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Publisher's Summary

Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, creates a lyrical and engrossing tale, a remarkable journey into the hearts and minds of two canine heroes, Snitter and Rowf.

After being horribly mistreated at a government animal-research facility, Snitter and Rowf escape into the isolation—and terror—of the wilderness. Aided only by a fox they call “the tod,” the two dogs must struggle to survive in their new environment. When the starving dogs attack some sheep, they are labeled ferocious man-eating monsters, setting off a great dog hunt that is later intensified by the fear that the dogs could be carriers of the bubonic plague.

©1977 Richard Adams (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Gripping…A compelling tale of emotional force and high suspense.” ( Wall Street Journal)

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Canine Spartacus and Fool in the Lake District?

A dog drowning in a tank full of water is pulled out by researchers just in time to be revived in order to undergo future such "experiments" to determine how long he can swim before drowning. After detachedly agreeing on the proper time at which to fish the dog out of the tank, Mr. Powell and his chief Dr. Boycott discuss a monkey who is to be indefinitely subjected to sensory deprivation in a cylinder. Business as usual at the Animal Research Scientific and Experimental (ARSE) complex situated in a national park in the Lake District in England in The Plague Dogs (1977) by Richard Adams.

The drowning dog, Rowf, regains consciousness in his pen when his neighbor, a fox terrier named Snitter, wakes him up by saying something like "Rowf? They've taken away all the rhododendrons and replaced them with maggots." Snitter has received experimental brain surgery, leaving him with a "rakish" bandage cap, periodic nightmarish fits, and the belief that either everything is happening inside his own head or that everything he imagines comes true in the world. Snitter is by turns a sensitive and thoughtful dog or a mad canine seer in the line of Lear's Fool. In the beginning of the novel, the dogs manage to escape from their pens and embark on a Dantean journey through the circles of hell, a series of experiment rooms populated by cats with covered ears and eyes, guinea pigs with amputated limbs, homing pigeons with damaged sensory organs and brains, mice who've been injected with the urine of potentially pregnant women, rats who've been given cancer and then dissected, and so on. (Many more horrible experiments are described later in the novel, and probably no single real world laboratory complex could perform all the experiments undertaken by ARSE, and for that matter no research institute would ever name itself ARSE, but all of the experiments mentioned in The Plague Dogs have been and or are being done to animals.) Much more than in Adams' Watership Down (1972), we are here in the fearsomely human-dominated world experienced by animals.

After Rowf and Snitter escape from ARSE, they struggle to survive among the farms, fells, tarns, and mountains of the Lake District. Should they try to find a good master like Snitter's recently deceased man? Should they go wild and live by a kill or be killed code? Or should they return to the "white coats" (researchers) like obedient dogs?

In addition to the unempathic white coats, Adams introduces a cast of human characters affected by the escape of the "plague dogs," an unethical investigative newspaper reporter, no-nonsense local farmers and shop keepers, and some self-serving politicians. None of them care about the dogs as fellow living beings. As Rowf repeatedly tells Snitter, "The world is a bad place for animals." The dogs want to believe that the world is like that due to some unknown human motivation, that men must have a good reason to "destroy the natural world and replace it with a wilderness" and to hurt so many animals. The novel depicts dogs (like most animals) as slaves or holocaust victims of humanity.

The Plague Dogs would be unbearably grim were it not for two balancing virtues, Adams' humor and varied style. The book is often very funny, even amid the grueling suspense of Rowf and Snitter's attempts to survive outside ARSE and the horrible experiments going on inside ARSE. And Adams writes in a variety of registers and styles for a variety of purposes, among them caustic satire (targeting scientific research, the media, and politicians), existential comedy, surreal madness, scatological humor, sublime natural beauty (especially of the Lake District), Lake District dialects, doggy songs and poetry, and allusions to literature by the likes of Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. Adams even pokes fun at himself when some naturalist animal experts debate the virtues of enthusiasts like Adams who over-anthropomorphize animals like rabbits (in Watership Down).

