“…every time evil works a darkness upon the world, the Lord brings something beautiful from it” (Michael Nicholas Richard). Though this line appears at the end, rather than the beginning of Richard’s creative work, it serves as an appropriate premise for the book’s theme and a timeless adage.
Tobit’s Dog encompasses an innovative, fictional twist on a Biblical classic: the tale of Tobit, his son, Tobias, and the journey Tobias takes with the disguised St. Raphael (in this case, Ace Redbone). Most Catholics are at least vaguely aware of the Book of Tobit, but even those to whom the story is vividly familiar will discover a modern manifestation of who Tobit may have been, had he been born during the early twentieth century in deep south, America. Richard explores the cultural milieu of the epoch, including subtle and overt racial tensions, the effects of socioeconomic status and, most notably, the underpinnings of morality as expressed in classic “good versus evil” style.
What is most striking about Richard’s version of the Book of Tobit is the quiet, calming presence of Tobit’s dog, Okra, whose namesake mimics an African term for “soul.” This point is made only twice in the story, and yet its purpose and symbolism run much deeper than its casual mention; Okra’s loyalty to Tobit and necessary protection for Tobias’ and Ace’s journey together truly represents the soul of these men, but also the soul of all humanity. As any dog lover will acknowledge, Okra senses goodness, and he prefers its company to anything else. He personifies the humility, unconditional love, and wisdom of Tobit and his family: a holiness and exuberance of faith that is embodied by a profound simplicity in lifestyle.
This is what makes Tobit’s Dog so heartwarming and riveting: people of all ages and backgrounds can relate to the common thread of suffering shared by all, but also the message of hope in the midst of strife as portrayed by the quirky archangel in the form of Ace Redbone. He makes his appearance about halfway into the story and presents himself as a distant relative of the Messager family; though Tobit, Anna, and Tobias believe Ace will assist them in recovering much-needed repayment from another long-lost cousin, Ace serves a much higher purpose than that: to bring about healing and restore abundant blessings to the Messager family as a sign of God’s love and fidelity.
Everyone who encounters Ace finds him captivating and enticing in some mystical and unexplained manner; those who doubt (Tobias), those who have chosen an evil path (Lenny Morris and Amos Asher), and those who already know and love God (Tobit, Sarah, Mr. Jubal, Sr. Charlotte) somehow face themselves in lieu of Ace’s presence. He knows them, intimately aware of the condition of their souls, and though it perplexes everyone who spends time with Ace, no one denies the accuracy of his accounts. Though some succumb to darkness, it was not without an opportunity for redeeming grace, and while the end of their lives displays intense tragedy, there are others who trust Ace and know he is somehow God’s messenger. They believe, and they are transformed into a new creation.
Obviously the dramatic ending of Tobit’s sight being restored represents all of us in some way: our inability to see ourselves or others, the murky ways we tend to view God and morality, the ways in which sin has clouded the purity of Heavenly light from perpetually penetrating our souls. Tobit’s Dog reminds us that no one is exempt from the doubts, the fears, the literal or mystical blindness, sin, and evil; none of us exits this life on earth without enduring trials and temptations, and yet our shared strength and hope lies in all the ways God chooses to bless us, through the Heavenly Hosts and in small acts of Providence.
The one caveat to the reader may include noticeable punctuation errors throughout the book, but if the reader can overlook this, the content of the book is well-written.
Copyright 2014 Jeannie Ewing