In 1956, British novelist Dodie Smith wrote One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the beloved children’s book that Disney has now adapted into several animated and live-action projects. The original 1961 animated movie sticks pretty close to Smith’s story, telling the tale of a family of Dalmatians who rescue even more Dalmatians from the clutches of Cruella de Vil. There are a few changes. For example, Cruella has a husband, and a pet cat who come into the plot. But for the most part, it’s the same story.
In 1967, Smith published a sequel that picks up where 101 Dalmatians left off and if you’re not sitting down, it’s time. As recently highlighted by religion reporter Bob Smietana on Twitter, the plot is almost too wild to not be immediately and ravenously consumed.
It’s called The Starlight Barking, and it’s a cosmic adventure across time and space involving a supernatural plague, intergalactic canine gods, the threat of nuclear holocaust and existential ruminations on love and humanity, all starring our pals Pongo and Perdita from One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Mystified? We haven’t even gotten started. We’ll summarize the plot here as best we can so beware of spoilers for a 50 year old book from here on out, although you’re probably better off treating this as a fair warning before you read the actual book, which you should definitely do.
The plot kicks off one morning when our Dalmatian pals wake up to find their human owners and every other non-dog creature on earth trapped in a non-responsive slumber. Moreover, all dogs seem to have woken up with super dog powers, including the ability to communicate with each other telepathically across huge distances. Our Dalmatian heroes all gather at Buckingham Palace where the Prime Minister’s dog has assumed power in his owner’s coma and attempt to strategize a solution.
Their first thought is that their old nemesis Cruella de Vil is behind all this (somehow?) and they send — this is all in the book, remember — a team of canine assassins to her home to take care of this problem with extreme prejudice. However, they find Cruella in the same state catatonic state as the rest of humanity. The dogs spare her life.
Every dog in the world then receives a telepathic message, instructing them to gather in open spaces in their communities by midnight. Our Dalmatian friends head to Trafalgar Square with the rest of England’s dogs where they meet Sirius the Lord of the Dog Star, who says he is lonely and offers every dog on earth the opportunity to join him in an intergalactic canine paradise. Sirius is gravely concerned about the threat of nuclear war (fair enough), and is giving earth’s dogs a chance to get while the getting’s good. If they agree to join him, the rest of the world will wake up with no memory of dogs ever existing on earth. No harm, no foul.
The earth dogs let Pongo make the call and he, after speaking with a few strays who don’t want to leave and miss out on the chance to find true love with a real human owner (awww), decides to reject Sirius’ offer. For Pongo, true paradise is found in loving and being loved by humans. Sirius sadly accepts the decision and returns everything to normal.
Except we can never be normal again, because now we know that One Hundred and One Dalmatians takes place in a cinematic universe with paranormal laws that make the Marvel movies look downright pedestrian in comparison.
Now, some of this makes sense. Like the rest of the world at the time, Smith was justifiably concerned about the threat of nuclear war. The world was also in the midst of a scifi and fantasy moment, so the departure from the original made sense on paper to many publishers. It did not, however make sense to Walt Disney, who’d expressed interest in adapting more of Smith’s work but unfortunately passed on The Starlight Barking, which is a true shame because can you imagine?