By Wilson Rawls
Deep in the Ozarks, folks enjoy hunting. Young Billy Coleman knows in his bones that in order to hunt, he needs not only one hound, but two. His craving to own hunting hounds quickly grows into an all-consuming yearning. Coming from a poor family in the county, his parents cannot afford to buy him hounds, so he devotes all his free time to entrepreneurial endeavors, collecting enough pennies, nickles and dimes over two years’ time to purchase two fine hunting hounds. Right from the start, Billy develops a bond with Old Dan and Little Anne that surpasses the typical relationship between man and man’s best friend. Old Dan and Little Anne work together in their hunts, expertly tracking raccoons with the combination of Old Dan’s boldness and physical strength and Little Anne’s cautious smarts and cleverness. Just as Little Anne and Old Dan operate as one, so do they form an inseparable team with Billy. The hounds refuse to hunt without each other, and neither will they hunt with anyone other than Billy. Their committed devotion takes them on wild adventures in which they get the best of snow, winter, bullies, competitive hunts, and countless raccoons, up until the very end, which unfortunately comes sooner than anticipated and with staggering, unexpected loss and grief.
“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is a classic tale of a boy and his dogs. Although told from the perspective of a man reflecting on his youth, the narrator speaks with the voice and bright-eyed optimism of a boy who has just encountered the greatest joy of his life. From the perspective of youth, Billy takes on the responsibility of owning and caring for two hunting hounds, counts himself among the ranks of accomplished adult hunters, and faces the challenges of country life including forays into the city and standing up to bullies. As Billy immediately bonds with his dogs, so does the reader. Old Dan and Little Anne figure as central characters in the story and in the imagination of the reader, tapping into instinctual compassion for pets and making the dogs real in the minds of readers. Each adventure between Billy and his hounds becomes a story of epic proportion, told with excitement, suspense, and triumph, or, when necessary, loss. The innocence of youth strengthens the carefree tone of each adventure and does nothing to filter the pain of loss, perfectly capturing and portraying Billy’s relationship with his dogs.
Somehow I missed this novel when I was going through elementary school, but even reading it as an adult I found this book to be enjoyable and relatable. I knew from the start what I would be getting into, though I was still caught by surprise by how the book drew to a close. It was refreshing to know what was coming but not know all of it. This book is well worth the read, just be prepared with a shoulder to cry on and a big box of tissues.