Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd Analysis

Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack (1999) is a picture book written and illustrated by New Zealand storyteller Lynley Dodd. A duckling saves Hairy’s life. Although many of the Hairy Maclary stories are written with the carnivalesque picture book structure, this one is not. Hairy is not on a fun adventure this time; it is summer, and he wants to sleep. He almost loses his life! Plots like this require the classic Odyssean mythical structure.



Hairy Maclary “dozily dreamed as he lay on his back when pittery pattery, skittery scattery, ZIP a­round the corner came Zachary Quack.” Little Zach presents quite a nuisance, but their friendship wins out in the end.



Hairy Maclary is not suited for life in the water and although he can dog paddle, he doesn’t understand how ponds work.


Hairy wants to sleep under a hydrangea bush. I feel like Lynley Dodd puts a lot of thought into her foliage. The purple complements the yellow of the duckling, and also of the grass. In this story, it must be summer. The usually green grass of New Zealand has dried out.

This desire to sleep contrasts with the Hairy we’ve seen previously, in which he is full of mischief, craving adventure. Perhaps Hairy is getting old?

Dogs tend to spend as much as half of their days asleep, 30 percent awake but relaxing, and just 20 percent being active. Older dogs require more sleep just because they tire out more easily and, as a general rule, bigger breeds also spend more time dozing.

American Kennel Club

Or maybe it’s just a really hot day. New Zealand’s North Island doesn’t get that hot, but days in the high 20s do become uncomfortably muggy.


Zachary Quack is a duckling for a reason. The youngest readers won’t know the trope of the duckling who sees a creature and follows it around believing it to be its mother. This is not to say Zachary thinks Hairy is his mother, but ducks who follow are common in pop culture, and in phrases such as, “Readers are like ducklings.” This advice is commonly issued to writers, who are advised to introduce the ‘main character’ first, because readers tend to assume that’s the character they are supposed to be rooting for.

In picture books, opponents are frequently depicted face to face with each other in this exact composition. However, any menace is taken right out of it, because Hairy is in ‘let’s play’ position, which any dog lover will recognise. Hairy and Zachary are really playing hide-and-seek.


Zachary simply won’t leave Hairy alone. So Hairy moves from place to place, hoping to find a new place to nap in peace.

The duckling counterattacks by sniffing him out every single time. (Can ducklings sniff someone out?)

We can tell by the look on Hairy’s face that he is enjoying this game of hide and seek. I recognise that look from my own dog’s face. (Our dog looks a lot like Hairy, though he is a Border collie miniature poodle cross.) Our dog gets that same mischievous look in his eye, and because he is black, the whites of his eyes really are obvious, which makes him look more human than dog-like.


Hairy accidentally runs into the pond. We know this is accidental because Lynley Dodd depicts him with his eyes closed.

He swims around in the pond, unable to get out. Frankly, I find this harrowing. I found a dead rat in a tub of rainwater recently and I hate to think how long the poor rat was swimming around in that tub before drowning to death, unable to get out.


Hairy realises its fruitless to keep away from Zachary because this duckling is relentless.

Also, he may have had a change of heart. Since Zachary technically saved his life, maybe the baby duck comes in useful.

Sometimes, in other stories, this trope goes badly wrong and readers end up with a Rudolph Story, meaning a character is accepted by the group only after proving themself useful. This is problematic because the underlying message is this: We must be useful before we are acceptable.

It helps that in this story there is no ‘group’, only Hairy and one duckling. That whole complicated bully-culture dynamic is avoided.

The plot line also works here because it’s not even clear that Hairy has accepted Zachary. Mainly, this plot is saved from getting Rudolphed because Zachary does not care one whit about whether he is acceptable or not. He can be coded as a comically self-centred character. It also helps that there is nothing about Zachary that marks him out as different from any other run-of-the-mill duckling, which avoids ableist tropes. Zachary is your archetypal duckling.


Hairy Maclary with Zachary Quack on his belly. The masterful thing about Zachary as opponent: The adult reader will probably code him as a more typical duck, whereas younger readers will likely anthropomorphise him, which makes him even cuter. As an adult reader, I figure Zachary nonchalantly got himself out of the pond and blithely happened to show Hairy the way out. Here, it may seem Zachary is helping to warm Hairy up after he gets wet and soggy. Or, Zachary is selfishly (but cutely) using Hairy’s soft belly as a comfortable mattress for his own self. This Hairy Maclary story turns the tables on Hairy, who is himself frequently the self-centred toddler-like character. Here that character becomes the duckling. This story will be highly relatable for older siblings who have endured a new baby in the house, disturbing their peace, taking their toys, invading their space.
In any case, small characters sleeping on large bellies plays nicely into our sense of ‘Aww’. This is a screencap from the Studio Ghibli animated film My Neighbour Totoro. I think it works because when a very large creature lets a very small one invade its personal space like this, without eating them, we know for sure that the large creature is a protector rather than a threat. It’s kind of like that weird but common gendered human trope, in which a small, femme-coded character (mostly girls and women) hit a larger, more muscular masculo-coded character, reassuring the audience that the man is not easily provoked to physical violence.


Stories about animals saving other animals do not live in the realm of fiction. When caught on camera, they frequently go viral:


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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