by Henry Jenkins

"Nostalgia is a sadness without an object, a sadness which creates a longing that of necessity is in authentic because it does not take part in lived experience. Rather, it remains behind and before that experience. Nostalgia, like any form of narrative, is always ideological: the past it seeks has never existed except as narrative, and hence, always absent, that past continually threatens to reproduce itself as a felt lack."
--Susan Stewart, On Longing (1993)

"His mother had asked him to forget about Lassie but he could not. He could pretend to and he could stop talking about her. But in his mind Lassie would always go on living....He would sit at his desk at school and dream of her. He would think that perhaps some day -- some day -- like a dream come true, he would come out of school and there she would be, sitting at the gate."
--Eric Knight, Lassie Come-Home (1940)

1954. A television legend debuts. Jeff Miller, a simple farm boy, squirms in his suit and tie, as he listens to the reading of a neighbor's will. The bored boy is overjoyed when he learns that he is to receive "the best thing," a collie named Lassie. However, Lassie refuses to leave the house where she has lived since she was a puppy. When Jeff takes her away by force, she escapes and runs back "home." As "Gramps" explains, "The Lord made animals free just like human beings and you can't force them to love you."

Actually, Lassie is protecting the old man's savings from the untrustworthy handy-man. She fights fiercely when he tries to steal the money; Jeff brings help, capturing the crook. Then, at last, Lassie consents to live with Jeff and obey his commands. "She's my dog now, isn't she, Gramps?," Jeff enthuses, and "Gramps" confirms his rightful ownership, "Yes-- She's all yours now. She's done her deciding." Thus begins Lassie, the longest running children's series in American television history.

In "Inheritance," the series pilot, the issue of Lassie's legal and economic ownership is settled quickly. No one contests the old man's will. However, the issue of the animal's moral allegiance lingers. "Inheritance" must assess both the worth of the dog (which another boy discounts, "Who wants an old she-dog? All they do is have pups!") and the worth of its potential owner (which is proven through patience, love, and courage). Lassie ascribes a moral intelligence to the collie -- she can divine human motives and character. Both the handy man's criminality and Jeff's virtues are instantly legible to Lassie. She faithfully repays her old master before doing her "deciding."

The episode's core images -- the dog who remains loyal beyond her owner's death, who comes home even when she is given away, and who rewards the virtuous and punishes the corrupt -- reflect a larger history, the sentimentalization of dogs in the previous century. In the late 19th century, the bourgeois imagination created a mythic image of canine fidelity, compatible with prevailing romanticist tendencies. Many -experienced the onset of modernity with a sense of nostalgic loss. Old social commitments were breaking down and the organic ties of traditional communities were giving way to alienated and individualistic urban life. However, no matter what else changed, you could count on "man's best friend." Dogs' loyalty to their masters stood in stark contrast to the perceived breakdown of social ties between their human owners. As social historian Kathleen Kete notes, many of these idealistic images of canine fidelity had entered children's stories by the twentieth century-. Yet, Kete does not address what these images might mean in the context of children's fiction, where the fidelity of the dog spills over into and gives new life to widely-circulating myths about childhood innocence. To address that question opens up the whole issue of children's fiction, its relation to adult needs, its mythic construction of the child, and its ties to nostalgic longing.

Lassie stands at the nexus of two central ideological reconceptualizations, both of which occurred during the late 19th century: the first centered around the sentimentalization of the dog, the transformation of dogs from domesticated animals (whose value resided in their productive labor or exchange price) into "pets" (whose value was primarily sentimental); the second centered around the "sacralization" of the child, the displacement of children as sources of economic revenue and productive labor and the need to create a compensatory affective value. Probably the most popular in a whole series of dog books written in the twentieth century and aimed primarily at consumption by children, Lassie Come Home represented a systematic exploration of human affective investments in and sentimental attachments to dogs. These issues cling to Lassie as she travels across different media and is re-groomed to changing tastes.

This essay will investigate the sentimental and symbolic value of Lassie as a "popular hero" of literature, film, and television. As she roams, Lassie gets entangled within contemporary discourses about class, gender, nationalism, modernity, and childhood. First, I will identify the issues of ownership and emotional bonds which structure Eric Knight's book and later, I will look more closely at some key turning points within the television series, involving the exchange of Lassie (starting with the 1954 pilot episode and moving through the 1964 shift from Timmy to Ranger Stuart). Since undying fidelity defines the ideal pet, these negotiations of ownership constitute potential crisis points where viewer loyalties must also be transferred between series protagonists. In each case, melodramatic devices insure a smooth transition, yet potential ideological problems surface threatening the long-term stability of Lassie's "family values." This essay is, first and foremost, an investigation of the process of nostalgic longing and sentimental investment, of the ways children and dogs become vehicles for the hopes and fears of human adults.
Like most children's works, Lassie seems to exist outside of any historical context (history being a grown-up concern) and "innocent" of all but the most blatant ideological content (the morals at the end of the stories speak all the truths.) Lassie appears in our minds in broadly-drawn images, like the pages of a coloring book: the mother in the kitchen and the father in the tool shed; Timmy and Lassie romping across the open countryside; the dog rescuing an injured camper or mothering a lost fawn; the collie winning a blue ribbon at the country fair; a tearful boy clutching Lassie's white mane. We preserve childhood as a utopian space free from adult concerns and controversies, a period of naive idealism and trust betrayed by the adult world. We are too cynical to embrace those feelings once again, yet our need to hold onto them is too urgent and so, we treat children's fictions as banal and meaningless. This essay represents an attempt to cut through our foggy cultural myth of "childhood innocence" in order to reconstruct the historical contexts shaping the popular circulation and consumption of Lassie, a series I take to be central both to our cultural understanding of the dog and to the post-war construction of American boyhood.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most significant meanings to be found in children's fictions are adult anxieties about our children's world and adult fantasies about how children (and dogs) may become vehicles for social transformation and personal redemption. What James Kinkaid has said of the child holds for dogs as well: "The child carries for us things we somehow cannot carry for ourselves, sometimes anxieties we want to be divorced from and sometimes pleasures so great we would not, without the child, know how to contain them." In the adult symbolic order, dogs and children are primarily beasts of burden, who are assumed powerless to speak for themselves. The muteness of dogs and the inarticulateness of children are mysteries the adult imagination seeks to penetrate -- part of their charm, part of their fascination. To serve adult purposes, the innocence of children and the intelligence and fidelity of dogs have been fetishized, endowed with a broad range of connotative associations and meanings. Both dogs and children are assumed to be supra- or non-human: the child's innocence pulls it away from and the dog's intelligence pulls it towards the adult realm, yet both remain outside. They exist in a state of nature, or so the mythology goes, so that the meanings that seem to originate from within them are pre-social and pre-ideological. The communication between children and dogs is immediate, concrete, and closed to grown-ups. Ideology gets naturalized through its association with children and dogs, and as such, they remain our most powerful symbols for speaking about what is most "precious," "pure," and "valuable" in the face of modernity and change.


1940. The opening of Eric Knight's children's novel, Lassie Come-Home is preoccupied with Lassie's value. In a dog-centered Yorkshire culture where, Knight tells us, "the dogs [are] rich-coated and as sturdy as the people who live there," Lassie is universally admired: "Every man in the village agreed that she was the finest collie he had ever laid eyes on." Her value lies in her physical beauty, her intelligence and good habits ("You can set your clock by her") and most importantly, her symbolic function. In a period of economic hardship, Lassie's owners have refused to sell her, even when offered lordly sums, and so Lassie "represented some sort of pride that money had not been able to take away from them." [p.4] Her economic value (as an "expensive" animal) has been translated into sentimental and symbolic worth (as a "priceless" animal).

