When we picked up this book in an Auckland second-hand shop, I almost laid it aside, believing that I already knew the story, but after reading The Hundred and One Dalmatians aloud to our girls, I now believe the original book deserves to be labelled a “classic”. Our daughters were captivated by the characters, the in-depth plot, the subtle witticisms and the happily-ever-after ending. Truly, the Disney films have done Dodie Smith’s original story a great injustice, and any good parent should introduce this book to their family shelves.

The DFF Book Club

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
Although this version of the book was published with the Walt Disney image on the cover, the story-line is much richer than either Disney's animated version or the more recent live-action movie portrayal.

First published in 1956 as a magazine serial entitled The Great Dog Robbery, The Hundred and One Dalmatians has aged well. With the plot developed around animal characters, there are very few technological antiques to distract the reader from the story. The copy we have was illustrated by twin sisters Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, and the drawings are delightful and varied, helping young listeners to stay interested in the ever-changing adventures.

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
Cruella de Vil is portrayed as tall, slender and stylish — but she *does* like black and white. She wears jewels (but we later discover that they're mostly fake) and when bitten tastes like hot pepper!

In Smith’s story, Mr and Mrs Dearly are never named, and feature instead as the “pets” of our heroic Dalmatian couple, Pongo and Missus. A third female Dalmatian — Perdita — is soon introduced in the narrative, and although she’s a lesser subclass of the breed with brown-coloured spots, she provides assistance with Missus’ initial litter of fifteen.

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
Although they're not together very long, Perdita, Missus and Pongo build a strong bond based on care and concern for their puppies.

When Cruella’s henchmen capture the Dearlys’ puppies, Pongo and Missus send out a request for help via the Twilight Barking. Several times a day, dog barks relay messages across the countryside, and it’s through this network that Pongo and Missus discover their pups are being held in on a property in Suffolk.

Pongo and Missus’ dash across the countryside is interesting to the reader and listener. They meet fantastic characters — mostly dogs — and receive extraordinary assistance which is detailed entirely from the canine perspective. (The caravans bark, but the dogs run on… muses Pongo in one scene.)

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
The friendly inn-dog settles Missus and Pongo to sleep in the carriage — away from the prying eyes of humans. (I'm certain this strategy inspired a similar scene in the movie Titanic.)

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
Painted ominously black by Cruella de Vil, Hell Hall is where the captured puppies are held.

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
The living room is the warmest room in the house, so the puppies all congregate in there. The Baddun brothers are too skint to replace the lightbulbs, so it's also the only room with any light at nighttime — that emanating from the television and the fireplace.

The Kauri Museum, August 2011
In this book, Cruella de Vil's depth of [questionable] character is revealed, including her pyromaniac glee at watching a bakery burn.

Our girls were especially satisfied by the ending. The dogs extract revenge on the de Vils that puts them out of business so they flee the country (and their debts). And then then hideous Hell Hall is bought for a bargain by the Dearlys and turned into something good!

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
Before they arrive safely home, the puppies are invited into Cruella de Vil's home by her Persian cat and destroy the de Vils' entire fur collection.

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
In a lovely redemption, Mr and Mrs Dearly buy Hell Hall, paint it white and turn it into a beautiful home for their dynasty of Dalmations.

This is the first chapter book that — when we’ve finished — the girls have requested that we immediately re-read it. Aisha said to me, “I can’t stop thinking about it!” There are so many good vignettes in this book, such a richness of narrative that it deserves to be kept in-print with the original illustrations, untainted by Disney.

Forget the Disney versions… read this book and introduce the true story of 97 adorable puppies, 3 lovely dogs and 1 mystery dog to your children! Copies of the book are available on the Book Depository, but you may need to search harder for a copy with the original Graham Johnstone illustrations (or not but try both spellings — “dalmations” and “dalmatians”) .