Favorite Fictional Characters, #70: Dougal McDonegal
Last night I finished reading aloud to my boys the book Junket: The Dog Who Liked Everything Just So, written in 1955 by Anne H. White and perfectly illustrated by New England icon Robert McCloskey. It is the first "real" book I remember reading on my own, and then over and over again throughout my own childhood, and therefore it holds a great deal of nostalgia for me.
It is a delightful, breezy tale about a family that moves to a farm in the country, and encounters the titular Junket, a personable and fixated airedale. Under the previous residents, the Jellicots, he enjoyed the company of various other animals including chickens, cats, a pig, a cow, and a pony. The new family, however, the McDonegals, bring with them the edict of patriarch Dougal McDonegal: absolutely no animals. Mr, McDonegal is a fussy, fastidious man with no patience for things that are unpredictable and possibly dangerous, such as, in his view, farm animals, and sees no benefit to human-animal association for his three children. Naturally, the plot of the book centers on how Junket and the McDonegal children overcome their father's objections and repopulate the farm with all manner of livestock.
There's so much I adore about Mr. McDonegal, not least of all that he bought a farm with no intention of owning animals. He wears a bowtie when he gardens. He stocks his comfortable library with beloved books he refers to - in all seriousness - as his Fine Old Fellows, behind which he hides a variety of snacks from his wife and children. His wife, by the way, is a fascinating character in her own right - an absent-minded artist who is hopeless in the kitchen and seems to have little in common with her husband, and yet the two clearly have a strong and loving relationship.
The central event of the book is Mr. McDonegal's change of heart. This process is depicted so engagingly that it has always remained with me as my first exposure to the once-unthinkable possibility that adults could be wrong - and that they could change their mind. Despite his flaws, Mr. McDonegal treats his children with a fundamental respect, and fully admits his mistake. There's a lot many of us could learn from that example.