Wilson Rawls – Where the Red Fern Grows

September 26, 2012 § 1 Comment


I’ll start this by saying that I’m not the intended audience of this book on so many levels. I never read it as a child so I don’t feel emotions clouding what might be the reality of this book.  I don’t care about dogs, I don’t understand the fascination with coon hunting or the countryside. 
Some of the elements of the book I perceive as flaws.  The plot is too simple and too perfect. The characters are simple and cardboardy. The female characters especially, if they could be called characters at all, they behaved as if they possessed no mind of their own. The mother of the main character was shown only as a bundle of reasonable and unreasonable worry for her son, her daughters as candy-eating, wide-eyed cardboard dolls. The father and the grandfather of the main character were slightly better written, but by the end of the book we don’t know about them much more than what we knew at the beginning.
The coon hunting is an essential part of the book, but the descriptions of coon trails and tricks just couldn’t hold my attention. I don’t have a special interest in coons, so after the first few were treed and skinned, I had a hard time concentrating on the details of the hunts, and often I found myself skimming over the descriptions of trails, rocks and dogs.  Few episodes stand out, the rest is a vague blur of forests and rivers.
I didn’t like how the divine intervention or ‘divine intervention’ was used in the book.  Too convenient.  Say a prayer and God will show you where to buy the dogs. Say a prayer and God will finish cutting down the giant tree for you.  Believe in God and you’ll miraculously see the way to save your dog from the icy river. Believe in God and He will conveniently kill off your dogs at the end of the story so that the plot can be wrapped up nicely.  I suppose that from the PoV of the characters inside the book, divine interventions made a lot of sense and were not out of place in their understanding of the world. From my point of view, they were unnecessary, too convenient and they cheapened the actions and accomplishments of the characters.
How the book will end is obvious on the first page of the book as the publisher saw fit to print the quote about the Indian legend of the red fern on the first page. So it is not surprising. The death of the dogs left me cold, maybe because the whole book was about death and bloody bits of animals. Dan and Ann were trained to kill and they were very efficient hunting dogs. Their deaths touched me as much as the demise of those coons mentioned throughout the book. Very little.
I’m not especially for or against hunting for food or sport of non-endangered species.  However, if we establish it is okay to kill to satisfy bloodlust and feel the thrill of the kill, then we have to embrace all of the hunting, together with the possibility of hunters dying. 
All the characters and the whole landscape were just a scene for the tale of two dogs and a boy. In fact, I’d say the boy and his dogs were only cardboard characters as well, simple settings on which to show the universal story of love between men and dogs.  This is maybe the only part of the book that doesn’t fall short.
I think the book in itself is mediocre and that its qualities only surface for people who had dogs at an early age and could imagine themselves in place of the main character. This is a book to be read with heart and not mind.  I’m sorry, but I couldn’t do that.

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