The true story of a marvelous voyage made by three intrepid travelers–two impulsive humans and one wise canine–Narrow Dog to Carcassonne
charts the path of Terry Darlington, his wife, and their whippet as they set off in a rickety canal boat, determined to cross the English Channel and make their way to the South of France. Testing the limits of their wits and their luck, the Darlingtons’ journey gives them new glimpses of their own homeland, as they navigate precarious, ancient locks as well as English shorelines that range from gritty to breathtakingly picturesque. As they sail their way through France, after a hair-raising Channel crossing, they introduce readers to areas of this luscious country that tourists rarely find, from the canals beneath Paris to the forbidden routes of the Mediterranean. A madcap adventure through Europe’s hallowed lands, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne
is armchair travel at its finest.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Terry Darlington’s Narrow Dog to Carcassonne.
We hope they will enrich your experience of this marvelous travel memoir.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Discuss the Phyllis May as a character in Narrow Dog to Carcassonne. What does her appearance indicate about her personality and her history? What makes her ideally suited to Terry, Monica, and Jim?
2. Discuss the literary quotations that are included each chapter. Which ones resonated with you the most? What does the range of authors and sources featured in the back of the book say about the author’s tastes? How do these works enduring in different cultures and speak to different generations.
3. “Moon River” describes the Darlingtons’ surprise at seeing the raw, industrial side of the London Canal; Terry describes having to brush the Camden gongoozlers from the lock beams “like flies.” Which aspects of their voyage challenged your assumptions about the waterways of English and France?
4. To what extent did the scenery of this trip match the people populating each locale? What were the constant elements that always influenced the Darlingtons’ perceptions, regardless of where they were?
5. How might the memoir have unfolded if Jim could have written it? What would he have to say about his escapades, and about the people he met along the way?
6. Which of the colorful characters was most memorable for you? What does Terry’s method for dealing with strangers say about him?
7. What is at the heart of the Darlingtons’ quest? How does their mission compare to that of other boaters they meet along the way? What old-world aspects of community are lost to modern, independent means of travel such as airplanes and luxury cars?
8. What transformations do Terry and Monica go through in “Dead Man’s Wharf” as they prepare for the Channel crossing, desperately seeing insurance and getting themselves tattooed? How did the trip itself change them?
9. “Mindful of Honor” begins with the Phyllis May’s awkward arrival in Calais, complete with malfunctioning email. Why is it sometimes better for widely anticipated “big moments” to be filled with comic relief? How does Terry’s storytelling style enhance such episodes?
10. The Darlingtons confront history throughout their trip, particularly the history of World War II. How did Terry’s observations regarding Flanders Fields, chewing gum from American soldiers, the Museum of Resistance and Deportation, and other details enrich your understanding of the war? How does the presence of modern-day military daredevil pilots affect Terry’s experience of the Phyllis May?
11. What are the greatest distinctions between the English and French legs of the Darlingtons’ journey? How do the people, the drink, the food, the scenery, and the pitfalls change after they reach the continent?
12. The closing paragraphs capture Ulysses’s epic journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and the special bond he shared with his dog Argus. Though Terry’s trek was not homeward (he hails from Wales), in what way did Carcassonne become his Ithaca?
13. The Darlingtons have recently undertaken a daring waterborne tour of the southeastern United States, aboard the Phyllis May. What kind of adventures do you predict they will find in America? What essential differences will they find?
14. Do you dream of an escapade like the Darlingtons’ voyage? What exhilarating projects do you want to take on when you retire, if not sooner?