Greyfriars Bobby has a slightly ambivalent place in modern Scotland. The story of the terrier which would not leave its master's grave for fourteen years until its own death still tugs at the heartstrings. Meanwhile the crowds that continue to gather around the monument erected in his honour near the gates of Edinburgh's Greyfriars Kirkyard testify to the enduring power of his story: and make clear just how internationally famous he is. And yet there is something slightly mawkish about the story, perhaps because of the way it has been told in print and in film over the past century and a half.
Jan Bondeson's book sets out to provide the definitive account of the story of Greyfriars Bobby: and succeeds. There is considerable satisfaction to be had from reading a book that you know will henceforth have to be taken into account by anyone looking at a particular subject. From here on, Jan Bondeson's "Greyfriars Bobby" is the account that everyone will refer back to whenever the dog's story is written about or discussed.
The author's approach is rigorous and exhaustive, but well written, extensively illustrated, and accessible to anyone who might be interested in the subject. The tale is picked up when Greyfriars Bobby's story first appears in print, in an article in the Inverness Advertiser in 1864, and moves on from there. Every available source is used, from an account of proceedings in the Burgh Court over who was responsible for paying Bobby's dog-tax to reports of debates in the Edinburgh's council chamber, in which at least some of those present openly questioned the popular version of the story even while the dog was still alive. We then move on through the erection of his monument; Eleanor Atkinson's novel; films made about Greyfriars Bobby; other accounts of his life; public doubters, at the time and subsequently; and more.
Having set out the background, Jan Bondeson undertakes his own analysis of the story, tying down carefully what we really know about Greyfriars Bobby, and what we don't. He then moves on to look at other legends of canine fidelity, and at the surprisingly large number of stories from around the world of "cemetery dogs". Chapter 15 is entitled "The Truth" and comes up with a convincing and satisfying account of the story of Greyfriars Bobby that fits all the facts and which has at last one very unexpected twist.