Department header
Bewildering Stories

Challenge 730 Response

The Priceless Barking Dog

with Dave Henson

In David Henson’s “Priceless,” what is the significance of the barking dog?

[Dave H.] My answer: For the fun of it and to help provide structure. The story “Priceless” makes progressive allusions to the nine circles in Dante’s Inferno as the main character makes his journey to Hell.

For example, Limbo (the first circle) and Lust (where sinners are being blown violently by strong winds) are alluded to near the beginning of the story. In the seventh circle (violence), profligates are being torn apart by dogs hence the reference to a barking dog. In the ninth circle, sinners are frozen in an icy lake. Remington ends up frozen also — most of him anyway.

[Don Webb] Thank you for the elucidation, Dave; it’s very helpful!

It occurred to me that the barking dog might be Cerberus (originally Kerberos), the hell-hound guarding Hades. It was a monster with multiple heads, usually three but sometimes more or, occasionally, two, depending on the storyteller. But Dante’s dog or dogs works just fine.

You’ve also summarized a strategy that other authors might use in composition: borrow a classic model and update it with modern characters.

The result need not be similar to updating Phaedra in the film with Melina Mercouri and Tony Perkins (1962). It’s more a matter of adapting the plot and characters. For example, one could take Jean Racine’s Andromaque as an outline of a story in which a whole slew of characters are in love, one with another, but none of the loves is requited. How might it play as a kind of “workplace drama” today: as a tragedy, a comedy or a tragi-comedy?

A modern adaptation could depict Phaedra as wanton or merely indifferent to the consequences of her actions. However, in Racine’s Phèdre, she’s well aware that she’s been cursed — let’s not get into the mythological politics — to lust after her stepson, Hippolyte. The result is a struggle between desire and moral obligation.

In “Priceless,” Remington Kincaid III is an emotional sadist. The description of his social status raises questions: Is he a product of his environment? If so, how? Or is he “cursed,” i.e. a psychopath governed by a neurological disorder? Answering those questions will determine the focus of the story.

One might say that history — including literary history — repeats itself, although never in the same words.

Copyright © 2017 by Dave Henson
and Bewildering Stories

Home Page