This tension between dog's economic and sentimental value can be traced back to what Kete describes as "the embourgeoise-ment of the beast" in the 19th century. By mid-cent-ur-y, dogs were understood as falling into two broad categories -- the workdogs owned by the lower class and the show dogs or lap dogs owned by the wealthy. French tax policy sought to draw a distinction between "useful" and "useless" dogs and by so doing, restrict dog ownership to those who either depended upon them for their economic livelihood (work dogs) or could afford a pet's expenses (pets). Work animals suffered little taxation, while pets were taxed as luxuries. Dogs were viewed as pets if they roamed freely in the home, accompanied the master on walks, or played with children. However, pet ownership was expanding from an upper-class phenomenon to an activity of ordinary citizens, and with it, the ideologies surrounding human attachments to animals. The bourgeois pet-keepers claimed that the dog's emotional support and physical protection were essential aspects of modern life. In this context, myths circulated about dog's fidelity to man- which exceeded all reason or human understanding.

Especially popular were stories about dogs who traveled tremendous distances to be rejoined with their human owners. Victor Hugo, for example, wrote of a beloved dog which, in a moment of bad judgement, he gave to a Russian count; astonishingly, the dog found his way from Moscow to Paris. Such stories formed the foundation for Lassie Come-Home, which similarly deals with a dog's incredible journey. Such stories privilege the emotional relations between humans and their pets over economic exchanges that threaten to severe those bonds. The dog becomes a moral arbiter of all exchanges, instinctively negating deals which unjustly break its moral allegiances. Against both economic arrangements and natural barriers, the dog returns home to redeem its master.

Knight's decision to make Lassie a collie seems ideally suited for exploring competing bids on a dog's worth. Collies were almost totally unknown in the United States at the time that Knight first wrote the book, which was dedicated to Dr. Harry Jarrett, the American veterinarian who sought to introduce the breed-. For Knight, the choice of the collie evoked nostalgia for the Yorkshire country of his youth, where these gentle-natured dogs are more common. Susan M. Brown, "Foreword: A Charismatic Collie and Her Fifty-Year Influence," in Lassie: A Collie and Her Influence (St. Louis: The Dog Museum, 1993), p.4. The collie enjoyed a dual status in British culture: on the one hand, the breed was a favorite of Queen Victoria, closely associated with the aristocracy and highly valued as a show dog among breeders; on the other hand, the collie was an excellent work dog, especially good at herding. Knight plays with this contradiction between the collie's aristocratic and common associations:

You can go into any one of the hundreds of small mining villages in this largest of England's counties, and see, walking at the heels of humbly clad workmen, dogs of such a fine breed and aristocratic bearing as to arouse the envy of the wealthier dog fanciers from other parts of the world. [p.1]

Knight speaks of the "suffering aristocratic majesty" [p.34]-- -- of Lassie in captivity; characters affectionately refer to her as "Her Majesty" [p. 157] and "Herself" [p.146] At the same time, her ties to working class culture are never in doubt. As she moves across the British countryside, she forms bonds and affections almost exclusively with the poor -- with an elderly farm couple still mourning the war-time loss of their son, with a traveling busker eking out a meager living, and most powerfully, with the Carra-cloughs, a poor mining family momentarily on the dole.

Yet, interestingly, -Knight tells us nothing of collies' economic functions. Sam Carraclough is a miner, not a herdsman, and so the collie contributes nothing to his livelihood. Rather, the dog is experienced as an expense, increasingly difficult to justify in hard times. As Knight writes, "the poor man sits and thinks about how much coal he will need that winter, and how many pairs of shoes will be necessary, and how much food his children ought to have to keep them sturdy." [p.3] There is no difference, he claims, between the love rich men and poor men bestow on their dogs. Yet, he seems to suggest something quite different: that dogs, for the rich, are often things which can be bought and bargained over, while dogs for the poor are creatures who must be loved and sacrificed.

By the second chapter, despite Sam's reluctance, the dog has been sold to the Duke of Rudling to become a prize showdog. The sale sets off a contest between the intense emotional and moral bonds that link Lassie to the Carracloughs and the Duke's legal right to possess the dog as the object of an economic exchange. Sam possesses a rock-hard morality and sees the economic transaction as irreversible: "No matter how many words tha says, tha can't alter that she's sold, and we've taken the Duke's brass and spent it, and now she belongs to him." [p.52] Yet, in Knight's world, the ownership of a dog is a moral contract, which, once violated, must be set right no matter what the cost. And, so the book tells us the story of Lassie's many attempts to escape from the Duke and to return home, including a torturous thousand-mile journey from the lord's Scottish estate back to her family in Yorkshire.

The book plays with the double-meanings attached to the phrase, "come-home dogs." Early in the book, Hymes, the Duke's unpleasant and shiftless kennel-keeper, accuses the Carracloughs of training their dog to escape and "come home" so that she can be sold more than once. By the book's conclusion, Joe, the boy, praises Lassie as a "come-home dog," because she has suffered and endured endless hardship to "come home" to the people she loves and who love her. The contradiction resolves itself when the Duke concedes her to her original owners, hires Carraclough to run his kennels and invites them to come live on his estate. As the Duke explains to his granddaughter, "For five years I've sworn I'd have that dog. And now I've got her. But I had to buy the man to get her." [p.192]

Lassie's incredible journey has temporarily resolved the book's core class conflict, reconciling the competing claims made for her possession. Joe reads this social transformation in the most utopian of terms, "When she [Lassie] had been home, things had been right. When she was sold and gone, nothing h-ad gone right any more. And now that she was back, everything was fine again, and they were all very happy." [p.197] Many readers, and some critics, take Joe's thoughts at face value -- as the moral of the tale, as a celebration of a child's simple faith and the redemptive power of dogs.

Certainly, the book's sentimental ending is all of this, yet such a reading is profoundly reductive. At the time he wrote Lassie Comes Home, first as a short story for Saturday Evening Post and later, expanded into a novel, Knight was known primarily as a journalist and as the writer of adult novels. Like his close friend, documentary filmmaker Paul Rotha, Knight was interested in documenting the economic conditions and personal hardship faced by working class Britain. In his "local color" novels, Invitation to Life, Song on Your Bugles, The Happy Land and This Above All, Knight wrote with nostalgia and remorse about the decline of the world of his boyhood and about the problems confronting small English village life in the modern era; he described British workers as having "lost their pride....-their dignity of being through the industrial paralysis, the narcotic of the dole, the meaningless slavery of the labor camps, the dunderheaded stubbornness of the middle class, the inertia of the leaders." Contemporary critics compared his novels to Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley and J.M. Barrie's The Little Minister. Like Llewellyn and Barrie, Knight hoped that his sentimental realism would awaken public consciousness about the decline of traditional British culture. In creating Lassie Come Home, Knight was aware that he was writing a children's book, yet at the same time, he hoped that Lassie might also further social reform. Lassie was, he wrote to Rotha, less about a dog than about the "tremendous economic problem" which forces the family to sell her. Here, Knight translates the consequences of this social and economic crisis into the image of a child's trust betrayed and a dog's loyalty violated.

His linkage of those two sentimental icons -- the boy and the dog -- was no accident. As Kete's discussion of the French tax codes suggests, the interactions between dogs and children helped to define the legal status of canines as domestic "pets." Moreover, the period between the 1870s and the 1930s had witnessed what historian Viviana A. Zelizer describes as the "Sacralization" of childhood. Zelizer investigates the changing economic and emotional "value" of children through close examination of debates about child labor, issues surrounding the insurance and funeral expenses for children, and a variety of other everyday economic transactions which shaped family life during this key transitional period. --The birth of a child in 19th century America was greeted as an expansion of the family's earning power. Reflecting middle class security from immediate want, a new conception of the child, based on sentimental rather than economic value, gained popular circulation by century's end. The "priceless" bourgeois child was to be protected from the harsh realities of the adult work world. Middle class reformers sought to impose this new conception of the child as "innocent," "pure" and "dependent" upon the larger society, passing laws restricting child labor or regulating child abuse. This economic and legal transformation coincided with medical breakthroughs which insured that a higher proportion of the children born would live into adulthood; the primary focus of concern shifted from disease and other health risks to concerns for children's mental and emotional well-being. The result was a greater affective investment in the individual child. The expenses of raising a child needed to be rationalized in terms of the affective rewards of parentin-g, not in terms of the child's potential economic contribution to the family's welfare.

