To Say Nothing of the Dog

Last updated
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Connie Willis
Cover artist Eric Dinyer
CountryUnited States
SeriesOxford Time Travel, #2
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Bantam Spectra
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)
ISBN 0-553-09995-7
OCLC 36954540
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3573.I45652 T6 1997
Preceded by Doomsday Book  
Followed by Blackout/All Clear  

To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last is a 1997 comic science fiction novel by Connie Willis. It uses the same setting, including time-traveling historians, which Willis explored in Fire Watch (1982), Doomsday Book (1992), and Blackout/All Clear (2010).


To Say Nothing of the Dog won both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999, [1] and was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1998. [2]

Source of title

The book's title is inspired by the subtitle of an 1889 classic work, as explained by the author in the dedication: "To Robert A. Heinlein, who, in Have Space Suit—Will Travel , first introduced me to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog ."


Ned Henry is a time traveler in 1940 studying Coventry Cathedral after the Coventry Blitz of World War II. He is specifically searching for the location of the "Bishop's bird stump", a MacGuffin that is not defined by the narrator. The narrator shows confusion explained by "time-lag", the time-travel-induced form of jet lag. He returns, unsuccessful, to his time, 2057, at Oxford University.

The Bishop's bird stump is needed for a restoration of the cathedral funded by Lady Schrapnell, a wealthy American neo-aristocratic woman with a will of iron. She has conscripted most of Oxford's history department to rebuild the cathedral exactly as it was before it was destroyed. Before going on further trips Ned must recuperate from his time lag and is sent to the hospital. Lady Schrapnell, however, insists he go back on another trip. Before he can be conscripted by Schrapnell, Professor Dunworthy (who is in charge of the time machine) decides to send him back to the Victorian Era, specifically 1888, for his rest.

Dunworthy has an ulterior motive in sending him to 1888, as another time traveler appears to have violated the laws of the continuum by bringing an object back from then to 2057. Theoretically, nothing may be brought through the time machine in either direction as it might cause time to unravel, and safeguards have been put in place in order to prevent significant objects making the journey. The historians and scientists who invented the time machine believe the object may rip time itself apart if it isn't promptly returned.

Ned, who only knows 20th century history, and still suffering from time lag, is given a crash course on Victorian times while simultaneously being told his mission and destination. The combination of muddled lessons, imprecise instructions, and the jump to 1888 worsening the time lag leaves him confused about where he is supposed to be, who he should meet, where he should go, and no idea at all about the out-of-time object he is carrying.

Time travel has a self-correcting mechanism called slippage, moving time travelers either in time or place from their target in order to protect history. Ned arrives at the correct time, but unknown to him, he is not at the estate where another time traveler should meet him. Instead, he has slipped in destination to a railway station 30 miles away. He meets Terence St. Trewes, a besotted young Oxford undergraduate, mistaking him for his time travel contact. He agrees to share the cost of a hired boat for a trip on the River Thames from Oxford down to Muchings End, where Terence hopes to meet his love, Tocelyn "Tossie" Mering. Ned, Terence, Cyril the bulldog and Professor Peddick (an Oxford don) travel down the Thames navigating locks, beautiful scenery, crowds of languid boaters in no hurry to get anywhere, and the party of Jerome K. Jerome, a homage to the original novel from which To Say Nothing of the Dog draws its name and themes.

Fortunately, Ned's contact in Muchings End recognizes him when he arrives and identifies herself: she is a young woman named Verity Kindle, who is pretending to be Tossie's cousin. Lady Schrapnell sent Verity to read Tossie's diary because Tossie (an ancestor of Lady Schrapnell) had written about a life-changing event involving the bird stump at the first Coventry Cathedral (St Michael's Cathedral), an event which had caused her to elope with a mysterious "Mr. C" to America. It is only at this point that Ned learns the nature of the object he is to return is Tossie's pet cat, Princess Arjumand. Cats are extinct in 2057 due to a feline distemper pandemic.

Ned and Verity continually attempt to fix the time travel incongruity. They must know the histories of the characters around them, and their descendant's impact on future history, and also the mystery of Mr. C. Their interloping attempts to fix the known history of the people around them cause ripple effects forward and backward through history from Waterloo to World War II, and even to 2018 (when time travel was invented). After several adventures attempting to correct things themselves, both end up, mistakenly, in different eras attempting to get back to 2057. In their absence, time itself corrects their meddling. On their return to 1888, Mr. C has been identified, interrupted relationships between characters have occurred, and clues throughout their experience reveal the location of the Bishop's bird stump in 2057.

