17 February 2015


Reading Diary: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

. . . I made trails with the [coon] hide for them to follow . . .

It was a beautiful sight to see my pups work those trails. At first they were awkward and didn't know what to do, but they would never quit trying.

Old Dan would get so eager and excited, he would overrun a trail. Where it twisted and turned, he would run straight on, bawling up a storm. It didn't take him long to realise that a smart old coon didn't always run in a straight line.

Little Ann never overran a trail. She would wiggle and twist and cry and whine, and pretty soon she would figure it out.

When I put off reading books, it's usually because I worry that I'm reading them at "the wrong time"--which means any time before I can properly appreciate them. That was what happened with Where the Red Fern Grows, though I was just going by a feeling in its case and couldn't have explained what I thought I lacked. I mean, I had already read other boy-and-dog books, notably Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh and Fred Gipson's Old Yeller, and they didn't go over my head. (Then again, how would I know if they had? LOL!) But while I was wrong to be fussy, I was also right to have waited: for this week's reading of Where the Red Fern Grows is so much richer for having come after Xenophon's hunting treatise Cynegeticus (from four months ago) and Charles A. Coulumbe's A Hunting We Will Go articles (from last month). Not that I can really pat myself on the back: I hadn't realised I was working on a syllabus! =P

And now this feels like an Ethical Animals post, aye?

They stretched [the coon] out between them and pinned him to the ground. It was savage and brutal. I could hear the dying squalls of the coon and the deep growls of Old Dan. In a short time it was all over.

With sorrow in my heart, I stood and watched while my dogs worried the lifeless body. Little Ann was satisfied first. I had to scold Old Dan to make him stop.

Everyone loves the hounds Old Dan and Little Ann, but what about all the ringtail coons that they hunt down? Is there no sympathy for them at all? How can we enjoy this story when we must pay for it with the brutal deaths of countless fluffy woodland creatures?

But these deaths aren't without their sting and the hunters and trappers aren't without compassion. The first two times that coons are killed in the story are sad moments for the people who must put them to death. Our narrator even compares the sound that dying coons make to the cry of a newborn baby, totally traumatising me, before adding, "I never liked to hear this cry, but it was all in the game, the hunter and the hunted." And inasmuch as the art of hunting is a snippet of divine thought (as believed by both the Ancient Greeks and the medieval Christians), there's something in that awful sound that reflects both the order of creation and the redemption of man.

In Where the Red Fern Grows, everything about hunting also reflects the vocation of boy. It's the universal toward which every boy with a dog is a particular of--and I do feel deeply sorry now for any boy who doesn't know what it's like to hunt with a dog or two. But what our ancestors took for granted is simply impossible for us now. Can you imagine working hunting into the curricula of every school in your country, including the homeschools and unschools? After a year, you might not have any wild animals left! In that case, perhaps the best thing for students is to read a book like this, however much it seems as pale a shadow of the universal as a boy walking a golden retriever in suburbia does.

One book down, a whole bunch left to go! =D
(Hey, what's the collective noun for books?)

At the end of my post about my Unofficial 2015 TBR Pile Challenge, I asked the first commenter to pick my next book from the pile. (Where the Red Fern Grows was an excellent choice, Brandon. Thanks!) Well, let's play that game again, shall we? =D Choose a book from that post and if it's not out of order in a series, it will be the next one I read!

And yes, I've decided to play that game all year, so if you don't get to help me choose a book now, chances are that you'll be able to eventually. =)

Image Source: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls


Eve Penman said...

I have never read this book, so it was neat to learn about it from your view and I'm more curious to read it now too. When it comes to hunting wild animals, I couldn't believe how much of that went on in Swiss Family Robinson; even though it was part of their lifestyle, it was a bit shocking when I first read it in spite of my support for hunting. So much to learn from literature, thanks for sharing!

Brandon said...

I probably wouldn't have made the connection if you hadn't drawn it first, but it is true that this book is a good fit for Xenophon's Cynegeticus. One thing that is very noticeable, once the connection is made, is that both of Xenophon's major themes -- hunting is a divine gift and hunting tells us something about education -- are also major themes of this book.

mrsdarwin said...