The figure of the innocent child quickly became a vehicle for social criticism against the corrupting influences of the modern world. The desire to separate children from the adult sphere highlighted the "vicious, materialistic and immoral qualities of American society." Mary Lynn Stevens Heininger's examination of representations of children in literature, art and material culture confirms Zelizer's arguments, seeing fictional children as speaking both to popular pessimism about the present and to utopian hopes for the future. On the one hand, popular representations posed children as "soft and smiling foils to a more grim and grownup reality." They were pure victims of contemporary social ills. On the other hand, as Heininger notes, the notion of the "pristine" child embodied a utopian fantasy of renewal and rebirth. The child came to represent the modern era's hopes for the future.

The dual mythic functions of "childhood innocence" can be linked to the two different children in Lassie Come Home: Joe, the poor boy who is so beloved by Lassie, and Priscilla, the Duke's much-prized granddaughter. Joe is almost suprahumanly innocent, naive about the harsh economic realities his family confronts, unable to understand the sacrifices his parents have already made, and eternally optimistic that the dog will find its way home. The violation of his blind trust seems almost too painful to bear. Knight allows the child-reader to recognize the signs of poverty (the father reaching for a pipe he can no longer fill with tobacco, the mother cutting back on sugar or bursting into tears when Joe asks about meat) and thus, to confront the painful truths Joe is never forced to face. Priscilla, on the other hand, seems suprahumanly precocious, the only upper class character who fully grasps the Carraclough's love for Lassie. Her understanding comes from a recognition of common emotional experience, while Hymes maintains a profound distrust of the working class and her grandfather simply relishes the shrewd bargain. Priscilla prods and probes the adults, ultimately forcing them to recognize human costs and consequences. Priscilla aids Lassie in escaping from her grandfather's estate, rejoices when she is returned to her rightful owner, and coaxes her grandfather into hiring Sam. Priscilla embodies the innocent child as the hope for the future.

In a children's book more in keeping with the American ideology of a "classless" society, we might picture a romance between the poor boy and the rich girl. However, Knight is too much a realist (and too British) to tolerate such imagery, merely suggesting their friendship at the end. Both Joe and Priscilla beam with pride as Lassie nurses a litter of pups, the competing interests of the working and ruling classes reconciled through this classic rebirth image. Strikingly, Lassie's birth represents an immaculate conception, as if the pups were conceived through the combined faith and goodness of the two children. No father is ever mentioned, despite the book's ongoing preoccupation with issues of breeding. Lassie is a pure maternal force, outside of brute barnyard reproduction. Part of the construction of childhood innocence, after all, involves the denial of children both sexuality and sexual knowledge.

However, sexual anxieties surface earlier in the book, when Lassie must fight against a pack of mongrel farm dogs. The purity and superiority of Lassie's "Blood" gives her an intelligence and authority the mutts must ultimately respect:

Lassie had something that the others had not. She had blood. She was a pure-bred dog, and behind her were long generations of the proudest and the best of her kind.... Where the mongrel dog will whine and slink away, the pure-bred will still stand with uncomplaining fearlessness. [p.104]

As Harriet Ritvo has noted, the elaborate set of breed classifications, which emerged in the Victorian dog show culture, became a way of managing and making sense of other problems of race and class distinctions. Middle-class dog owners could claim status through their ownership of pedigreed animals, even if they were locked out of the bloodlines of human aristocracy, while hybrids, halfbreds, and mongrels were seen as debased and potentially dangerous, often standing in for the lower classes in popular discourse about dogs.

Knight consistently makes claims about the traits (sometimes physical, sometimes intellectual or moral) which separate Lassie as a purebred collie from other breeds:

For collies do not rush and hold. Their way of fighting is not like that of the bulldog; nor like that of the terrier which dodges and worries and shakes. [p.103]

Lassie had lain still, like a captive queen among lesser prisoners....She did not drop this air of dignity even when the grilled backdrop of the van was opened. The other dogs of mixed breeds yelped anew and darted about. [p.116]

Such distinctions closely parallel the language he uses to speak of class and regional differences within human characters:

Joe had in him the blood of men who might think slowly and stick to old ideas and bear trouble patiently -- but who do not run away. [p.182]

In such passages, stereotypical differences between unreliable cockneys, "hard-headed Scots," and "slow-thinking" but honest Yorkshire men assume the same status as "natural facts" as the breed distinctions between collies, bulldogs, and terriers. The two sets of classifications work side by side to create a legible moral universe. At the same time, they rigidify class and national boundaries. A working class man can no more become an aristocrat than a collie can become a bulldog, or indeed, than a mongrel can hold its own against a pure-bred.

When Lassie confronts the mongrel pack, she stands threatened by animals who are not of her kind, who come from the lower orders, who possess an impure "blood" (all the worse since these animals were of collie descent.) With all of this emphasis upon the purity of blood, these animals bring with them a threat of rape and miscegenation, a besmirching of Lassie's bloodlines. No wonder Knight describes the scene with such melodramatic excess, the virginal Lassie standing her ground, learning how to fight, and finally forcing the curs to submit. Within this discourse of bloodlines, the stakes are extraordinarily high, having to do with what British sources called telegony, "the contamination of future generations by the first male to mount the bitch." So, if these mongrel animals were to "dominate" (or mount) our heroine, their debased blood would taint all of her future offspring, including the pups so admired by Joe and Priscilla. Knight does not directly articulate this threat to her sexual purity, any more than he explains who actually does sire her pups; it becomes a matter of adult knowingness, seemingly unfit for childhood innocence, yet this question of "blood" lingers over the entire book.

The persistence of this adult knowingness argues against a purely utopian or simplistic reading of the book-. Knight knows much more than he can tell -- at least, more than he can tell the children. Knight, the document-arist, the realist novelist, seems compelled by the conventions of the children's story to give Lassie Come-Home a happy ending. Knight gives way to the nostalgia which shadows the book, a nostalgia for the simple truths and pure relations of his Yorkshire childhood, a nostalgia for a Britain being torn apart by the forces of modernization.

Yet, as literary critic Susan Stewart suggests, nostalgia sparks "a sadness without an object," a longing for a past which never existed except through the narratives of our own memories and imaginations. However much the book's "local color" reflects his personal -memories, the close-knit Carraclough family has no relationship to his own childhood experiences. Knight's father, a- Quaker jeweler, deserted the family two years after he was born. His mother departed the following year, moving to Russia to serve as governess for the Princess Xenia's children and leaving him with an elderly aunt and uncle. By thirteen, just one year older than Joe, Eric was forced to work to support the family. His mother moved to the United States and began to send for his siblings one by one; he was the last one to be brought over, some two years after the rest. The separation anxiety which runs through the book, displaced onto the loss of a beloved dog, seems to be the one element that grows most directly from Knight's childhood, while the images of the happy family, of domestic solidarity, are the stuff of nostalgic imaginings. A sense of loss, mourning, death, and separation are integral to the myth of the faithful dog. For Knight, as for the characters in the Lassie saga, this beloved tricolor collie becomes an angelic figure of redemption and healing who can make a damaged and damaging world whole again, who can reverse -- at least for one family -- the economic crisis destroying tradition-al British culture.


