There Is No Dog
Okay, so this isn't exactly the most serious book—but, just in case there's a dull moments, we've got the Eck.
He gets introduced to us as "an odd penguiny sort of creature with the long elegant nose of an anteater, beady eyes and soft gray fur. The Eck is always hungry; no quantity of leftovers can fill the eternal emptiness of his gullet" (5.2).
Or try to visualize Eck in the next scene, "A loud shuffling noise from Bob's bedroom heralded the reappearance of Eck, who positioned himself on the mantel behind Bob and mimicked the boy's sullen slouch precisely. Mr. B stifled a laugh. […] The boy's frown deepened, his entire body forming a pout. Behind him, Eck adopted the stance in miniature, his face a perfect caricature of Bob's" (12.36). LOL, right?
Bob sure thinks so.
But not only is he funny and funny looking, but poor Eck is the but of nearly all jokes in There Is No Dog. Bob pokes him with pencils, smacks him, and throws him around. There are constant jabs at his self worth, like this scene, "'Nothing,' Bob said to him on any number of occasions. 'You are nothing.' In his heart of hearts, Eck believed that he was nothing, for wouldn't God know about such matters? Being nothing made him sad" (32.28).
Oh. Maybe not so funny, after all. In fact, the poor Eck is maybe the only serious part of the entire book.
Dead Eck Walking
When Mona tells Hed that Eck is the last of his kind and has "the sweetest-tasting meat of any creature in nine thousand galaxies," you can practically hear Hed's stomach growling. From this point on, he is a constant reminder of morality. Not only is he a reminder that things and people do die, but that it's kind of a weird choice for an infinitely powerful God to make. Why didn't he just make humans immortal?
So what happens is that this "insignificant" character gets to ask some of the most significant questions in the whole novel: about life, death, and all those other things that we don't like to think about. Eck asks—or wants to ask—the questions that we might ask if we were Bob's pet,
Why did you bother creating me, he wanted to ask. Why bother giving me a brain and a realization of how miserable existence can be? Why did you invent creatures who die and, worse, who know they are going to die? What is the point of so unkind an act of creation? (32.23)
Those are pretty good questions. We wish we had the answers to them.
More Human than Humans
We can't help but have a sneaking suspicion that Eck is supposed to represent us in this whole story. There are lots of references to Eck being "like a baby" (20.41) For example when Estelle is holding Eck he is described: "The creature weighed roughly the same as a year-old child and felt similarly heavy and compact, like a dumpling." (12.1) Also the way that she holds him, "His nose lies against the outside of her left breast and across her armpit, curling over her shoulder in a soft hook," sounds like how you would hold a child. (43.3)
Great. The comedic relief turns out to be a reminder of mortality—and the reminder of mortality turns out to be us. Who's laughing now?