Finally, in 2057, just in time for the celebration of the cathedral reconstruction, the location of the Bishop's bird stump proves to the historians and scientists that, in certain scenarios, objects can be brought forward in time which heralds a renaissance in recovery of historically lost, destroyed, or extinct objects.



  1. Since the literary Lord Dunsany would have been only 10 years old in 1888, Baine was most likely employed by his grandfather, the 16th Baron Dunsany - see Baron of Dunsany § Barons of Dunsany (1439)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lady Godiva</span> 11th-century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman and figure of legend

Lady Godiva, in Old English Godgifu, was a late Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who is relatively well documented as the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and a patron of various churches and monasteries. Today, she is mainly remembered for a legend dating back to at least the 13th century, in which she rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband, Leofric, imposed on his tenants. The name "Peeping Tom" for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend, in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Aylmer (bishop)</span> English bishop

John Aylmer was an English bishop, constitutionalist and a Greek scholar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lady Bird Johnson</span> First Lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969

Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson was the first lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969 as the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson. She previously served as the second lady from 1961 to 1963 when her husband was vice president.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Isabella Bird</span> English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist (1831–1904)

Isabella Lucy Bishop was an English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist. Alongside fellow Englishwoman Fanny Jane Butler, she founded the John Bishop Memorial Hospital in Srinagar in modern-day Kashmir. She was also the first woman to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

<i>Doomsday Book</i> (novel) 1992 novel by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book is a 1992 science fiction novel by American author Connie Willis. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and was shortlisted for other awards. The title of the book refers to the Domesday Book of 1086. Kivrin Engle, the main character, says that her recording is "a record of life in the Middle Ages, which is what William the Conqueror's survey turned out to be."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Sumner (bishop)</span> Church of England bishop (1790–1874)

Charles Richard Sumner was a Church of England bishop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Luci Baines Johnson</span> Daughter of American President Lyndon B. Johnson

Luci Baines Johnson is an American businesswoman and philanthropist. She is the younger daughter of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Smyth</span> English bishop (c. 1460–1514)

William Smyth was Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield from 1493 to 1496 and then Bishop of Lincoln until his death. He held political offices, the most important being Lord President of the Council of Wales and the Marches. He became very wealthy and was a benefactor of a number of institutions. He was a co-founder of Brasenose College, Oxford and endowed a grammar school in the village of his birth in Lancashire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Overall (bishop)</span>

John Overall (1559–1619) was the 38th bishop of the see of Norwich from 1618 until his death one year later. He had previously served as Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, as Dean of St Paul's Cathedral from 1601, as Master of Catharine Hall from 1598, and as Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University from 1596. He also served on the Court of High Commission and as a Translator of the King James Version of the Bible.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hariot Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava</span>

Hariot Georgina Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava was a British peeress, known for her success in the role of "diplomatic wife," and for leading an initiative to improve medical care for women in British India.

<i>Last Seen Wearing</i> (Dexter novel)

Last Seen Wearing is a crime novel by Colin Dexter, the second novel in the Inspector Morse series.

Henry Wolfe Baines was an Anglican bishop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles de Salis</span>

Charles Fane de Salis (1860–1942) was Bishop of Taunton from 1911 to 1930.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brownlow North</span> British bishop

Brownlow North was a bishop of the Church of England.

Joan Waste or Wast was a blind woman who was burned in Derby for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith.

"Fire Watch" is a science fiction novelette by American writer Connie Willis. The story, first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in February 1982, involves a time-traveling historian who goes back to the Blitz in London, to participate in the fire lookout at St. Paul's Cathedral.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Wood (bishop of Lichfield and Coventry)</span>

Thomas Wood (1607–1692) was an English churchman, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry from 1671 to 1692.

<i>Blackout/All Clear</i> Series by Connie Willis

Blackout and All Clear are the two volumes that constitute a 2010 science fiction novel by American author Connie Willis. Blackout was published February 2, 2010 by Spectra. The second part, the conclusion All Clear, was released as a separate book on October 19, 2010. The diptych won the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2011 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and the 2011 Hugo Award for Best Novel. These two volumes are the most recent of four books and a short story that Willis has written involving time travel from Oxford during the mid-21st century, all of which won multiple awards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terence Verity</span> British art director and architect

Terence Verity was a British Art director and architect.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Vyse</span>

The Ven. William Vyse was an English churchman, Archdeacon of Salop from 13 March 1735 until his death.


  1. "1999 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  2. "1998 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-30.