1957. One night, Lassie stumbles upon the body of a sleeping boy, huddled in the Millers' barn. Hearing the noise, Jeff comes outside. Using Lassie's intelligence and tricks as a vehicle, he tries to communicate with the confused and frightened youngster: "She's smart. If you tell her your name, she can remember it." The boy refuses to speak, and throughout much of the episode, he is believed to be mute. Though tough and strong willed, the boy, Timmy, radiates innocence and trust, "a little angel with a dirty face." We soon learn that he is an orphan left in the care of elderly and largely indifferent relatives. As his uncle explains, "It ain't any kinda life for a boy on our place. It's lonely with just us." Timmy has run away from home because th-e boy feared "he wasn't earning his keep," because he was not able to contribute directly to the family's economic well-being. Without the affective bonds of family life, the "priceless" child experiences himself as "worthless." The Millers invite Timmy to stay with them on the farm for the summer, while Jeff and Lassie offer him their friendship and protection.

"The Runaway" begins the process by which the homeless Timmy gets situated within Lassie's construction of the ideal domestic life. Timmy's emotional wounds are nursed and healed by the loving collie. At the same time, "The Runaway" begins the transfer of Lassie's ownership from Jeff to Timmy. Actor Tommy Rettig was perceived as too old to play the boy and so the producers replaced him with Jon Provost. As one producer explained, "Boys grow up, dogs don't." However, the ideological construction of the faithful dog made it difficult to execute this transfer without considerable care and preparation. Neither the boy nor the dog could be seen to be breaking the intense bond between them without powerful motivation. Jeff could acquire Lassie through the death of her owner and through the power of his love. Timmy, on the other hand, came to own Lassie because of his intense needs for protection and affection.

To facilitate this transference of affection, the producer introduced Timmy half a season before Jeff's departure. Timmy was shown as consistently needing Jeff's help. Playing the older brother role, Jeff moves from child to adult. In "The Spartan," for example, Jeff's lessons on manhood, telling Timmy that boy's don't complain, backfires when Timmy catches pneumonia and almost dies. In "The Graduation," Jeff takes on his first job as a vet's assistant, but courts disaster when he leaves Timmy in charge of the clinic and the younger boy frees a rabid dog. The stories hinge upon Jeff's maturity (not yet fully secured) and Timmy's boyish curiosity and emotional vulnerability.

Despite such preparations, "Transition" involved a series of traumatic shifts in the previously secure and stable family life depicted on the program, shifts intensified by the death of George Cleveland, the actor who played the beloved "Gramps." As the episode opens, the characters are mourning "Gramps" whose death forces Jeff to become "the man of the family," assuming responsibility for the farm. Jeff wants to adopt Timmy, but the child welfare office and his mother both insist "Timmy belongs in a home with a mother and a father." In financial trouble, Jeff sells the family farm to the Martins and moves to the city. The Martins become attached to Timmy and provide him a home. And, recognizing both that Lassie will be unhappy in an urban environment and that Timmy needs her love more than he does, Jeff bestows the beloved beast upon his replacement: "Take good care of him. You always took good care of me." Amid tearful reaction shots, Lassie signals her consent by slowly moving from Jeff to Timmy and the Miller's car pulls off leaving us with the image of a secure, happy, nuclear family.

To break the bonds between Jeff and Lassie, the producers were forced to disrupt the entire series framework, questioning the stability of the traditional family, the economic security of middle-class farm life, and the "timelessness" of childhood. The producers re-introduced into Lassie the problems its "family values" sought to exclude. As writers like Richard Dyer and Frederic Jameson remind us, the utopian fantasies offered by popular entertainment often require the admission of real-world pains, traumas, and anxieties, so that they may be symbolically resolved through commercial fantasy. Much as the original novel reworked class inequalities and economic injustice through the shared love of a dog, television's Lassie seeks to cure the uncertainties of post-war American family life. The fatherless Jeff and the orphan Timmy represented the image of a broken family on television at a time when most of the other images of American childhood centered around nuclear families. In practice, of course, in the wake of the second world war, there were many fatherless children, and despite the decline of divorce in the post-war period, many children of divorce. Childreari-ng experts, such as Benjamin Spock, treated such children as "special cases," addressed in the back of the book but excluded from their image of normalcy. Lassie, on the other hand, depended upon the creation of such broken families precisely so that they could be healed through Lassie's commitment and affection. So successful was this process of adoption and redemption that the series and its viewers seemed to quickly forget that Timmy was not the natural offspring of the Martins and that this cohesive family was brought together under such abrupt and arbitrary circumstances.

A core paradox within our culture's conception of children's fiction centers around its -persistent dependence upon traumatic shifts in fortune, upon melodramatic loss and suffering, given the dominant cultural ideology of "childhood innocence" and the strong imperative to protect children from harsh adult realities. Why does a genre based on "family values" depend so heavily on the threat of the disintegration of the family? Children's fiction often seems to secure our faith in the family by posing a threat -- the prospect of a harsher life which tests children's innocence and rewards their commitment to core values, their ability to maintain their virtues even in the face of the worst aspects of the modern world. In this way, children's fictions both shelter children from adult knowingness about the contemporary life and draw narrative power from the threat that the modern world poses for traditional family life.

While few American children's books of the period dealt as frankly as Knight does with the issue of class inequality, Lassie Come-Home's balance between pessimism (the focus on economic problems) and optimism (the prospect of moral healing) was consistent with a growing emphasis upon realism and common experience in the children's books of the 1930s and early 1940s. Lassie's contemporaries, such as Homer Price (1943), Johnny Tremain (1943), The Yearling (1938) or My Friend Flicka (1941), sought something akin to the naturalism we associate with adult writers like Steinbeck, depicting "ordinary people, living under recognizable pressures." Childhood: A Research Guide and Historical Handbook (Westport: Greenwood, 1985), p.388. The writers temper the pessimism of naturalism, however, with an optimism for the future the "innocent child" facilitates. Reviewing the dominant tendencies in post-war children's fiction, Sally Allen McNall writes:

Despite the greater realism of their settings, these books showed problems being solved with ease by boys and girls of common sense and good will. The material and social constraints so carefully detailed are then transcended ....It was taken for granted that children and young people would be more idealistic and hopeful than their elders, and those who tampered with these qualities were antagonists.

The child's simple faith and determination restores adult hope. In animal stories, the beloved pet often functions as a similar kind of domestic angel, who rewards those worthy of owning it.

Scenes of redemption, reconciliation, and regeneration run through the series of seven Lassie vehicles made by MGM in the 1940s and early 1950s. In Son of Lassie (1945), the dog becomes a symbol of British wartime pluck and courage when she accompanies Peter Lawford safely through occupied Norway. In Courage of Lassie (1946), a shell-shocked collie must undergo rehabilitation in post-war England and in the process, restore meaning to the lives of her disillusioned owners. In Hills of Home (1948), she brings about a reconciliation between father and son and in The Sun Comes Up (1949), between a young orphan and an embittered widow.

These films share three things in common with the original novel: first, Lassie is owned by adults and families, not by children. Despite her obvious ties to Joe, she is consistently described as "Sam Carraclough's Lassie," i.e. as the possession of the father. The shift of Lassie's ownership from adults to children will come with the television series. Second, Lassie remains a British subject. Lassie loses her English accent when she moves to American television. While the wartime years fostered a shared national commitment between England and the United States, cold-war America demanded firm nationalistic allegiances; Lassie could not be tainted with foreignness. It was decided that the father would have been lost during military service, like Eric Knight himself, thus putting more of a focus on the mother's and grandfather's roles and creating a patriotic stance for the show. Because the family was poor and lacked an active young adult male member, the farm would be a bit run-down, presenting a nostalgic look much like a Norman Rockwell painting. Maxwell knew that even with America becoming more urban, folks still yearned for the ideals of a simpler time." Collins, p.79. Through this process, television's Lassie became a distinctly American myth. Third, the initial crisis originates within the owner's family and must be resolved through Lassie. On television, major problems arise elsewhere -- with visiting characters -- while the "togetherness" of the Millers and the Martins is never called into question.

