If the subjects of our early reading determine what we become, I should long since have turned into a collie. As a child in the 1950s I read one book after another by Albert Payson Terhune about the pure-bred sable collies (the Lassie type) he kept on his New Jersey estate, Sunnybank. The books were published in the 1920s but even now most of them are still in print.
By the time I finished them, I had decided to become a vet. It would be gratifying to say that I stuck to this ambition and am now a retired vet, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, for a few years I was keenly interested in everything about dogs and could easily imagine myself grown up and breeding them when I wasn’t curing their illnesses. We had a lovable, affectionate collie at the time, and she must have blended in with her Sunnybank cousins in my imagination.
I was just one of the many readers who’ve fallen under the spell of Terhune’s idyllic Sunnybank and its immortal collies. The ‘yarns’, as Terhune called them, were never written as children’s stories and usually appeared first in such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal, but children were always among Terhune’s most devoted readers.
Albert Payson Terhune (1872–1942) was a literary writer manqué. In 1894, while waiting for an editorial job at Scribner’s, he joined the staff of the New York Evening World – temporarily, he thought, but he was still there twenty years later. Eventually he decided to leave the paper, move permanently to the family’s country home in New Jersey, and make his living from freelance writing. He wrote at the speed of a Dickens or a Trollope, working for eight or nine hours a day, six days a week, and producing short stories, novels and travel adventures, all the while lamenting that he didn’t have the leisure to write serious literature.
Terhune had long wanted to write a dog story, but editors repeatedly assured him
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