Stone Fox Summary

John Reynolds Gardiner

Stone Fox

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Stone Fox Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.

John Reynolds Gardiner’s debut children’s novel, Stone Fox, was published in 1980 and was included on that year’s New York Times list of Notable Books of the Year. It sold millions of copies and was adapted for a television film in 1987. In the third person voice, filtered exclusively through the central character, it tells the story of a young boy named Little Willy and his effort to win a five hundred dollar prize in a dog sled race so as to be able to help pay the overdue taxes on his grandfather’s potato farm in Jackson, Wyoming. The novel is set in an unidentified year in the American Old West. The winter Willy decides that he and his dog Searchlight can win the National Dogsled Race is particularly harsh.

As the story opens, Little Willy fears that his grandfather, with whom he is very close, is sick because he does not leave his bed and is not active as he once was, not even getting up to prepare breakfast as he always did. Little Willy visits the town’s physician, Doc Smith, to see if he can learn anything more about what might be wrong and how to help his grandfather. Doc comes to the farm where she examines the grandfather. Although he is not ailing physically, something is threatening his will to live. She suggests the grandfather does not have much longer to live and that Willy should come live with her, and someone else should care for the grandfather during his remaining days. Will is steadfast in his determination to care for his beloved grandfather and to figure out why he is in his present condition.

It is possible, Willy believes, that his grandfather is suffering because he is worried about the harvest, which is quickly approaching. The previous year, the harvest was poor leaving them without money. The upcoming harvest, however, is very promising. Willy, along with Searchlight, is able to harvest and sell the potato crop, yet his grandfather’s condition does not seem to change, and he remains in bed. Willy is able to maintain basic communication with him via very simple questions that require just affirmative or negative responses. Upon returning home one day, Willy discovers the source of his grandfather’s depression. Clifford Snyder, a tax collector is at their farm to collect overdue taxes on the farm. Willy has but fifty dollars to his name while the tax debt is ten times that amount. Others advise Willy that he needs to sell the farm since he will be losing it anyway because of the inability to pay the taxes.

Willie will not give up the farm, or give up on his grandfather. He finds out about a dog race with a five hundred dollar prize and enters himself and Searchlight into the contest. His main competitor among those entered is Stone Fox, a Native American who is considered a racing legend, and who needs the prize money to buy back tribal land for his people. In fact, Stone Fox has never lost a race. When the race begins, Willy gets off to a quick lead. He is lighter than Stone Fox and using only one dog; both of these factors work to give him an edge in the race. Willy builds a lead by taking a shortcut across a frozen lake.

During the race, Willy discovers that his grandfather has finally left his bed and come to watch Willy and Searchlight compete in the race. This greatly lifts Willy’s spirits, but at the same time, Stone Fox has begun to catch up to him. As Willy and Stone Fox approach the finish line Searchlight can no longer continue, and her heart stops. Stone Fox could have used this turn of events to win the race but does not. He fires a shot from his rifle into the air and vows to shoot anyone who crosses the finish line before Willie. Willy picks up the dead body of Searchlight and carries her across the line, winning the race and saving his grandfather’s farm.

The power of perseverance emerges as the overarching theme of the book, which has its roots in Rocky Mountain legends. Willy’s grandfather has given up all hope, becoming inactive, and not sharing the reason with anyone. Ten-year-old Willy, on the other hand, remains determined to restore his grandfather to his previous state of health and to save the farm. He has no horse, but suffices with his dog to complete the potato harvest. He cannot obtain a loan so enters a race in which he is the clear underdog. He is undeterred even when he finds that his fiercest competitor in the race upon which so much depends has never lost a race.