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Incident at Hawk's Hill by Allan W. Eckert is set on a farm near Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, and spans two months in the summer of 1870. The MacDonalds live on a farm near Hawk's Hill and is surrounded by uncultivated land; the Red River is not too far from the farm. It is important to visualize this setting, as this is the place where most of the story happens.
The protagonist of the story is Benjamin MacDonald, the youngest child in the family. Though he is six years old, he looks much younger; he is also quite shy. That is probably caused by a condition something like autism; as a result, Ben is more comfortable communicating with animals more than humans. In fact, the only person he really ever talks to is his mother; instead, he often models his own behavior after the animals he considers to be his friends. Of course this creates plenty of misunderstandings, primarily between Ben and his father.
An episode early in the book sets the stage for conflict. A neighbor, George Burton, comes to visit the MacDonalds. He is a vicious man who makes his living trapping animals; however, he and his dog, Lobo, enjoy being cruel to all animals. On this visit, we see Ben's power on display as he is able to immediately calm the rather feral (wild) Lobo with just a look. Burton is disconcerted by the boy's abilities, and Bill MacDonald admits the following to his wife:
"Oh, what's the use of trying to fool ourselves? He isn't normal, Esther, and we both know it, whether or not you're willing to admit it. He not only isn't normal physically, he's not normal mentally, either. Look how he acts toward animals."
Ben is now afraid of both his father and Burton.
Ben befriends a female badger who weighs almost as much as the boy does. She is about to deliver a litter of pups, and she and her mate have settle uncomfortably close to the MacDonald home. Though his father warns Ben that these animals, especially a nesting female, is quite dangerous, the boy continues to establish a friendship. The other people in his life and in the town, of course, continue to think Ben is some kind of "monster or throwback, an animal boy."
When Burton traps and kills the male badger, he brings it to the MacDonalds' and skins it; when Ben tries to interfere, his father hits him, contributing to Ben's alienation from his family and especially his father. Soon Ben wanders off during a thunderstorm and gets lost; he retreats to the badger hole for shelter, and another kind of experience begins for the boy.
The female badger had been caught in one of Burton's traps but managed to escape; unfortunately, her babies all died while she was away. Now she "adopts" Ben and treats him as one of her own in every way. A search party nearly discovers him, but Ben makes sure they do not find him.
His time with the badger is not healthy for Ben, as he soon takes on the characteristics of a badger and is malnourished and filthy. He knows he must leave if he wants to live. He and the badger have a dangerous encounter with Lobo and manage to kill the dog. Ben's sixteen-year-old brother, John, discovers the boy and brings him home.
Ben is in such an "unspeakable condition" that he and his mother do not even recognize one another. After the MacDonald family adopts the female badger, things begin to change for Ben. At first he is rather stuck between two worlds, animal and human, but soon he is able to talk about his adventure with the badger. He has become more "normal" because of the experience.
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