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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | Study Guide

Mark Haddon

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a unique, enigmatic mystery tale about the discovery of a dead dog in a quiet neighborhood. Published in 2003, the novel received praise particularly for its protagonist, Christopher—a 15-year-old boy with autism. Written from Christopher's perspective, the novel explores the fascinating mechanisms of his mind as he uses his talents in mathematics to unravel the mystery of the dog's untimely death.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has fascinated readers of all ages and has received numerous literary awards. The novel has also generated controversy among those with autism and those who specialize in studying autism spectrum disorders, as well as both admiration and controversy among parents and school boards. However, many medical professionals working in this field have commended Haddon's realistic and sympathetic portrayal of a character on the autism spectrum.

1. The novel's title pays homage to a Sherlock Holmes story.

The title of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a reference to the 1892 Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze." The story, written by Arthur Conan Doyle, follows Holme's attempts to track down a famous race horse that's gone missing. In "Silver Blaze" there is an exchange between Holmes and a Scotland Yard detective during which Holmes is questioned about pertinent information to a case. When asked, "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" Holmes responds, "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

2. Haddon disagreed with his publisher's decision to include autism in the back cover's synopsis.

Most critics agree Christopher lies somewhere on the autism spectrum, and many claim his personality corresponds with Asperger's syndrome, in particular. However, Haddon does not mention or name Christopher's condition explicitly at any point in the novel. Christopher describes himself within the text as a "mathematician with some behavioral difficulties."

The reader is only told directly of the character's autism from the summary on the back cover of the book, not from anywhere in the text itself. Haddon expressed regret the publisher decided to include the condition, by name, in this description.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been banned from schools and reading programs.

Haddon's novel has been met with criticism from certain schools and parents who feel it is inappropriate for children's reading lists. One school district in Tallahassee, Florida, pulled the book from a summer reading list in 2015 due to the adult language peppered throughout the text. A parent complained, stating:

I am not interested in having books banned. But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain—I don't go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended.

Haddon has expressed confusion regarding the novel's bans, noting that he was, "puzzled and fascinated by the way in which some readers remain untroubled by the content of a novel but deeply offended by the language in which it is described."

4. A theatrical adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time ended in disaster.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was adapted for the stage and has been performed around the world—with one performance ending in chaos. In 2013 a staging at the Apollo Theater in London was disrupted by the collapse of the theater's ceiling. One audience member recalled hearing a "crackling noise" shortly before debris covered the stands and stage, leaving 76 people injured. Miraculously, none of the injuries were life-threatening.

5. Medical professionals were both impressed and concerned by Haddon's portrayal of autism in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Some medical professionals, particularly those who research autism spectrum disorders, have been impressed by Haddon's depiction of Christopher's autism. Haddon has been praised for portraying the condition fairly—with a sense of humor—while managing to avoid a depiction that would offend those with autism or their families (although the novel has still been met with a great deal of backlash). Dr. Alex McClimens, a medical researcher who specializes in autism spectrum disorders, praised the novel, stating:

This magnificent essay in communication is compulsory reading for anyone with the slightest interest in autistic spectrum disorders... Mark Haddon has created a true literary character and his handling of the teenage Asperger's heroic adventure is brilliantly crafted.

The novel was also reviewed in several psychiatric scholarly journals. One review noted Christopher's self-described neglect of details was out of line with the often detail-preoccupied condition. The researcher noted this was pointed out to her by an autistic patient who had been asked to comment on the book and had said:

I do not know about all autistic people but I do know about myself and I would say that an autistic person would not say that they do not care about details, as I am very good at details. It is approximation that is difficult.

6. Haddon claims to actually know very little about Asperger's syndrome.

Despite the warm reception of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by many medical professionals, Haddon actually claims to know very little about autism and Asperger's syndrome. Haddon specifically conducted very little research about the condition because he didn't want to write an "Asperger's novel," but rather a novel about difference. On his blog Haddon elaborated, jokingly:

I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger's syndrome. I gave [Christopher] kind of nine or 10 rules that he would live his life by, and then I didn't read any more about Asperger's because I think there is no typical person who has Asperger's syndrome, and they're as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society.

7. Translators had trouble with the many idioms in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time proved to be a difficult endeavor for translators. The novel is full of English-language idioms, such as "apple of my eye," "pig of a day," and "skeletons in the closet," which can be extremely difficult for adaptation into a foreign language. In an interview Haddon was asked about his input during the translation processes and explained:

I have had long, involved and often very funny email discussions with other translators about, for example, the precise size of the fork or the precise nature of liquorice laces ... Mind you, so far there have been, I think, 34 foreign co-editions, so I'm quite glad that most of the translators were happy to go ahead without input from me.

8. A Texas community leader had a problem with the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time—even though he hadn't read the whole thing.

A local library in Galveston County, Texas, reconsidered adding the book to a recommended reading list after the mayor found it to be inappropriate for children. A town council member expressed concern regarding the novel's use of swear words, as well as Christopher's suggestion that God doesn't exist and meditations on the improbability of an afterlife. However, the council member also confessed that he neglected to read the full novel, drawing criticism from his constituents. His statement on the matter read:

We should give [children] wings, but they should be smaller when they are young. This is too much, too soon.

9. The chapters in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are all marked with prime numbers.

Drawing on Christopher's obsession with mathematics, Haddon numerated all the chapters in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with prime numbers. Critics have praised this particular element of the novel for showing attention to detail. The numerating pattern is even mentioned explicitly by Christopher in the text, as he explains the sequence of prime numbers to the reader. Christopher's justification for this is simply that "I like prime numbers."

10. Haddon says writing for children is just as difficult as writing for adults.

Haddon has spent many years writing children's books and has noted doing so is no easier than writing adult fiction. One of Haddon's first successful children's series was a set of graphic novels about "Agent Z," a group of friends who "battle boredom" after school. When asked in an interview about the differences between writing for these two audiences, Haddon replied:

I generally take the union line. There is no real difference. Writing for children is bloody difficult; books for children are as complex as their adult counterparts and they should therefore be accorded the same respect ... It's not about you. No one wants to know how clever you are. Like children, adults need to be entertained. Even those reading to make themselves better people would prefer to enjoy the process. They don't want an insight into your mind, thrilling as it might be. They want an insight into their own.

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