Snitter often utters a Fool-like patter like this: "Perhaps you're not out at all. You're drowned. We're dead. We haven't been born. There's a mouse—a mouse that sings—I'm bitten to the brains and it never stops raining—not in this eye anyway." And when excited, he may indulge in a cracked canine rap like this:

"The white coats dyed a mouse bright blue
And stuffed his ears with sneezing glue.
They shone a biscuit in his eye
To see what lay beyond the sky."

And he's often given to canine idiom, like this: "That remark's in very poor smell."

If Rowf and Snitter are too articulate for dogs, they have appealingly canine perspectives. They tend to think that every mysterious thing that happens is a result of some man doing something somewhere, from turning on a light in a lab room to cutting away pieces of the moon each night. They even tell tales of a benevolent Star Dog who created all the animals and then the world to give them a home and then made man to take care of the animals while He was away on other business and who cursed man with never being able to live in the moment after he began abusing his charges.

Ralph Cosham gives his usual unassuming and perfect reading of the novel, handling the northern dialects so smoothly that it's easier to listen to them than to read them, making his Rowf speak slightly deeper and his Snitter slightly higher, and generally enhancing the novel in all the right ways.

Adams's anger with animal experimentation burns through his satiric riffs and sarcastic asides. He pulls no punches about how awfully we treat animals. Proponents of experiments on animals for the supposed future benefits to science, humanity, and animals might feel defensive and resentful reading this novel, while opponents of such experiments might become enraged and nauseated. At times Adams lays it on too thickly, with a bit more sarcasm or satire than the truth requires, and some of the parts devoted to unpleasant people last a bit too long and repeat too much information. And I love and worry about Rowf and Snitter so much that I nearly thought about putting the book down when their plight becomes unbearable, but finally I am glad to have read this novel.

30 of 31 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen
  • Red Bluff, CA, United States
  • 05-08-14

Both a very sad and very happy experience

I owned this book, the paperback version for about 20 years and never read it. Now that I have listened to the story of these two dogs I'm happy I did. I love dogs and this truely is a dog lovers book. Highly recommend.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Hard to say which was better - Richard Adams' writing or Ralph Cosham's narration!
Just a brilliant tale. Heartbreaking but redemptive, this was the best listen of the year for me...
Mr. Cosham MUST be hired to narrate Shardik. Seriously, this must happen!

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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What disappointed you about The Plague Dogs?

Watership Down is my favorite book of all times. I was expecting something just as good and was very disappointed. The worst part for me was the narration. I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Something Science Fiction, or horror

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I didn't care for the narrator at all. Which is a shame because now I want to listed to Watership Down and I see he does the narration for that as well. It was very hard to follow and understand. Some of it due to the accents of the characters, but he also seems to drone on. It almost put me to sleep at times.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Anger at testing on animals (I'm very much against it), but it's an age old problem. Everyone hates testing on animals but if your mother were dying of some illness that could be cured by testing on a dog would you still be against it.........

Any additional comments?

I did enjoy the authors sarcastic remarks and similarities to how we as people are also "experimented" on.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A golden oldie

I had read this book many years ago and was enthralled anew by this audio version. It is beautifully written. Gives one much food for thought. I loved it

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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You must read to the end‼️ loved it♥️

Hard to listen to without wanting to cry. But so worth listing all the way to the end!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Love it

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Not as good as Watership Down

This book was originally published in 1977, in part to counteract the horrible animal experiments done in the name of progress at an infamous laboratory in England. The lab in the book is based on a real lab, Lawsen Park -- a converted farm, also known by the acronym ARSE (Animal Research, Scientific Aand Experimental), aka "Buttocks" (hehe).

The story is good but not great (grim and so sad at times, with tortured animals, mauled sheep, etc). Only one decent human character. A fairly promising ending, though.

Basically, this is the story of two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, who escape that torturous laboratory and flee across country. Starving, and terrified of "the white coats" they go feral. Become cynical. Bitter. A sly red fox (the tod) helps them for a while. Digby Diver, a journalist, exploits their suffering for a headline. He writes that they are carrying bubonic plague. Everyone hunts them. Snitter's kind owner looks for him.

Cosham's narration, while flawless, is difficult to understand at times, because the fox speaks in a dialect like cockney. Also, I didn't care for the rhyming passages. For me, this book is best read, rather than heard.

