier: Blimey. Who's chasin' you lot, Old Nick?
      Pongo: A close relative of his, I think!
    • 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.
    • "Perdita" means "lost". Mr. Dearly names her after the character in The Winter's Tale.
    • The Badduns are both bad 'uns.
  • 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 simply "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" (something to do with "getting rid of the National Debt"). The story behind that must have been nearly as interesting as what his dogs got up to.
  • Old, Dark House: Hell Hall is this in its phases between being a Big Fancy House. Some of this seems to be thanks to Cruella not living in it and the Badduns barely keeping it maintained while hoarding the puppies. Missis is frightened when she first sees it.
  • 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. (She also condescends to accept "Puss" in playful moments.)
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Missis is a sweet and rather soft-headed dog. But when she hears about Cruella's plans, she says "I will go back! I will go back, and tear Cruella de Vil to pieces!" (Pongo has to talk her into putting that on hold, and later they find a more practical kind of revenge.)
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Cruella always appears wearing loads of jewelery and "an absolutely simple white mink cloak."
  • Plucky Girl: Cadpig may be small and sick, but she's got fighting spirit.
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Cruella's black hair is half white and has been since girlhood. At the end of the book, the shock of financial ruin turns the black half white — and the white half green.
  • Rich Bitch: Cruella.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Cruella's white Persian cat. Subverted, in that the cat hates Cruella and Cruella hates her.
    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 and returning to London, the dalmatians tear through Cruella's house and destroy every fur that she owns. It wasn't just for 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, was happy to do it for any reason).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: At the end of the novel, when trying to find the owners of the other 82 puppies, the Dearlys are surprised to find that no one is looking for them... because they weren't stolen. Cruella simply purchased them legally. It's even mentioned that Cruella paid more to hire professionals to steal the Dearly's puppies than she paid for any litter she outright purchasednote , meaning the theft was motivated by pure spite.
  • The Smart Guy: Pongo is unusually intelligent for a dog and easily understands concepts that most dogs struggle with. The narrative repeatedly calls him "the owner of one of the keenest brains in Dogdom."
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Cadpig is almost always called "the Cadpig" as a nod to her name (a cadpig is the smallest piglet of the litter).
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Not only do Pongo and Missis save their own children (and several times over), Perdita gets her missing family and husband back.
  • This Is My Human: The dogs refer to the Dearlys as their pets. They are aware that the Dearlys believe it's the other way around, but they find it charming and let their humans continue to believe so.
  • 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. He still shows that he's no slouch when it really counts, though.
  • Took the Wife's Name: Cruella is the last de Vil and she brings it up as the reason she made her husband change his name to hers when they married.
  • Too Many Babies: The premise.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The Colonel tells Pongo and Missis about a time people surrounded Hell Hall with pitchforks but a thunderstorm put the torches out. The de Vil who lived there back then left on his own accord and Hell Hall stayed empty for the next 30 years.
  • 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. All because she couldn't take "no" for an answer.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Nanny Butler in her trousers, given the era.
  • 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. Missis 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.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Kloes That Klank, Cruella's second business venture after the dalmations destroy her fur business, involving plastic raincoats that make clanking noises.
  • Your Other Left: Missis, while trying to get directions from an elderly dog.

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