Where the Red Fern Grows
One day, Grandfather sends for Billy. He tells him that he has entered Old Dan and Little Ann in a coon-hunting championship. He has been careful to record how many skins Billy has brought in--enough to qualify. And he has paid the entry fee. Billy, his Papa, and grandfather take a buggy to the contest. The campsite is filled with tents, each containing adult coon hunters with expensive gear and beautiful hounds. Somehow, Little Ann wins the beauty contest on the first day. The other coon hunters are very kind to Billy, and his grandfather goes from tent to tent, bragging about the hounds.
The runoff hunt begins. The two men and Billy go out with a judge and the hounds. The hounds work fast. The judge is impressed by how closely they work together. Billy's father tells about how Old Dan won't eat unless he's sure Little Ann will get a share too. They have to catch three coons to qualify for the finals. As the sun is about to come up, the two men and the judge grow discouraged, but Billy is hopeful. Suddenly, he hears the dogs bark "treed." It has taken great skill on the part of Little Ann, tracking a coon on the wind as it leaped from tree to tree, but she has treed a coon.
The night of the championship comes. Billy chooses a good starting point for his hounds, and they quickly catch their first coon of the night. Then, as they chase another, a blizzard comes. The men have all decided to come back, when suddenly they hear the sound of the dogs. When they arrive at the tree, they see that Billy's grandfather is missing. They go back and find him, unconscious and with a twisted ankle. Once he revives, he tells Billy to chop down the tree and get the coon. Three coons come out. The dogs kill two of them, but the third escapes. It is freezing cold. Billy idly gestures in the direction of the third coon, and to his dismay the hounds bound after it. He hopes they are all right. When they are found, the dogs are covered with ice. They have treed a fourth coon, and won the championship. Everyone at the tournament cheers. Billy has won a jackpot of 300 dollars. When he and his father return home, his mama and sisters are overjoyed to see him. He has promised to give the gold cup to his youngest sister, and he gives the silver cup from the beauty contest to the older two.
The hounds win the championship. Although there are some problems, everyone survives. Rawls keeps the excitement going by putting various characters in grave danger. At first, we see the older men want to turn back, and this is contrasted with Billy's persistent determination. Then grandfather disappears. Throughout the contest, he has been tripping and unsteady, and so the reader naturally fears that he might be dead. Finally, for a moment Billy fears that his dogs are dead, and even when he finds them alive they are in danger of freezing to death. Yet everyone survives, even the dogs. The victory is sweeter because it was dangerous.
Wilson Rawls is clearly interested in telling a gripping, but also moving tale. It seems likely that this is why he chose a young narrator. Since Billy is so young, he has very strong emotions, such as the "puppy love" discussed earlier in the book. Now we see his persistence in chasing the coons, and how worried he becomes when his coons are in danger. When he wins, he is as excited as a twelve-year-old can be. With Billy as the narrator, Rawls can tell a highly emotional tale.
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