Where the Red Fern Grows
I cannot remember the first time I read Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. I read it at about age ten, and I have lost count of how many times I read it since. It was a period in my life when childhood was nearly over, but adolescence had not yet set in, and it was a time when animals were my greatest love.
Where the Red Fern Grows is a novel about a young boy and his two dogs, but to an animal-lover, it is much more. The story is told in the first person narrative, by an adult reminiscing about his childhood; the reader experiences life through the eyes of an eleven year old boy living in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Over the boy's shoulder, an older narrator frequently speaks while the younger narrator talks on. Billy, as a boy, wants a dog more than anything else in the world:
"There's a time in practically every young boy's life when he's affected by that wonderful disease of puppy love. I don't mean the kind a boy has for the pretty little girl who lives down the road. I mean the real kind, the kind that has four small feet and a wiggly tail, and sharp little teeth that can gnaw on a boy's finger; the kind a boy can romp and play with, even eat and sleep with . . . I was ten years old when I first became infected with this terrible disease" (Rawls 7).
Ater secretly saving money that he earns doing odd jobs for over two years, Billy is able to purchase his dream: a pair of registered redbone coon hound pups at twenty five dollars each. He names the dogs "Old Dan" and "Little Ann" from the names Dan and Ann that he saw carved in the middle of a heart on an old sycamore tree. Before buying the pups, Billy remembers a passage from the Bible his mother had read to him: "God helps those who help themselves" (Rawls 18). This passage states the thematic foundation of Where the Red Fern Grows: Billy works for something he wants, learns the true meaning of love, and grows up a great deal in the meantime.
As a child I read Where the Red Fern Grows for its adventures and the profound love Billy has for his two dogs. Billy and his dogs go hunting every night and play in the river during the day. Since I felt I was somewhat of a tomboy, and had two dogs of my own, this greatly appealed to me. The suspense I felt whenever the dogs treed a coon, or the time Grandpa was lost in the blizzard and the dogs found him, never ceased each time I read the book. As I re-read it now, however, I can see that there are many more factors that appealed to me, but I did not realize it at the time.
This is a book about love -- not only human love for an animal, but the love of a parent for a child, a man for his home, and a special love between two animals. Billy's family is extremely close-knit. His mother teaches Billy and his two sisters to read and write because the school is too far away, and when he turns eleven. Billy's father...