Published: Jinty 13 June 1981 to 18 July 1981
Artist: Trine Tinturé
Translations/reprints: None known
Olivia Twist (yes, and the Oliver Twist references persist throughout the story) wants a dog. Her mother keeps refusing because of the costs of buying and feeding one. After all, they’ve been pretty hard up since Dad died and Mum’s wages wouldn’t go far on a dog in addition to Olivia and her brother Billy.
Undeterred, Olivia saves up to buy a dog in the hope it will make her mother relent. Mum does, but gives the strict condition that it’s a tiny pup, which would surely mean a tiny appetite. However, after Olivia purchases her tiny pup, which she names Fagin (yes, after the Oliver Twist villain), she gets a warning that she and her mother have miscalculated: “You’ll be sorry you bought that tiny scrap! Little ‘uns have the biggest appetites!”
At first Olivia takes no notice, but in due course she finds out how all too right the warning was. The little pup grows into a huge dog, and appetite to match. Fagin eats far more than the whole family combined and his appetite is uncontrollable. It’s costing Mrs Twist a fortune to feed him, and he’s wolfing food right off the Twists’ plates and shopping bags so they end up going short. He starts doing the same with the neighbours, so he’s getting the Twists into trouble with them.
Mum tells Olivia she’s had enough. She will now pay for only one tin of dog food a day, and it’s up to Olivia to stump up the rest to keep Fagin fed. And if there’s any more trouble, Fagin will go to the dogs’ home.
Olivia is determined not to lose Fagin, so she does everything she can to find food for him: jobs to raise money, and finding avenues at school, friends and other networks that can spare food for Fagin. However, Fagin keeps wrecking all the avenues Olivia can find with his big appetite and bursting in to gobble up everything. One by one those avenues get closed off. It also gets Olivia into all sorts of trouble; for example, Olivia unwisely takes Fagin to a birthday party (part of a Mother Hubbard costume) and gets kicked out because Fagin ate the birthday cake. It gets to the point where nobody will give Olivia a job because of her dog’s reputation as a “greedy brute”, so she can’t raise any more money there to pay for his food. The last straw comes when Fagin’s eating wrecks the grocer’s store where Mum works and she nearly loses her job.
After this, it’s definitely the dogs’ home for Fagin. When Olivia sees their menu, she realises there is no way it can meet Fagin’s appetite. Sure enough, Fagin’s soon gobbling up every other dog’s ration in addition to his own, and the kennel maid warns Olivia that he’ll be flung out if this keeps up. Anxious not to let this happen, Olivia does everything she can to supplement Fagin’s food supply at the dogs’ home with additional food, but of course she can’t keep up either. Before long, the manager tells Olivia that Fagin can’t stay anymore. They are going to advertise a home for him. If none is found, Fagin will be put down.
Shocked at the thought of Fagin being put to sleep, Olivia begs her mother to take him back. Mum refuses because she does not want a repeat of the history they had with him. However, nobody takes Fagin. Well, an ad with “Home with never ending food supply wanted, for ever-hungry mongrel” is more likely to have put people off. Mum reclaims Fagin at the last minute because she couldn’t bear the thought of him being destroyed. She takes an additional job to keep Fagin fed, but in a month’s time she collapses from exhaustion and is hospitalised.
Olivia makes the heartbreaking decision to have Fagin destroyed herself for her mother’s sake. However, on the way to the vet there is a lucky break that changes everything. Fagin bursts in on a shoot for a dog food commercial and eats up the dog’s food, but the producer is delighted. He tells Olivia that Fagin is just what they need for their advertising. If Olivia signs him up, she will get a fee and any amount of their dog food free. This gives Fagin his never-ending food supply at last, and he’s paying for it himself. Olivia is very happy to say she will never need to “ask for more” for Fagin again.
This entry achieves one milestone: it completes all our entries on the 1981 Jinty stories. And all of them were written by myself, except for “Land of No Tears”.
“Food for Fagin” started in the same issue as “Dracula’s Daughter”. I like it for its light relief against the grimness of the insufferable, power-mad headmaster in that story. Many readers probably felt the same way.
The story is short, with just six episodes. This works well with how long the Twists can find ways to fill Fagin’s stomach without stretching credibility. However, the Oliver Twist references come across as rather irritating and also unrealistic. What mother would seriously name her daughter Olivia Twist? Perhaps it was meant to add humour to the story. In some cases the Oliver Twist references do work humorously, such as the stingy teacher who is meaner than “any workhouse beadle” in the dinner hall and won’t let Olivia have seconds (to fill Fagin’s stomach). At other times it doesn’t. At least it’s not used much, but the story could have done without it.
There have been plenty of humour stories with problem pets that get their owners into all sorts of scrapes. However, while this one has humorous elements too, there is an emphasis on emotion, what with the increasing desperation as Olivia fights an increasingly losing battle to keep her dog, and then an even more desperate battle to save him from being put to sleep. The irony is that Fagin’s gargantuan appetite keeps messing up Olivia’s efforts to keep him fed and landing her in trouble. In the end, it is a delightful twist to have Fagin’s appetite turn into an asset instead of a liability because it lands him the job on television that not only keeps him fed but also brings in more money for the Twists.