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Leap Day, and the End of Love

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

February’s over at midnight tonight and I definitely didn’t read as many books this month as I had anticipated, but that’s okay, because I’m ending the month with a review of:

Where the Red Fern Grows

A movie that had a huge impact on my young, impressionable years, and after finally reading the book for the first time this month, it has now profoundly affected my adult years. This story is not for the faint of heart, and it’s for kids! What’s it trying to teach us? Work hard, have fun for a few minutes, and then expect to muddle through tragedy. This book is brutal!




This story starts with a boy who wants two hounds. The dogs cost $50, which the boy can’t afford, so instead of hanging his head and giving up, the boy spends two years picking fruit and doing odd jobs in order to save enough money to buy his hounds.

He finally earns the $50, and his grandfather orders the dogs from a catalogue. The dogs arrive on a train, and Billy walks 30 miles barefoot to get the dogs. The dogs are small and beautiful and the boy carries them home in a sack on his back. The boy sees two names carved in a tree inside a heart on his walk home: Dan and Ann, so he decides to name his two little dogs Old Dan and Little Ann.

The walk home is long, so the boy and the two little dogs have to sleep in a cave overnight. During the night a mountain lion starts to cry and Old Dan goes to the mouth of the cave and answers its challenge.

Old Dan and Little Ann are small, but they prove to be very smart, unique dogs. They pick- up the art of the hunt quickly and start treeing coons with a relentless finesse that astounds everyone. During their first hunt they tree a wily coon that climbs the tallest tree in the riverbed. The boy promised the dogs he would kill the coon if they tree him, so he feels a great deal of obligation to get the coon out of the tree. He has two options: climb the tree or cut it down. He knows he can’t climb it, so he takes his small ax and cuts it down. It takes the boy three days, and the dogs never give up the coon in the tree. The raccoon doesn’t make it.

The boy’s grandfather and father believe that Dan and Ann are impressive enough to win a hunting competition, so they enter. The night before the competition the boy hears the screech of two owls, which is bad luck up in the mountains. The hounds impress everyone. Little Ann wins a beauty competition, and together they tree the most coons. On the last night the boy and his father, grandfather, and a judge are out with the dogs when a blizzard starts to fall. The dogs do not give up on the coon trail, so the boy is left with the awful decision between leaving his dogs, or getting stuck out in the snow looking for them. They stay and pursue the dogs, and find them in the morning running around a tree with a treed coon, nearly frozen. They win the competition, earn $300, and head home.

The screech of two owls forebodes bad luck, so here we go:

The boy is out on a hunt with his dogs when Old Dan stops and points up to a tree. Through the branches the boy sees the glowing yellow eyes of the mountain lion. The mountain lion old Dan had challenged that first night in the cave. The lion attacks and a fight ensues. Old Dan and Little Ann jump between the lion and the boy, and the lion deeply wounds both dogs. Unwilling to let the lion kill his dogs the boy attacks with his ax, while Little Ann grabs hold of the lions neck. Between the two of them, the lion is killed. Old Dan is gravely injured. The boy carries him home, and Old Dan dies soon after. Little Ann, after losing her partner stops eating, and wills herself to death on Old Dan’s grave.

The boy buries his dogs on a hill, and when he goes back to visit a red fern has grown between the two mounds.

“I had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. I the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown between two bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that they never died; where one grew, the spot was sacred.”

And at this point in the second grade, I was sitting at my desk an absolute puddle of devastation. This happened again in the fifth grade. And it happened again when I finally read the book for the first time last week. Thinking back, this book had a profound impact on my life. One of my only memories of second grade was watching this movie. I have professed my hatred for this book many times over the years, and yet here I am again. What is wrong with me? That’s rhetorical the truth is: this story is beautiful. Horribly sad? Yes. Gruesome? Yes. But Billy (who I have only referred to so far as the boy for reasons I will make clear soon) is a boy from another time. He’s a hard worker. Cares deeply for his dogs, and is willing to sacrifice everything for them. Billy and his dogs have an uncanny ability to communicate their wishes to one another, and they are most comfortable in each other’s company.



“People have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they’ll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down hi life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don’t. I may be wrong, but I call it love- the deepest kind of love.”

Old Dan and Little Ann are elevated in this story to the proportions of myth. They can do things no other dog can, and most uniquely of all, they seem to have real love for one another. They will not hunt alone, and they will defend one another to death, which of course, they achieve in the end.

I didn’t use Billy’s name during my synopsis, because although this is largely a coming of age novel, I believe it is the legend of two dogs that I haven’t been able to forget since first hearing their story in the second grade.

So Ann and Dan are out of this world- kind of dogs. To reiterate this point I created a list comparing my dogs to them. Now, you may think, “that’s not fair! Ann and Dan are fiction! That’s like expecting a hero from a romance novel to actually exist!” Well, true, but I think after seeing the list  you’ll understand why I felt compelled to compare the two sets of dogs.

We love you forever Dan and Ann!