I do love Richard Adams. Watership Down is a big fave, superbly narrated by Ralph Cosham.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Watership Down, except with bitter, bitter satire

Where does The Plague Dogs rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I'd put it around the middle.

Who was your favorite character and why?

That's a tough one. All the characters contribute to the story in some way, but if I had to choose, it would be the tod. I do have some fondness for Digby Driver though, despite the fact that he's the pretty much the villain.

What about Ralph Cosham’s performance did you like?

He's OK. His reading wasn't anything special, but it was competent. I'd have no objection to listening to another one of his readings.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The "interaction" between Snitter and the hunter who tries to befriend him. Also, the scene where he tells the story of what happened to his first master. Poor doggie can't catch a break.

Any additional comments?

It's a lot like Watership Down when it follows the dogs, but it shifts to satire and black comedy when we follow the humans. There is a certain absurdity to this book. This is a world where a guy named "Dr. Boycott" does experiments on behalf of (A)nimal (R)esearch, (S)cientific and (E)xperimental. If you're in favor of animal experimentation, this might not be the book for you, as Adams can be quite bitter in his satire. However, it's made clear by the end that he's only against pointless and sadistic testing, as opposed to legitimate medical work.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Courtney
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 12-03-12

Editor fell asleep. Too much fluff!

The main story itself is really good and gripping. I wept for the dogs as the swam to the Isle of dogs, or when something bad happened to them or friends like 'The Todd'.

But it could have been a seven hour story not 15. The author really liked to go on tangents about something that didn't enhance the story at all; and if I wasn't so into what became of Rowf and Snitter I would have stopped listening entirely. There were points that I could only listen a half and hour at a time, because there was a flood over detail that had NOTHING to do with the story- like the editor fell asleep or something to that effect.

The main story on the other hand was REALLY good and when it was just about Rowf, Snitter, or the Todd. I could listen for hours because it was really well written and you really got into the minds of the animals.

But again you have to wade threw an hour(s) of...Fluff just to get to it.

Not to mention trying to understand what the reader was saying at times was hard. So trying to pay attention to the details that had nothing to do with the story was a real BORE, if not absolutely annoying.

Reader is Scottish, book is Scottish be warned. If you can't understand thick accents the book is not for you.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes and No. It's a good story, but it's not something you can listen to straight at work. You will have to put the book down ALOT. Also I wouldn't recommend reading it along with another book because of how detail heavy it is. So unless you have a few weeks set aside to pause alot I wouldn't recommend it.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short

Would you be willing to try another book from Richard Adams? Why or why not?

Yes! Because of this and "Watership Down"

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Only if the dogs did carry an engineered plague.

Any additional comments?

I did not finish this book.

This review takes its title from a quote by Thomas Hobbes. He was talking about man, but it is my belief this quote totally applies to this book's 2 protagonists.

I enjoyed it up to a point, but about 75% of the way through it I had to put it away because I knew the ending was never going to be a happy one. No, I don't always need a happy ending, but their lives had been so bitter, so awful that I felt the need for respite. Humans do not come off well in this book, though probably realistic.

I kept thinking, "I wish they did have a plague, and that they were spreading it all over Britain. All these horrible people deserve it, and at least their short, bitter lives would have been avenged." Alas that Richard Adams didn't go that far.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Ben
  • 03-21-12

Heart Wrenching and Powerful

The Plague Dogs as a title seemed hardly to sum up this compelling novel until perhaps three quarters of the way through. A more fitting label may have been 'The Scars of Man' or something similar. For this is a tale of canine heroism, survival, mistrust, sadness, loss, hope, despair, longing and at its base; human cruelty.

It is deeply depressing in places and uplifting in others. It is a more powerful book than Watership Down in my view. It explores the world of cruelty by human hands and the desperate necessity to stay alive. It also explores the affinity dogs have for man and occasionally, vice versa.

I am not a sentimental person particularly but the constant confusion shared by Rawf and Snitter (especially by the latter) over their predicament and their inability to explain to themselves why some people are so cruel and misunderstanding, is a continuous, unrelenting and thoroughly effecting tug of the heartstrings.

If you have a dog, you may well feel inclined to give it a cuddle, every chapter or so.

Ben Waddams

3 of 3 people found this review helpful