Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

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‘Taking off my cap, I bowed my head. In a choking voice, I said, “Good-bye, Old Dan and Little Ann. I’ll never forget you; and this I know- if God made room in heaven for all good dogs, I know he made a special place for you.”’ This touching line is from Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. It is a classic story about a boy and his beloved dogs, and how they were taken from him in order to give him a chance for a better life.

Rawl’s memorable tale is appealing on many levels, and it intrigued me. The beautiful theme, compelling protagonist, devastating climax, and amazing application of morals combine to form a brilliant literary work. Billy, the main character, is a simple kid who starts out as a young boy living in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Billy yearns for a pair of redbone coonhounds with which to patrol the river bottoms for elusive raccoons. He will do anything to get his “fabulous fortune” of fifty dollars, the price of the prized canines. I can easily connect to a young boy who loves dogs, since that used to be me.

In his quests, first for money and then to become the best raccoon hunter in the Ozarks, he had great support from his loving southern family. I found this especially heartwarming; they were willing to make amazing sacrifices so Billy could get his cherished hounds. The Ozarks were ridden with poverty, so any little bit of help Billy could get from his family was worth more than a wad of money. Also, throughout the story, he displays impressive morality and good nature. Billy is not just a character, but a very real person who could serve as a role model for young boys striving to attain seemingly impossible goals.

Quite frankly, I could find no down sides to the story. On the contrary, it gave me some personal insights and discoveries about myself. One realization was that I am deeply moved by stories of people with few or no prospects for a better life. When they are desperate to attain something far beyond their reach, it makes me root more and more for them as the story progresses. Where the Red Fern Grows also strengthened my resolution that hard work can actually produce unbelievable results. This notion has served me well in the years since I first read the book.

The climax of this narrative doesn’t occur until the sequence of events has nearly drawn to its close. At the end, Billy is a teenager and experienced hunter. He and his redbone coonhounds Old Dan and Little Ann are doing their rounds in the backcountry area surrounding his home. Suddenly a giant mountain lion springs from a tree and bears down on the threesome. His dogs, trained to hunt and not let any game escape, leap for its throat despite the commands of their master. Desperate to save them, Billy swings a mighty blow with his double-bitted axe and catches the devil cat between the shoulder blades. That ends the fight, but not before the damage has been done.

Old Dan has been lacerated by the razor claws. He dies that night. Little Ann was not injured externally, but her deep connection to her partner was woven in with the very fibers of her life. With no will left to live, she drags her waning body to Old Dan’s gravesite where she, too, passes away. When I read this, I completely broke down. Disbelief, emptiness, and adoration for the power of the book coursed through me.
Where the Red Fern Grows delivers emotion on a soul-affecting level.





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petemamtoto said...
Nov. 2, 2012 at 10:38 am
I disagree I think that Billy is not a “Role model” but he is a amazing character. He is a dimwitted kid who takes risks not worth taking. But that is not bad. He is only a “role model” in a book like this. NOT for boys in the real world.  The author of the review could not find any down sides to the story and I can’t either. All and all it was a good review of the story. Have fun reading!
 
(Drew) said...
Nov. 28, 2009 at 11:35 pm
This book makes me cry every time I read it
 
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