A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Clifford the Big Red Dog’d into Submission)

Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell


Clifford


“I’m Emily Elizabeth, and I have a dog. My dog is a big red dog.”


Joe’s Rating: 0.5/5 (Excrement)


Generally, veterinarians say that dogs typically live for anywhere from 8 to 16 years, with larger dogs usually living shorter lives than smaller dogs. Over 50 years since his conception, Clifford, our beloved big red dog, is somehow still around gracing us with his presence, and he has defied all of the odds imposed upon him by Mother Nature—transcended all possibilities of life for dogs everywhere, even.

How exactly has Clifford done this? The anthropomorphized dog, whose longevity may serve as a source of inspiration for the actual dog, is an absolute sell-out and seems to be little more than a figurehead for an underlying, profit-seeking, money-oriented operation. Allow me to elaborate a little.

It is one thing for a writer sincerely dedicated to the production of their own art to write a series of books for children with the hope that their stories and the characters within them will go on to inspire, excite, entertain and enlighten children with the publication and reading of each subsequent book (cf. the Harry Potter series, the Chronicles of Narnia series, et al.). However, much like the equally damnable and detestable Berenstain Bears series of children’s books, the Clifford books being written and published today are not even being produced by their original creators! As the authors of these books passed away, they entrusted others to continue their series for them, but what respectable author would allow their original brainchild of a series containing prolific characters to be taken over by some shmuck that they believed they could trust upon their death? Moreover, to what end? How is it that another person could even pretend to know that they had the slightest idea of what Bridwell or the Berenstain couple had envisioned for their series, regardless of how close the new author’s relationship was toward the original author? I believe that the natural attachment of the artist to their work is one reason they would allow another to (hopefully) help it survive in perpetuity, and the extreme financial success as well as the immense fame surrounding both of these series attest to two very clear reasons why a new author would readily agree to continue these series on behalf of their predecessors.

Upon a quick Google search, since the publication of the first Clifford book in 1963, 79 others have been defecated into existence mass-produced published by Bridwell. Okay, whatever, I can live with that. Not surprisingly, Clifford’s likeness has also been fashioned into a variety of stuffed animals (as of 8/29/16 you can purchase a 30 inch long Clifford the Big Red Dog cuddle plush toy online for the convenient price of $156.00). In addition, more items for sale include apparel and accessories, arts and crafts supplies—sure, that’s all fine—but come on, home and garden supplies?! Clifford, the Big Red Dog, as many millennials like myself know, was also made into a short-lived animated television series (might I add that Clifford, along with Caillou, is one of the biggest numbskulls of a character to ever grace the PBS station? Let’s save a discussion of the dunce Caillou’s idiocy for another time, though). A Clifford live-action film was even announced, and fortunately, it hasn’t hit theaters yet.

I believe that Bridwell knew exactly what he was doing when selecting a dog to function as the title character of his series. Assuming that one isn’t allergic to dogs, has no irrational fear of them, and hasn’t been intimidated or attacked by them, the chances of a person having had a negative experience with them are infinitesimal. Dogs are delightful animals, and trust me, if I ever saw Emily Elizabeth walking Clifford, I’d probably give him a treat, rub his belly, and call him a “good boy.” The late Bridwell was well-versed in the Aristotelian modes of persuasion and/or passed his middle school English class, as he understood quite well that many of us, especially young children, are suckers for cute dogs like Clifford, and this is one of the reasons why the series is still prevalent today: cute dogs sell like nothing else. Let me digress though, as other children’s series such as the aforementioned Harry Potter series and Chronicles of Narnia series, though MUCH more likable, have sold out in their own right, and it would be in ill taste and futile to speculate about the intentions of Mr. Bridwell; let us discuss the text itself.

“We have fun together. We play games. I throw a stick, and he brings it back to me.”

Clifford, the Big Red Dog reads like a can of flat soda—no, like the noneffervescent and insipid dregs of a can of Natty Ice leftover from the huge house party two nights ago. While drinking diesel fuel may be a more enjoyable task than reading the book, it is certainly not as laughable of an endeavor; I could not stop guffawing and scratching my head at how exactly it was that this piece of tripe could be published.