This last shift is consistent with a tendency which Nina C. Leibman identifies across a broad range of 1950s series about the American family, such as Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or My Three Sons: while most of the series draw on conventions of Hollywood family melodramas, they offer a more "optimistic" retelling of those stock narratives, one based on "idealized versions of family life, often pitted against outsider, dysfunctional units." Such a transformation of the domestic melodrama reflects the needs of episodic television for repetition and stability.

Throughout most of its seventeen season run on American network television, Lassie served as the anchor point on CBS's early Sunday evening line-up, helping to establish this time slot's close association with "family television." Lassie provided a solid lead-in for other CBS programs, such as Dennis the Menace, My Favorite Martian, It's About Time, and Gentle Ben, while other networks counter-programmed with series, such as Shirley Temple's Storybook, National Velvet, Bullwinkle, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, New Adventures of Huck Finn, and Wild Kingdom. What all of these series shared was a need to construct and maintain an audience consisting of both children and adults. Saturday morning had become the semi-official "children's hour," where broadcasters could focus their full attention on the young, but Sunday night prime-time still needed a broader demographic which pulled in its share of wage-earning and consuming adults. The "wholesomeness" of Lassie (a quality which its long-time sponsor, Campbell's, hoped to attached to its soups) made Sunday night television safe for even the most conservative viewer (and this perhaps accounts for Lassie's later adoption by the Family Channel, a cable network owned by the Christian Broadcasting System.)

Life magazine television critic, Cyclops, protested "the sentimentalization and inflating, the scouring away of the story's social context, the Disneyization of Lassie." Lassie had become "Super-Collie....the Hound of Heaven" whose extraordinary intelligence, loyalty, and communicativeness "make you look at your own mutt and wonder if somebody put stupidity pills into the Gaines-burger." Many of Cyclop's criticisms seem valid: the core "realism" of the 1940s children's book, its focus on economic hardship and injustice, was stripped away. The Millers and the Martins are hardworking farmers, common to the core and often contrasted with snobby rich folks, but the series rarely gives us any sense of the difficult economic status of the "family farm" in the 1950s and 1960s. Similarly, the relocation of Lassie from Yorkshire to the United States involved something more than her Americanization. Television's Lassie lacks geographic specificity; its idyllic pastoral space could exist in any part of the country and Lassie's various encounters with woodland creatures cut across all known biomes. CBS clearly wanted the Millers' farm to seem like "home" to all Americans and as a result, they abandoned Knight's careful attempts to document a particular way of life.

Most of the episodes centered around everyday mishaps: Jeff and Porky are forced to babysit for a six-year-old brat who causes them endless trouble; Lassie brings home a litter of kittens but the Millers can't get them to eat; Timmy accidentally breaks Uncle Petrie's guitar and has to raise money to fix it. Many of these stories could have been told just as well on any of the other domestic situation comedies. Here, Lassie, not the father, knows best. Where more serious incidents occurred, offering opportunities for Lassie's curative powers, they tended to come from outside the core family -- escaped convicts, bankrupt traveling circuses, blinded Korean War returnees, eccentric old ladies who live on the outskirts of town, Japanese-American families hoping to settle in the community, crop dusters down on their luck, or deer poachers, to cite only examples from Lassie's first two seasons. In these cases, Lassie is given the chance to reform the wicked and restore the weary.

Having made the virtues of rural living and the American family its ideological bedrock, Lassie confronts the threats posed to this traditional culture by the city (which, throughout the American sentimental tradition, was cast as the source of evil and corruption) and by technology (which is often seen as threatening to break down organic communal bonds). City folk are either so green that they get into trouble, fall into wells, slide off cliffs, get lost in the woods or they bring crime and violence, kidnapping Lassie, hitting her with a car, organizing pit bull fights. In both cases, these urban visitors provide ideal foils for the -family's closeness to the natural world and their fundamental honesty. Most often, technological changes are initiated by members of the family and must be negotiated against Lassie's commitments to more traditional lifestyles.

In "The New Refrigerator," for example, trouble starts when the Martins purchase an electric refrigerator, a long coveted luxury: "let others have their mink coats." The episode, however, has established a solid friendship between Lassie and the ice man, who is resigned to his displacement by modern technology; even his wife has bought a fridge. Lassie loudly resists the displacement of traditional social networks in favor of the convenience of consumer culture, barking fiercely at the "white monster." As June protests, "Lassie, you're a reactionary." The conflict is presented as a struggle between "two stubborn females" each insistent on protecting their desired way of life. The equation of the mother and the dog is most powerfully asserted when June pleads, "Lassie, can't you try to get along with my new refrigerator? I wouldn't bark at something you've always wanted." Despite repeated efforts to train her, Lassie refuses to eat food from the new machine. Ultimately, a crisis secures Lassie's acceptance -- Timmy pulls a barrel down on his head and Lassie races to the refrigerator to bring him ice. For Lassie, the technology must be seen as central to the family's survival before she can give her blessing.

Given the series' emphasis upon the fundamentally conservative nature of rural life and the stability of the nuclear family, the disruptions and anxieties unleashed in "Transition" are startling. Suddenly, in a single episode, the Millers must confront death, bankruptcy, the selling of the family farm, a move to the city, Jeff's manhood, and perhaps most traumatically, the loss of Lassie. "Transition" attests to the power of the sentimental attachments between a boy and his dog. Nothing short of total cataclysm could break them apart.


1964. During the last week of summer, the Martins load up the family station wagon and take Timmy and Lassie camping. While Alice prepares food, the others go out in a boat to fish. An unexpected storm capsizes their boat. Timmy and Paul make it to shore, but Lassie has disappeared. The parents tell Timmy that "all we can do now is wait and hope," but privately, they are worried. The Martins have little success getting the local authorities interested in the case: "They have to deal with a lot of human problems right now and a missing collie report just doesn't seem that important to them." As the episode closes, we catch a glimpse of Lassie swimming towards a boat but it will take four episodes to unite Lassie and Timmy again. Timmy spends the time pining for the lost dog, while his parents urge him to come to terms with harsh facts:

We can cry for her but we've got to live with real-ity....We've had more than our share of happiness having a dog like Lassie. Now all we can do is accept the sadness and go on from there.

Learning to deal with such traumatic loss is "part of life, part of growing up," as nature suddenly seems far less benign than in previous episodes.

Meanwhile, viewers watch Lassie get rescued by a park ranger, Corey Stuart, and form an intense partnership with him as they travel together rescuing other victims of the storm, stopping a poacher from killing game on federal land, and surviving both a forest fire and an avalanche. In the end, Corey restores the dog to Timmy, disappointed that they will have to go their separate ways. Understanding their bond, Timmy laments, "I wish there could be two Lassies." For once, the uniqueness of this "priceless" dog seems a liability rather than an asset.

This four-part story arc began the season-long process of transferring Lassie from Timmy to Ranger Stuart. Here, the melodrama arises from two equally intense bonds and only one Lassie. One or the other must relinquish their claims. If Stuart makes the first sacrifice, just moments after declaring "it would take a department directive and a herd of wild horses to get her away from me," he will ultimately possess her. As the episodes' succession of cliff-hanging spectacles suggests, Lassie will be removed from the safety of pastoral America (with its ties to domestic melodrama). Stuart will teach Lassie to experience the call of the wild: "Listen to the birds, girl. The wind in the trees. The sound of the river. That's the song of the forest." Having heard its cry, Lassie can no longer be fully domesticated, and the logic of the series will push her further and further from well-worn paths. By the series' final season on network television, Lassie has become a lone wanderer, cut off from all permanent ties, yet always stopping along her journey to aid and assist humans in trouble. Lassie, the "come-home dog," no longer has a home. As the ranger explains, "I never know from day to day where I'll be." The result is a rethinking of the series' generic placement.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the growing emphasis on the sentimental value of the individual child was linked to the development of more specialized categories of children's fictions, books aimed at the particular needs of growing girls or boys. Whereas before, children's books were undifferentiated in their address, the new children's books prepared boys for participation in a public sphere of individualistic action and girls for participation in a domestic sphere of familial relations. Reviewing the educational and publishing philosophies shaping this redefinition of children's literature along gender lines, Elizabeth Segal writes:

Before the boy's book appeared on the scene, fiction for children typically had been domestic in setting, heavily didactic and morally or spiritually uplifting....The boy's book was, above all, an escape from domesticity and from the female domination of the domestic world. The adventures of Tom and Huck, of Jim Hawkins and many lesser heroes of boys' books are the epitome of freedom in part because they are an escape from women, the chief agents of socialization in the culture.

