Books, fiction, Review

Curmudgeon Reviews: Big Red

Big Red


Big Red By Jim Kjelgaard was published in 1945 the third of a string of books about boys in the wilderness that would continue until ten years after his death in 1959. I must assume unsold manuscripts turned up. The basic story line is simple and enjoyable for those with some experience of the wilds and, especially dogs. I first read the story sometime in the 60s, possibly early 70s. I speak of Kjelgaards work fairly often when talking about the books that I loved and kept in my heart. Because of this, and her own warm memories of his books, Cedar picked up a couple at a used book store when she saw them. I received it and set aside the other books i was reading in order to enjoy the nostalgia, Not just for the book, but for a world that has all but vanished. Big Red has a few Major characters. The Boy Danny, his father Ross, the landowner Mister Haggin, and the unnamed character that was the world and wilderness they lived in. Yes the name of the  area was The Wintappi , but what was truly being written about was any wilderness or semi wilderness area in the world. It was also about a way of life that has all but vanished form the American psyche. I knew people like those in the book, people who lived with and from nature. Trapping was a real profession until the last quarter of the twentieth century. And a man could acknowledge the wealth and power of the local landowner without being servile or looked down upon for the life he lived and loved. There may still be a few people living like that in Alaska and other remote lands, but not in the great expanse of the world today.

I sank into the story and reveled in it, while being shocked at the change in me and my perceptions of the world, The protagonist is Danny, 17 and the story is of his love for the dog Big Red. Had you asked me before this rereading of the book i would have said the boy was about 12. You see, in the middle of the twentieth century it was possible to believe that a boy would love his dog and have no thoughts  about girls or sex or any of the things that seem to obsess our culture today. A simpler worldview was on stage. I see this in the works of Heinlein and Zane Gray, Max Brand and Asimov, now I see it in Kjelgaard’s work. this doesn’t mean that sex wasn’t on peoples minds at the time, simply that they were more discrete and, possibly, less driven. Cedar read the book about twenty years after I did, and received the same thoughts and feelings from it. She is in many ways a throwback to my era because she was raised on the Alaskan frontier where things,  some things, are not as modern. I would advise everyone to get a copy of one of Kjelgaard’s boys books and read it, either again or for the first time. See what it says to you. And if you have children of the age to maybe enjoy a book of this level try to get them to read one. If you manage it let me know what they think of it. I would hope that the stories are timeless, I fear they are not.

Leave a Reply