Monday, 25 January 2016

Zanoza, a Borzoi Story by Ralph G. Kirk (1920)

If only a little while ago I complained about Philip Verrill Mighels being hard to find information on, Ralph G. Kirk is a near complete enigma.

There is no information on the man whatsoever apart from his date of birth and death (1881 & 1960) and a listing of stories he published in various magazines over thirty years. Two of these stories, Malloy Campeador and United States Flavor were made into films, though they appear to be melodramas, while the title of another, A Poem as Lovely as a Blast Furnace, at least has an amusing title. Kirk also seems to have had a thing for dogs, as he published at least 5 stories dealing with dogs, two of them as novels before they were collected together in his 1923 "Six Breeds" collection.

This was also the last time the chief item of interest today, Zanoza, saw a reprint, being originally published three years prior.

The book is odd to say the least. The first part deals, in very great detail, with a legendary hunting-dog-aided wolf hunt taking place in 19th-Early 20th century Russia. It's chief point of interest for the story as a whole is that, right at the conclusion of the hunt, a bitch named Zanoza gives birth to a pup who inherits the same name.

Then all of a sudden the book switches time period, location and the person in which the story is told, so suddenly in fact it's bound to give you whiplash. The setting itself is infinitely less interesting then the snowy expanses of Russia that Kirk managed to evoke very well without very many words, and the now first-person narrator never really bothers to introduce himself. In fact the whole thing is written as if we're supposed to know many of these things already, as if this was a sequel to something. Zanoza, for instance, is reffered to at almost the very end of the novel as the granddaughter of another bitch bearing the name Zanoza, and the narrator reffers to her cunning, but it's the first time the author even mentions the existence of this particular dog, as I don't believe she ever comes up in the first part, in fact within the first section of the book Zanoza II doesn't really have that much to do with the plot either.

The reader is unsettled by the sudden lack of interesting things happening, as well as the author's excessively keen interest in the poetic beauty of dogs, which Kirk writes about in such detail in this story that I was a little worried.  Only a sudden mention of the narrator's obsession with werewolf mythology even hints at anything fantastical maybe happening, and distracts us from questioning the inner workings of Kirk's mind.

To sum up the plot of Part II: The narrator, who has just had a baby child, and is the owner of Zanoza III, is visited by a strangely smelling man called Doctor Lupus. He shows up for no other reason then a social visit, arranged by a mutual friend, but mid-coversation a messenger boy comes about and hands the narrator, who has yet to change out of his bathrobe, a note from said friend who apparently assumes this may be a wereworlf and so he assumes the narrator can deal with him, somehow.

Then Doctor Lupus, for no real reason, turns into a wolf, steals the narrator's infant child and leads him and Zanoza on a mad car chase, (wherein the werewolf is driving a car) that ends with him splattered on the ground and strangled by the narrator. After a distressing discovery, he returns home with heavy heart, but finds out that everything he experienced was just a dream. And while this is a cliché, it certainly explains the weird logic which characters follow in the story, as in the content of the note, or why Doctor Lupus even showed up, or in fact the very being of a Doctor Lupus who is also a werewolf. It's a sort of strange non-logic one oftentimes finds in dreams, and one I've experienced myself.

I believe the most fitting way to summarise the story is to note that it is, in fact, not Lupus.

No I could not resist.

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