Lassie as a book and as a television series struggles to bridge the rigid separation of boy's and girl's books, making the sentimental values associated with the girl's book acceptable to male readers and domesticating the action elements associated with the boy's book.

Lassie Come-Home contrasts sharply with a classic boy's book like Jack London's Call of the Wild. The books open in similar ways with Buck, the pure-bred German Shepherd, kidnapped from his loving bourgeois owners and sold into servitude in the wilds of Alaska, while Lassie is sold to the Duke and transported to Scotland. Both dogs go on a lengthy journey and confront a series of life-risking adventures before they arrive at their desired destinations. Buck, however, responds to the call of the wild, finding his place as the powerful leader of a wolf pack; his adventure breaks down his ties to the human realm and establishes his dominance within a brutal natural hierarchy ("the law of club and fang"). Lassie responds to the call of the hearth; she remains in the grips of powerful domestic urges. Something inside her demands that she wait for Joe outside the school gate and she braves everything to get there. Buck is strengthened by his encounters with natural elements, erupting in uncontai-nable phallic power:

His muscles were surcharged with vitality, and snapped into play sharply, like steel springs. Life streamed through him in splendid flood, glad and rampant, until it seemed that it would burst him asunder in sheer ecstasy and pour forth generously over the world.

Lassie is worn down by her exile from the domestic sphere, arriving home a pained martyr with bleeding paws and limping limbs:

This was a dog that lay, weakly trying to lift a head that would no longer lift; trying to move a tail that was torn and matted with thorns and burrs, and managing to do nothing very much except to whine in a weak, happy, crying way. [pp.175-176.]

That Buck is the "dominant primordial beast" and Lassie is "her suffering aristocratic majesty" has much more to do with human assumptions about gender than breed distinctions between German shepherds and collies.

Lassie's femininity allows her to slide comfortably into the melodramatic traditions associated with the girl's sentimental novel. Her saga is a variant on the maternal melodrama where a mother struggles to reclaim possession or access to her children or of the slave story, where she is sold "up river" to a bad owner, kept in chains, but escapes and makes her way to freedom. Lassie's status as a dog, however, allows her to escape the constraints placed on human females and translate melodrama's passive suffering into decisive action; she fights back, tooth and claw, against anything that stands between her and the people she loves.

This emphasis upon Lassie's maternalism becomes more central to the television series. Throughout the Jeff and Timmy years, Lassie remains fairly close to home, having adventures on or around the family farm. All things are relative. Compared to the fenced-in suburban backyards experienced by her viewers, Lassie and Timmy enjoyed extraordinary freedom to roam across a vast range of open spaces. Roger Hart, who studied suburban children's use of play space in the early 1970s, found that children in the 4th and 5th grades enjoy mobility only within 300 yards of their houses, while ten and eleven year-olds could count on doubling that distance once they owned bikes. Such mobility was greater than enjoyed by city children of those same periods. Timmy's play space was much larger still and offered more opportunities to get into trouble or encounter strangers. However, compared to the thousand mile journey across Scotland and Northern England in the Knight novel, television's Lassie was cribbed and confined. (Interestingly, given the series' focus on the great outdoors, most of the Lassie merchandise seemed designed for in-door play, such as board games, view-master slides, stuffed dolls, figurines, breakfast dishes, and paint-with-water sets). .

As the story became more homebound, the boys, Jeff and Timmy, become more and more central to the program's appeal. Like "Beaver," or Dennis the Menace, Jeff and Timmy were the inheritors of the "bad boy" tradition which literary critics and historians associate with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Curtin and Lynn Spigel (Eds.), The Revolution Wasn't Televised: Sixties Television (New York: Routledge/AFI, forthcoming.) In keeping with the permissive era faith in childhood innocence, the more mean-spirited and anti-authoritarian aspects of this earlier literary tradition have been discarded; Jeff and Timmy are not active rebels against the maternal sphere. They are simply innocent explorers of adult spaces, naturally boisterous inhabitants of a world where "boys will be boys." If the nineteenth century "bad boy" escaped the constraints of maternal authority, the ever-watchful Lassie goes out into the woods with Timmy and makes sure he doesn't get into trouble. As Cully explains to Timmy in one episode, "Lassie's always looked after you like her own puppy." Under Lassie's maternal supervision, the wildest corner of the woods remains as safe as a suburban backyard.

Ranger Stuart's relationship to Lassie is profoundly different. As an adult unmarried male, he has no family, no mother, no domestic entanglements of any kind, and so, under his ownership, Lassie is freed to roam the entire North American continent. Stuart and Lassie part and come together multiple times, having adventures separately and as part of a team. Lassie's worth gets redefined in terms of her professional accomplishments -- the rescues she performs, the messages she delivers. She battles fires, saves stranded campers from avalanches, survives being swept away by rapids, and helps a man caught under a falling power-line. Stuart consistently refers to her as his "partner" or more suggestively, his "girlfriend." The ideal of pastoral America, the world of civilized communities, gave way almost entirely to images of a wild frontier space, where men and dogs are tested and tempered through their encounter with the natural realm. Under the ranger's ownership, Lassie fully embraces the boy's book tradition, becoming a series more about the call of the wild than the yearning for the hearth.

This generic and geographic relocation reflects larger shifts in the way popular entertainment represented the natural order. In the 1950s, when Lassie debuted, the collie existed alongside a succession of popular representations of dogs, horses, cats and other domesticated animals. Walt Disney, alone, was responsible for bringing to the screen Lady and the Tramp (1955), Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Nikki, Wild Dog of the North (1961), Greyfriars Bobby (1961), Big Red (1962), Savage Sam (1963) and The Incredible Journey (1963), all classic dog stories, many of which became staples of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. Television viewers could watch The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954-1959), My Friend Flicka (1956-58) and National Velvet (1960-1962). By the mid-1960s, popular representations of animals tended to favor wild and untamed creatures rather than domesticated animals. On television, Flipper (1964-1968) dealt with a boy and his dolphin and Gentle Ben (1967-1969) a boy and his black bear. Films like Born Free (1966), The Jungle Book (1967), and Maya (1966) and television series such as Daktari (1966-1969) and Cowboy in Africa (1967-1968) departed from the "civilized" realms of England and America to deal with the "untamed" wildlife of Africa and Asia. By 1969, Lassie was going head-to-head on Sunday nights with Wild Kingdom, a series full of lurid images of predators and prey and deadly poisonous snakes. Lassie's shift towards outdoor adventure during the Ranger Stuart years both anticipates and participates in this renewed focus on undomesticated fauna.

This shift in focus from domesticated to wild animals finds its parallels in child-rearing literature of the period. Most of the 1950s and early 1960s films and television series can be traced back to literary sources in the pre-war period. The focus on finely-trained and domesticated animals was consistent with the then-dominant behaviorist paradigm, with its focus on regimentation, discipline, control, and domestication. The post-war period of child-rearing, on the other hand, was characterized by the shift towards permissiveness, popularized by Benjamin Spock. Permissiveness stressed freedom rather than discipline and the "natural" development of children outside tight parental control; it spawned a cult of primitivism, drawing close analogies from the anthropological literature of Margaret Mead. Permissive children were wild and untamed, demanding a world that respected their natural impulses. Although encyclopedic on other aspects of children's lives, permissive writers say almost nothing about dogs and other pets. They do see a value in children engaging with the natural world, but they emphasize camping trips, walks in the woods or visits to the zoo. This idealization of the untamed natural world required Lassie, no less than Born Free's Elsa, to leave the constraints of domestic space for the freedom of the wild kingdom.

