The Book of Sorrows Essay - Critical Essays

Walter Wangerin Jr.

The Book of Sorrows

At the end of THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW, Wyrm has been defeated but Chauntecleer, once the clearheaded ruler of the animals, is preoccupied and depressed. He is sure that Wyrm is not dead. Chauntecleer develops a frenzied desire to seek Wyrm in the depths and destroy him once and for all. He neglects his other duties in his obsession. He sacrifices everything to his quest, only to find Wyrm already dead and rotting. The Spirit of Wyrm, however, lives on, symbolized by the thousands of tiny worms which now infest Chauntecleer himself. For, lured by his very desire to destroy evil, Chauntecleer has been tricked into becoming its vehicle to the surface.

This is definitely not a book for children, despite the fact that THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW was selected as Best Children’s Book of the Year (1978) by THE NEW YORK TIMES and A Best Book for Children by SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL (1978). This sequel is an intense and chilling tale about the problems of evil and the dangers of dealing with it. THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW was comparatively lighter in mood and more straightforward. In THE BOOK OF SORROWS, horror predominates and the story is as complex and confusing as evil itself. Though the ending does deal with love as the only way to conquer evil, it does not do so in a way that many young readers would understand. For the adult reader who knows what he is getting into, however, this novel is gripping and thought-provoking. The imagery and characterizations are rich, and the plot is absorbing. As a fantasy/horror novel with deep philosophical overtones, it is a very fine book, but it is no bedtime story.