Where the Red Fern Grows Summary

Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern Grows

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Where the Red Fern Grows Summary

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Wilson Rawls’s path to literary success was anything but a sure journey. Born in 1913 in the Ozark Mountains in the Oklahoma/Arkansas region of the United States, Rawls’s time spent roaming the hills with his dog gave him stories to tell, but his level of formal education left him unsure of himself and lacking confidence in his mastery of the conventions of formal writing. He disposed of his manuscripts but was encouraged by his wife to start again, and she took on the role of editor, leading to the publication of Where the Red Fern Grows in 1961 and The Summer of the Monkeys fifteen years later. Red Fern originally appeared as a three-part work of serialized fiction called The Hounds of Youth in The Saturday Evening Post, which led to it being released as a novel. It was not an immediate success upon release, but bolstered by an appearance by Rawls in the late 1960s at at children’s book conference in Utah, it found an audience of teachers who began introducing it into classroom curricula.

As the novel opens, Billy Colman comes upon a stray coonhound being attacked by a pack of dogs. He rescues the stray and takes it home, setting it free as soon as it is able to return home. This situation evokes memories of his youth in the Ozarks of Oklahoma in the early 1930s. He wants a pair of coonhounds, but they are not affordable for his family. He comes across an advertisement for a kennel in Kentucky where coonhounds are bred and sold for twenty-five dollars. He begins working odd jobs, and with his grandfather’s assistance, saves fifty dollars. It takes him two years, but the kennel not only honors its ad, but the price has actually dropped to forty dollars for the pair. Since the mail service does not deliver live animals, Billy must find a way to pick up the dogs. His parents do not have a mode of transportation, so he makes his way through the hills to a freight depot and picks up a male and a female puppy. He uses his extra ten dollars to purchase gifts for his family.

On his journey home, he passes an evening at Robber’s Cave in the Sparrow Hawk Mountains. During the night, he is awakened by the sound of a mountain lion. Continuing on is way the following morning, he sees the names Dan and Ann carved into a heart on a tree and names his puppies Old Dan and Little Ann. As the story continues, he begins training the dogs. He captures a raccoon and uses the pelt to train them to hunt. As Billy spends time with them, he realizes that Old Dan’s strong trait is bravery, while Little Ann’s is intelligence. They bond with each other and with Billy. When the hunting season opens, he takes them out, and they “tree” a raccoon in a sycamore that Billy calls “The Big Tree.” Since he told the dogs he would do the rest if they were to tree a raccoon, he realizes what he must do. He spends two days trying to cut down the tree aided by a strong wind, and the dogs take the raccoon down, making Billy proud.

They go hunting nightly for months, and Billy ends up becoming the most successful hunter in the area; he and his dogs are spoken of throughout the Ozarks. A bet then takes place that finds Billy and his grandfather betting Rubin and Rainie Pritchard that Dan and Ann can catch the “ghost coon” that is legendary in the Ozarks. Rubin and Rainie go with Billy to see if his dogs are successful and a long chase ensues. When the dogs manage to tree the raccoon, Billy will not kill it. Rubin has his dog, Old Blue, attack Old Dan, and Rubin attacks Billy to keep him from intervening. Little Ann comes to the aid of Old Dan, and they injure Old Blue. Rubin attempts to attack the dogs with an axe, but falls on it killing himself.

After some time passes, Billy is entered into a championship raccoon hunt by his grandfather. Leading up to this, Little Ann wins a best-looking dog contest. Four days into the competition, Old Dan and Little Ann tree three raccoons and get into the final round. A blizzard starts on the sixth day, and the judge, along with Billy and his grandfather, cannot locate the dogs. When they manage to find them, the grandfather hurts his ankle. As they build a fire, Billy’s father cuts down a tree and Old Dan and Little Ann take down two of the three raccoons it contains. They chase the third one into a tree and win the championship and a three-hundred-dollar prize.

Billy continues hunting, and one night the dogs tree a mountain lion. Billy attempts to protect the dogs with an axe but they end up having to help him. They kill the mountain lion, but Old Dan is killed in the process. Little Ann is overwrought with sadness and dies a few days later, at the grave of Old Dan. Billy visits the graves of his dogs and sees a red fern growing between them. Native American legend has it that such a fern can only be planted by an angel. Billy and his family see this as a sign that it is time to move on with their lives.