In liberating Lassie from the domestic space, the producers, however, broke apart the complex set of generic compromises between the sentimental girl's book tradition and the blood-and-guts boy's book tradition which gave the series immunity from popular criticism. Popular discourse about children's television circled around distinctions between classic children's literature and comic books, education and entertainment, realism and sensationalism. Reformers, such as Newton Minnow, consistently urged producers to seek their inspiration from respected literary works rather than comic books and pulp magazines. Culture and Popular Memory," in William Urrichio and Roberta Pearson (Ed.), The Many Faces of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media (New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1991). Children's programs were viewed positively by teachers and reformers if they encouraged children to read. Often, there was an implicit (or even explicit) preference for the sentimental values associated with girl's books and a vilification of the suspense and adventure elements associated with boy's books. Lassie's ties back to a recognized literary classic and its in-between-status helped the series to overcome some of these most basic objections, paving the way for its widespread acceptance as "wholesome" entertainment. A Parent's Guide to Children's Reading (1958), for example, specifically praises Lassie, along with Mary Martin's Peter Pan and Walt Disney's Davy Crockett as programs that encourage youngsters to return to the library shelves. Moreover, at a time when post-Sputnik parents were eager for children to embrace science and natural history, everything from Lassie to Mr. Wizard were cited for their potential educational benefits.

On the other hand, the sensational boy's book elements, however subdued in the Jeff and Timmy years, were still potentially problematic and became more so in the Ranger Stuart period. One television producer, for example, cited Lassie in 1967 as an example of how the vividness and immediacy of television added luridness: "Lassie is one of the scariest shows for kids. They see a real kid and a real dog in real danger." The animal-centered adventure series were consistently panned by the National Association for Better Radio and Television and other such groups. In 1956, for example, the group condemned Rin Tin Tin as one of the "most objectionable" programs on television: "Tense situations exist throughout the program and unbelievable problems are solved by this incredible dog....Whole-some episodes are the exception." Suspenseful storylines, especially those dependent on children in jeopardy, were feared to over-stimulate children's active imaginations. Flipper, for example, was condemned for "story themes [which] abound in crime and involve youngsters in extremely dangerous situations." PTA magazine wrote with outrage about the debut of Gentle Ben:

For years there have been warnings to children and adults against feeding and playing with bears.... How CBS could permit a program with a black bear for a pet -- not a cub either -- but a gigantic adult bear -- is beyond our comprehension.

Though Lassie's mid-1960s episodes are not noticeably different from those of Flipper or Gentle Ben, it continued to get the approval of the PTA and other reform-oriented groups while the competing animal series were condemned.

Once again, the transfer of ownership (from Timmy to Ranger Stuart) and the breaking of the intense bonds between master and pet occurs only by throwing family togetherness and pastoralism into crisis. This time, these images of boyhood, family, and farm will be banished altogether to pave the way for greater mobility, more suspense, and a wilder conception of the natural world. As the episode opens, both Timmy and his adopted father are eagerly awaiting the mail. Timmy wants the delivery of a dog tag for Lassie, while the father awaits more dramatic news about a "wonderful opportunity for all of us." He plans to move the all-American Martin family to Australia, where he insists there is lots of land and not enough people. However, bad news follows. Lassie will have to be placed on a six month quarantine before she will be admitted into the country. For a dog used to the freedom Lassie has enjoyed, such confinement would be unendurable. Timmy refuses to speak to his father, begs to stay behind with Ranger Stuart, and finally threatens to run away from home. "It's tearing us to pieces. I've never seen him act this way before," Ruth exclaims, startled by her normally goody-goody son's willfulness. Paul understands, however, the boy's powerless rage: "He's just a little boy in a grown-up world and that ain't an easy thing to be. Things get decided for you and there isn't nothing you can do about it."

In Knight's Lassie Come-Home, Joe never questions his father's "right" to sell his dog, even though the boy continues to hope for its return. When his father speaks, Joe obeys. The boy is silenced on several occasion by a firmly expressed "no." However, the issue of parental authority had undergone a dramatic transformation in the post-war period, with more child-centered parenting styles seen as fundamentally democratic and most appropriate for raising children into American citizenship. Rudolf Dreikurs's Children: The Challenge (1964) charts the different political models behind pre-war and post-war child-rearing practices :

Autocratic Society -------------------Democratic Society
Authority ----------------------------Figure Knowledgeable leader
Power -------------------------------Influence
Pressure -----------------------------Stimulation
Demanding --------------------------Winning Cooperation
Punishment ---------------------------Logical consequences
Reward ------------------------------Encouragement
Imposition ----------------------------Permit self-determination
Domination ---------------------------Guidance
Children are seen and not heard. ------Listen! Respect the child.
YOU do because I said to. -----------WE do because it is necessary.

A conscious effort was made following World War II to reconstruct both the American family and children's culture according to these "democratic" principles.

Many of the key architects of post-war children's culture had served together as part of Frank Capra's propaganda unit during the Second World War. Capra assembled a remarkable group which included Ted Geissel ("Doctor Seuss,") Chuck Jones (Looney Toons), P.D. Eastman (Are You My Mother?), Stanley Kramer (Boy with the Green Hair, 5000 Fingers of Dr. T), and Eric Knight. Knight was killed during the war, so he did not directly participate in the post-war shifts in popular discourse about parents and children or in the attempt to create a more playful, pleasure-centered culture. However, television's Lassie embraced at least some permissive doctrines. The sudden introduction of the issue of parental authority represented a significant shift in the program ideology.

Lassie can not be taken from Timmy by force of parental autocracy or legal fiat. The episode must reconcile father and son. First, Lassie distances herself from Timmy. Timmy explains to his elderly friend, Cully, "Lassie's acting strange. She's usually right by my side but now she's gone." Cully links the shift to Timmy's coming of age, suggesting that as a boy turns into a man, he no longer needs the maternal presence of the dog, "You're growing up and Lassie's sensing it....Lassie knows you've got to be on your own. You've got to stand on your own two feet." Second, Paul apologizes to Timmy for being too domineering, "Maybe I was wrong when I made such a big decision without all of us talking it over." Timmy, however, has accepted the move and the "sacrifice" he must make. By episode's end, he turns the dog over to Cully. After a series of further misadventures, Cully, in turn, grants custody to Ranger Stuart, explaining that he thinks this is what Timmy would have wanted: "Lassie's a special dog. She needs to be right in the middle of things." And, it is this need for immediacy and excitement that propels Lassie from domestic melodrama into outdoor adventure.

Postscript: 1996
Nostalgia, Susan Stewart tells us, is "sadness without an object," a longing for a more perfect past which never quite existed. Children and dogs are central figures for nostalgia, evoking images of innocence which adults can not reclaim and loyalty that defies human understanding. These myths are culturally powerful, serving to reconcile and resolve, at least temporarily, any number of ideological contradictions. They seem to offer us a way out of our adult human problems into a world of simpler moral choices and undying commitments. Yet, as we have seen, the need to tell that story, to communicate our ideals about children and dogs through narrative rather than static images, requir-es the constant enactment of a threat to their world: things can not remain simple and pure for long. In the Lassie series, such threats surface most dramatic-ally in those episodes which center on a change in Lassie's ownership, since these storylines require a dissolution of one set of social ties between children and dogs and the forging of an alternative set of affections. Such a transformation unleashes all of the threats which traditional children's literature tries to protect children from confronting. In the process, the series' generic formulas often also undergo a shift and with them, some alteration in the symbolic and sentimental values attached to the beloved collie. Lassie's status as a "timeless" myth of core human values is contradicted by the way that the series has been subjected to historic change. However, our emotional attachment to Lassie may still be governed by the things that do not change in our memory, the kinds of stock images that supplant any specific plot-lines when we try to remember what it was like watching Lassie as boys and girls.

