Friday, July 14, 2017

Old Yeller

I don’t always review fiction. When I do, I want it to be really good. Old Yeller is really good.
The book is “assigned reading” fairly frequently in the schools. I hope that students don’t decide to dislike it because it’s school work. Ideally they would get to read it before a teacher tells them they must (I remember so many of my fellow students hating the assigned Moby Dick. I read it on my own years later and consider it Melville’s masterpiece, no question.).
Anyway, Old Yeller is told by Travis, who is fourteen. He didn’t like the dog at first, but over time, changed his mind. Old Yeller turned out to be a wonderful dog. The ending of the story brought a tear to my eye, and the recognition that I had just read a great book. I had known about it for over fifty years. Finally, I knew what all the fuss was about.

“Every night before Mama let him go to bed, she’d make Arliss empty his pockets of whatever he’d captured during the day. Generally, it would be a tangled up mess of grasshoppers and worms and praying bugs and little rusty tree lizards. One time he brought in a horned toad that got so mad he swelled out round and flat as a Mexican tortilla and bled at the eyes. Sometimes it was stuff like a young bird that had fallen out of its nest before it could fly, or a green-speckled spring frog or a striped water snake. And once he turned out of his pocket a wadded-up baby copperhead that nearly threw Mama into spasms. We never did figure out why the snake hadn’t bitten him, but Mama took no more chances on snakes. She switched Arliss hard for catching that snake. Then she made me spend better than a week, taking him out and teaching him to throw rocks and kill snakes.

"That was all right with Little Arliss. If Mama wanted him to kill his snakes first, he’d kill them… The snakes might be stinking by the time Mama called on him to empty his pockets, but they’d be dead.”

The author, Fred Gipson, wrote two follow-ups to Old Yeller: Savage Sam, and Little Arliss. I haven’t read them yet. But it won’t be long.

1 comment :

Colleen said...

If ever a book demanded a warning label on the cover, it's OLD YELLER!!!!

It should read something like this:

"WARNING: Old Yeller will break your heart. You will never recover from reading this book. If you encounter it as a child it will devastate you for life. Be sure to have a recovery plan in motion before you turn the final page. Also - it does not have a happy ending. We are telling you this, even though it is a spoiler, because YOU MUST BE WARNED."

Of course, it could just be me that needed that warning. But then again, I also would have appreciated knowing that Bambi's mother was going to die, too.