On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Fairy Tale For Adults

Sometimes a book sits on your bookshelves for years, but you never quite get around to reading it. That was the case of The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin. I had seen it recommended in various places, so when I spotted a used copy in Annie's and I had book credit to spend, I bought it. Then it stayed on the shelf for years. At some point I offered it to my daughter when she was in search of something new to read, and I'm pretty sure she actually read it.

This summer I decided that it fell into that anagogical category of literature (it's in effect a modern version of a beast epic), so I wanted to include it among the books the lit girls and I would do in the fall. Of course, the first thing I had to do was to actually read it. I also discovered that there was a sequel and I decided to get that as well. Initially I hoped to find it in the UVM library, but unfortunately their copy was either misshelved or lost. So I bit the bullet and bought one. I'm so glad I did.

This week I finished The Book of the Dun Cow, and now I can enthusiastically recommend it to other adult readers. It's fine for teens, but it is most definitely not a children's book, there's too much sadness and violence in it for younger kids. I am so glad that I bought the sequel because my first reaction on finishing The Book of the Dun Cow was to pick up The Book of Sorrows and see what happened next.

The characterizations in these books are incredible. There is certainly an allegorical or symbolic level to the story, but in the same way that The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia are more than allegory so are these books. You'll both laugh at and cry with Chauntecleer. You'll find him noble, heroic, comic, and flawed. His brave crowing of the hours in the last chapters of the book is one of the most touching scenes in mythical literature. You'll love Pertelote and her womanly ways. Then there are the other characters, the weasel, Mundo Cani the dog, Russell the fox, the widow mouse, the very foolish turkeys. All and all a delight despite the fact that they are found in the midst of a war on evil. You'll find the book both a page turner and one that you want to go back and re-read for the sheer beauty of the language and the power of the myth.

I am so looking forward to doing this particular book with the girls in the fall. I'm only sorry that it stayed so long on the shelf without being read.


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