This is an essay about the way our culture lives with nostalgia, the ways that certain myths about children and dogs spring forth to help us deal with our anxieties about change. Yet, this essay is also a personal exercise in nostalgia, a way back to my own boyhood and to my own dog, Brownie, a half-breed female collie. Brownie was my companion from kindergarten through most of high school; she had three litters of puppies and mothered a succession of pet rabbits, ducks, chicks, turtles, and neighborhood children. Brownie loved to take boat rides and would lap at the wake. However, she lived most of her life in a fenced-in suburban backyard. As a preadolescent, I was obsessed with the idea that when this dog died, my childhood would be over. Unlike Lassie, Brownie did not go on to bigger adventures with forest rangers when she passed from my possession. She simply died, and she was put in an old cardboard box and left out at the street for the garbage man to take her away. That's how we were legally required to dispose of dead pets in the early 1970s.

Once, I loved a dog. Now, I hate dogs. Living, breathing canin-es fill me not with longing but rather with an intense loathing. I plot sinister revenge on my neighbor's yapping dog who somehow senses and amplifies my hostility. When I think of dogs, I think of the smell of dog breath in the tight confines of the backseat of the family station wagon and the scent of fresh urine in the plush carpet; I think of the slippery feeling of saliva on my hands after a dog licks it; I think of the unsettling sensation of slipping and sliding barefoot on dog poop hidden in the freshly cut grass; I think of ear-wrenching yelps and barks, of toenails scratching on linoleum; I think of that grayish jelly junk that forms on the top of cans of dog food. I have trouble seeing past the body of the farting, panting, drooling, barking, shitting beast and into the spirit, the romantic ideal, of the domesticated pet. I find the myth of the dog fascinating, the reality disgusting. Across twenty years of American television, nobody ever stepped in Lassie's poop.

Perhaps this all seems too embarrassingly personal, yet what I want to suggest has to do with our shared cultural construction of the dog, what it contains, what it excludes. Our mythic reconstruction of the dog involves an isolation of the animal from the reality of its body, just as our myth of childhood innocence involves the isolation of the child from its sexuality and a denial of its agency. Dogs and children are stripped of all their messy bits so they can fetch and carry things for us. When I remember Brownie, I sometimes remember her with the mythic aura that surrounds Lassie, as a larger-than-life embodiment of maternal love and childhood freedom. Yet, those other more tactile and pungent memori-es are part of my lived experience of dog ownership, the part we don't talk about, the part that the longing of nostalgia tends to suppress.

When I write about Lassie, I am writing about a dog I never had, indeed, a dog I never could have had. Through writing about her, I reclaim access to a pastoral, conservative, American ideal whose values I do not fully share but which, on occasion, I long for nevertheless. - I mourn the death of Brownie, the loss of Lassie, and the end of a world where I found it hard to separate the two. The myth of the faithful dog, Kete tells us, stood as a compensation for the reality of faithless people, a bulwark against modern fears of death and loneliness, and the myth always carries with it a sense of mourning and loss.

The essential point about nostalgia is that things are not the same.

In "Heavy Petting," Marjorie Garber tells us that 1994 was "the Year of the Dog." She cites the popular success of books like The Hidden Life of Dogs, The Intelligence of Dogs, and Animal Happiness, which rediscover the power of personification, insisting that we can understand how dogs think through the power of empathetic identification. She points to popular films like Homeward Bound and Looks Who's Talking Now as well as of the chic photograph books of William Wegman and Thierry Poncelet. She even points to the release of a new Lassie movie and a series of tie-in books. Yet, throughout it all, I remain unconvinced. Things are not the same. There is something annoyingly artificial, self-conscious, even posing about these postmodern representations of the dog, as if we weren't supposed to take them all so seriously and above all, as if we weren't supposed to feel the sentimental tug of dog-love. If the 19th century French bourgeoisie invested their sense of loss into a compensatory myth of canine loyalty, we tend to discard such feelings behind a facade of carefree parody.

As I sit down to write, I find an article in the New York Times that sums it all up too perfectly. Dog and cat owners, we are told, are employing a "high-tech method to identify their pets in case they are lost or stolen." A small microchip with an information number is implanted just under its skin, allowing for a precise identification should the animal be separated from its owner. One particular California-based Humane Society has "chipped" between 10,000 and 11,000 pets. "It's not so easy with a 125-pound Rottweiler to find a tattoo," one vet explains.

As I ponder the image of Lassie as a cyborg collie, I recall the centrality of the issue of her unique identity to the whole saga. In the concluding passage of Lassie Come-Home, the Carracloughs give their come-home dog a make-over not so that they can fool the Duke into thinking she is another dog but rather so they can convince him to relinquish his claims on her ownership. Under the hands of a skilled dog's man, Lassie is transformed:

For where Lassie's skull was aristocratic and slim, this dog's head was clumsy and rough. Where Lassie's ears stood in the grace of twin-lapped symmetry, this dog had one screw ear and the other standing up Alsatian fashion, in a way that would give any collie breeder the cold shivers. More than that. Where Lassie's coat faded to delicate sable, this curious dog had ugly splashes of black; and where Lassie's apron was a billowing expanse of white, this dog had muddy puddles of off-white, blue-merle mixture. [p.188]

The Duke recognizes Lassie on first glance, even when it flies in the face of human comprehension that she could have made her thousand mile journey. And, if there is any doubt, he looks at her paws, "crossed and recrossed with half-healed scars where thorns had torn and stones had lacerated." [p.189] The Duke knows, in his soul, that this dog is Lassie, just as Joe does not have any difficulty identifying the exhausted and emaciated animal he finds waiting for him after school. Still, miracle of miracles, the Duke releases the Lassie back to her morally rightful owners, "This is no dog of mine. 'Pon my soul and honor, she never belonged to me. No! Not for a single second did she ever belong to me!" [p.189] And with those words, with this moment of sublime recognition, Sam is released from his unfortunate deal.

Neither the Duke nor Joe, neither Jeff nor Timmy, nor any of the others who were blessed to own Lassie through the years, needed a microchip to identify her. I recognize that the microchip is an act of love, a response to a changed society, a harsh reality we have to live with. But reality falls far short of our cherished myths. Lassie was unique, priceless, without possible imitation or counterfeit. Her spiritual qualities, her moral authority, her "suffering aristocratic majesty" was possessed by no other dog, and only those who understand that distinction were allowed to possess a dog like Lassie. And, even if her human owners were confused, Lassie would have known and would have made her wishes known. Something has broken down in the relations between dogs and their masters. The myth of the faithful dog no longer offer us condolences in the face of a feckless world. If the myths of canine fidelity and childhood innocence were central tropes through which our culture dealt with the threats of modernity, such myths of authenticity and of natural social relations have no place in a postmodern world.

It is perhaps symptomatic of such a realm that people have read the above postscript and not known whether I was telling the truth about my dog, my nausea, my tears, or my nostalgia. That ambiguity is an essential aspect of nostalgia -- we want to believe and yet at the same time, we can't; we know that the past we create through our myths, our memories, our popular fictions, is only partially true. My relation to dogs is not reducible either to my very real mourning of a lost object of desire nor to my equally real distaste for shit and spit. Our cultural relations to dogs are not reducible either to postmodern chic nor authentic celebration. Dogs conjure up complex feelings, contradictory emotions, irreconcilable myths. All of it is true, but none of it is all true. And, so, in the end, nostalgia always frustrates the desires that fuel its search for a more perfect past. We can't trust our feelings, memories or myths.

Things are not the same.

They never were.