I put my list up as a comment on your last post. :). If you're wanting quick and funny: Carry On, Jeeves. If you want absolute Classic: Sense and Sensibility.

Enbrethiliel said...


Eve -- It's nice to see you here! =) My own shocking hunting story from literature is the elephant hunt in King Solomon's Mines by Rider Haggard. I can't really support it, because the characters killed scores of elephants that they had run into a ravine first: even Billy and his father would agree that it was very "unsportsmanlike" of them! Maybe a few contemporary readers thought so, too, but for me, the shock was also greatly due to knowing that elephants are an endangered species these days.

Brandon -- Well, it was thanks to you that I could even draw the connection! I read Cynegeticus because of your blogging and you chose Where the Red Fern Grows for the last weekend. =)

Mrs. Darwin -- Quick and funny would be odd for the start of Lent, but I also have other stuff that I want TO CLEAR immediately, which involve lighter reading, so Carry On, Jeeves won't be too out of place. On the other hand, I might want a contrast. We'll see next week what I end up picking for the weekend! ;-)

Sheila said...

Coons kill chickens; although it's just their nature to do it, it has to be our nature to kill the coons, if we want to raise chickens.

For such an animal-lover as myself, it's odd that I'm such a believer in hunting (though I'm too much of a bleeding-heart to do it myself). I put it down to loving nature itself, as an interconnected whole, more than individual animals in it. We too are part of the whole, and our part here is to kill the coon.

I had always thought of WTRFG as a Dog Book rather than a hunting book, but of course it's the latter too. I wonder if my husband has it in his library. (Can't remember if you would know this, but he's the librarian of a field sports library.) They're always looking for kid-appropriate stuff for family days and movie nights and such.

Enbrethiliel said...


". . . our part here is to kill the coon."

*glances at avatar*

Ahem! I do wonder whether making hunting unnecessary to daily life was the first step in creating dystopia. Though I think that the Christian symbolism would remain even if farms and ranches were so successful that we really only needed to hunt for sport.

Paul Stilwell said...

That book cover...

takes me back. This one had completely vanished from memory, but those short passages you quote brought it all back. Even just the word "coons". Thank you.

What determines sportsmanlike? It would seem to preclude hunting any animal that isn't wary and doesn't put up a chase. In which case, hunting the dodo was totally wrong. That is, if I'm assuming correctly, that the reason the dodo went out from this earth was because it was so easy to kill. And why didn't people back then get smart and start up dodo farms?

Enbrethiliel said...


Dodos definitely should have been turned into chickens before we lost them forever. They must have been delicious! =P

Just last night, I learned that the novel Bambi (which shows hunting from an animal's point of view) includes a character who never made it into the Disney movie: a deer that had been raised by humans before being released once more into the wild, and who had learned not to fear them. And sure enough, when hunters enter the story after the deer tells that story, he doesn't flee with the other deer, but walks up to them and gets shot. And the takeaway for humans is clear: there are times when we shouldn't be friends.

I also recall that forest rangers who capture bears that have wandered too far onto our turf will traumatise the animals (not physically, of course, but with noise) before releasing them into the wild again. It would be terrible to have to kill a bear because it came back to our territory and hurt someone who hadn't known how to ward it off.

Becca Lostinbooks said...

I remember having a hard time with this book when I was a middle-grade reader. It broke my heart.

Enbrethiliel said...


I would have cried buckets if I had read it as a young girl!

Belfry Bat said...

It was one of my school books when I was 11, and bits left me feeling ill.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think I enjoyed a submarine sandwich while reading. LOL!

Banshee said...

In the US, not having enough wild animals is not a problem. The suburbs are getting overrun by whitetail deer, and things would be worse if the Eastern coyotes weren't back. (And honestly, coyotes have this bad tendency to eat domestic animals, so it's not a good situation.)

And of course, a lot of people still use the fall deer hunt for winter meat and other deer uses, which is a big help to people with low incomes.

I like raccoons, but it's not so many years back that we had one in the neighborhood with canine distemper. Our young and overexcitable dog had the sense to spot him, let me know something was wrong, and not go after the raccoon herself. Animal Control had to come out and take care of matters.

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, okay, but if hunting were an actual school subject, would there have to be some controls in place to make sure that those millions of children taking part won't be too effective in culling the wildlife?