“Dog” by Bruce McAllister is a hellish horror story about a young American couple whose canine encounters in Mexico delve deep into Aztec mythology and leave them a souvenir they’ll never forget…
But on to the story!
I say this is a review but I think it’s really more of a look at the influences that I thought added some interesting depth to this chilling horror story. “Dog” by Bruce McAllister journeys with youthful and Western naivety through a dark mythology of Mexico. Set in the 1970s the young couple looking to explore new cultures is warned that they must be careful of the dogs, and later on in the story we make a terrible discovery as to why.
Guide dogs for the Dead
The story draws on fascinating myths of Aztec gods and natives – in particular describing a symbiotic relationship between the Chichimeca, a name applied to many tribes of nomadic peoples encountered by the Spanish arriving in Mexico in the 16th Century, and between Itzcuintli (or Xoloitzcuintli) a sacred dog, According to Aztec mythology the god Xolotl made this dog from a sliver of the Bone of Life from which all mankind was made. He was to be a gift to mankind to help guide Man through the world of Death (Mictlan) and on to heaven.
A sacred dog’s dinner
The symbiosis bit comes in, with the fact that because this dog was so sacred, dog meat would be served at important feasts. Not that you should judge another culture from another time with modern and foreign eyes, but I could never dream of eating my own dog. But belief is a powerful thing and the Aztecs believed that dog meat had healing properties.
In “Dog”, the mythology goes even further to suggest that the dogs, as emissaries of Xolotl, the god of death, didn’t just become chubby from being overfed to provide a good quantity of meat for human consumption, but also that their bellies became fat from eating the very humans that ate them, hence completing the cycle of life. The story uses this creepy idea really well, with unsettling canine encounters both real and symbolic in the form of folk crafted folk ceramic Colima dogs.
Is it worth the read?
Yes! Whilst I found some small aspects of the writing style not to my taste (I often find devices like rhetorical questions a bit superfluous, for example, but that’s OK), I found myself thinking about the story quite a bit afterwards, so it definitely left an impression on me.
I love hearing about all sorts of myths and ancient ways of making sense of the world, so if you do too, then the deathly dogs in this tale, just like the Hound of the Baskervilles or Cujo or Cerberus himself, will certainly scratch that itch.
Read it at Tor.com, see what you think and leave me a comment!
If you’re interested in Aztec & South American mythology,
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