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I discovered ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ by Wilson Rawls through fellow blogger Natalya, who said that it was one of her favourite books. I haven’t heard of the book or of the author before and so I thought I will search for it. It was not available in any of the bookstores here (no surprise – it always happens when I search for a specific book). One day I had gone to the library to return books which were lying with me for months. Then I thought I will do some random browsing in the library. When I was browsing through the children’s literature section, out from deep inside the bookshelf, ‘When the Red Fern Grows’ leapt at me! I couldn’t believe it, because I don’t remember the last time I made a surprise discovery in this library. (You can guess by now that my library stocks only popular bestsellers – if you want to get Harry Potter books or the Twilight Series or books by Agatha Christie and Jeffrey Archer and thrillers by Robert Ludlum, this is the place!) I grabbed it immediately and went to a cafe and started reading it. I finished reading it yesterday and here is the review. 

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

Billy, Old Dan and Little Ann – a boy and his two dogs…A loving threesome, they ranged the dark hills and river bottoms of Cherokee country. Old Dan had the brawn, Little Ann had the brains – and Billy had the will to train them to be the finest hunting team in the valley. Glory and victory were coming to them, but sadness waited too. And close by was the strange and wonderful power that’s only found…where the red fern grows. An exciting tale of love and adventure you’ll never forget.

What I think

‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ is about a boy and his two dogs. This boy, Billy, lives near the Oklahama Ozarks, works with his father in his farm and learns reading, writing and arithmetic from his mother. He loves dogs and he wants two hunting hounds. But, hunting hounds are expensive and his family is not able to afford them. This boy doesn’t give up. He works hard for two years, saves money and with the help of his grandfather buys two hound pups. They are the joy of his life. He trains them and makes them wonderful hunters. His hounds participate in a hunting competition and win prizes. What happens to the boy and his dogs during the course of their hunting adventures form the rest of the story.

‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ is a dog story, but a dog story which is quite different from the ones which are popular today (like ‘Marley and Me’ and ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’). It is an old-fashioned dog story set in the middle of mountains and forests. It is a story of the pleasures of friendship, of loyalty, of the thrills of hunting, of parting and grief and of the difficult and complex process of growing up. When I read a little bit about the author Wilson Rawls, I discovered that when he was a boy he roamed the Ozarks with his hound. So probably some of the book’s events are inspired by his own experiences.

I read a little bit about the Ozarks in Wikipedia and discovered that it is a region rich with nature, culture and folklore and it has inspired many books and movies. I am hoping to read / see some of them. There is one book in particular which I found quite interesting and really want to read – ‘Pissing in the Snow and other Ozark Folktales’ by folklore historian Vance Randolph, which is a collection of Ozark folklore. It reminded me of Pavel Bazhov’s ‘The Malachite Casket’ which is a collection of Ural folklore, and which is quite famous in Russia.

I enjoyed reading ‘When the Red Fern Grows’. I wish I had discovered it when I was in school. I would have loved it even more.

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

A Good Day

It was one of those days when a man feels good, feels like speaking to his neighbor, is glad to live in a country like ours, proud of his government. You know what I mean, one of those rare days when everything is right and nothing is wrong.

The Girl

The girl pup was small and timid. Her legs and body were short. Her head was small and delicate. She must have been a runt in the litter. I didn’t have to look twice to see that what she lacked in power, she made up in brains. She was a much smarter dog than the boy dog, more sure of herself, more cautious. I knew when the trail became tough, she would be the one to unravel it.

Mama warmed some milk for the pups. They drank until their little tummies were tight and round.

Little Ann and Big Dan

Little Ann took one of her silly spells. She started nipping at the long red tail of Old Dan. Not getting any reaction from him, she jumped over him. She barked at him. He wouldn’t even look at her. She ran around in front of him and laid down in the trail, acting like a cat ready to spring. Stiff-legged, he walked up close to her, stopped, and showed his teeth. I laughed out loud. I knew he wouldn’t bite her any more than he would bite me. He was just acting tough because he was a boy dog.

“Everyone suffers..”

“You’ve done no wrong, Billy,” she said. “I know this seems terrible and I know how it hurts, but at one time or another, everyone suffers. Even the Good Lord suffered while He was here on earth.”

The legend of the Red Fern

I had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that they never died; where one grew, that spot was sacred.

Nostalgia

      I have never been back to the Ozarks. All I have left are my dreams and memories, but if God is willing, some day I’d like to go back – back to those beautiful hills. I’d like to walk again on trails I walked in my boyhood days.

      Once again I’d like to face a mountain breeze and smell the wonderful scent of the redbuds and papaws, and the dogwoods. With my hands I’d like to caress the cool white bark of a sycamore.

      I’d like to take a walk far back in the flinty hills and search for a souvenir, an old double-bitted ax stuck deep in the side of a white oak tree. I know the handle has long since rotted away with time. Perhaps the rusty frame of a coal-oil lantern still hangs there on the blade.

      I’d like to see the old home place, the barn and the rail fences. I’d like to pause under the beautiful red oaks where my sisters and I played in our childhood. I’d like to walk up the hillside to the graves of my dogs.

      I’m sure the red fern has grown and has completely covered the two little mounds. I know it is still there, hiding its secret beneath those long, red leaves, but it wouldn’t be hidden from me for part of my life is buried there, too.

      Yes, I know it is still there, for in my heart I believe the legend of the sacred red fern.

Final Thoughts

If you love dogs and like children’s literature, you will enjoy ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’.

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