“We play hide-and-seek. I’m a good hide-and-seek player. I can find Clifford, no matter where he hides.”

Get it? It’s because he’s a big red dog! The forms of humor implemented within this children’s book are more heavy-handed than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing, with much less finesse and far less enjoyment involved.

One could argue that the illustrations of the book are what do it justice, but if not complemented by fine writing, how could we ever call this book anything more than pablum? I usually find a lot of beauty in simplicity, but the excessive simplicity of the prose in Clifford, the Big Red Dog is utterly and unbearably dull.

“It’s not easy to keep Clifford. He eats and drinks a lot.”

See Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria for his marvelous and famous concept of a “willing suspension of disbelief” with regard to literature, but how about just this once we willingly suspend our belief? The idea of keeping a dog like Clifford is absolutely asinine. If Clifford is the size of your typical house—let us assume 20 feet or so—how many bags of dog chow is this dog likely to consume in a day, let alone in a meal? If Clifford was living in California in 2016, during the worst drought period in this area in roughly a half of a millenium, how much water would Clifford consume in a day? How much would it cost to have Clifford’s enormous doghouse constructed? Don’t get me started on the unfathomable cost of the Super Duper Pooper Scooper required to clean up after Clifford, as well as on the cost of the machinery required to lift said Super Duper Pooper Scooper containing Clifford’s gigantic poop; I commend the human who could single-handedly curb Clifford’s enormous turds and carry them to the nearest trash receptacle. Having the ability to keep Clifford in your possession is certainly a privilege afforded only by the elite. Given the illustrations of the book, Clifford is also quite clumsy and dim-witted, fetching a police officer and his baton instead of the stick Emily Elizabeth had thrown to him, chewing on a giant replica shoe adorning the façade of a shoe store, and more. Let alone the monetary and environmental burden of keeping Clifford in your home, his actions and blatant disregard for the law continually take him a step closer toward the pound and euthanasia, and it’s about time that the ever-patient, never-strict Emily Elizabeth and her family saddle up and take the necessary measures to ensure Clifford’s freedom and peaceful coexistence with those living in his neighborhood before all of the time and money spent on maintaining and loving Clifford go to waste. Clifford’s family cannot neglect the astronomical costs of hiring a good dog lawyer nowadays. Let’s hope that over the course of the next 79 Clifford books he straightens up his act.

“I don’t care. You can keep all your small dogs. You can keep all your black, white, brown, and spotted dogs. I’ll keep Clifford….Wouldn’t you?”

Granted, I read this book for the first time as an adult. If I had read this as a young child, would I have liked it? Possibly, but if I had read it again as an adult, I speculate that the only thing I would have gotten out of it would have been nostalgic pleasure and nothing more. I speak from the perspective of an adult, but I think the idea of loving something—a big red dog, for instance—despite its imperfections is a totally rudimentary idea that should be inculcated within a child at a very young age, BEFORE they read Clifford, the Big Red Dog—that’s just me, though; we still do encounter many adults in this world who don’t realize that imperfection is ubiquitous, and as a result they can’t take pleasure in many things. I think for a child just beginning to read, Clifford, the Big Red Dog is not the worst book you could choose for your child. I’m sure it could arouse a good laugh out of your children and help bring your family together for an evening, even if I would have to feign laughter or a smile for the sake of my own children’s merriment; that is something to appreciate in itself. If I ever have children, I’ll let them decide for themselves whether or not they like the book before I throw it out of their bedroom window without hesitation. Plus, Clifford is pretty darn cute; I can see the appeal. There’s a reason why he’s the mascot and posterchild of Scholastic: cute dogs sell like nothing else.

But the worst part about this book, you might ask, dear reader? This book could very well be the best in the series, which like many other series probably suffers heavily from sequel syndrome, although it does have 79 more opportunities to redeem itself, and admittedly, Clifford Goes to Washington does seem somewhat promising. I’ll have to suspend any definitive judgment of my own regarding the rest of the series until I read the other 79 books, which I may (or may not) get to in due time.

Perhaps I’m somewhat biased toward my own dog, as well.


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-J.S.T.

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