Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 921
This famous novel by Jim Kjelgaard recounts the adventures of a teenage boy named Danny and his faithful companion, a beautiful Irish setter named Red. As they face the unknowns of the wilderness together, their bond is unbreakable. This book has become a classic, especially for young boys who love the outdoors and hunting.
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All his young life, Danny wanted a special dog of his own.
Some day he would find a dog to shame all others, a fine dog that he could treasure, and cherish, and breed from so that all who loved fine dogs would come to see and buy his.
Here is the description of Danny's introduction to Red.
The red dog was not a hound—Danny knew vaguely that it was called an Irish setter— but never before had he seen any dog that revealed at first glance all the qualities a dog should have. Danny walked forward, and knelt to ruffle the red dog's ears. "Hi boy," he said. "How are you, Red?"
Danny knew that Red was special to him from the very beginning.
Good hunting dogs were plentiful enough if you knew where to find them, or wanted to take enough time to train them. But a dog with Red's heart and brain—there just weren't any more.
Kjelgaard provides readers with strong, vivid images of where Danny lives and works.
Danny walked on up the trail to where his father's unpainted frame house huddled in the center of a stump-riddled clearing. Asa, the brindle mule, grazed in the split-rail pasture and the Pickett's black and white cow followed Asa about. Four bluetick hounds ran to the ends of their chains and rose to paw the air while they welcomed Danny with vociferous bellows.
Danny entered the house and stuffed kindling into the stove. He poured a few drops of coal oil on it, and threw a match in. When the fire was hot he cooked side pork, and set it on the table along with fresh bread, wild honey, milk, and butter
Unlike many other stories for youth, Kjelgaard does not spare gory details about the realities of hunting and living on the land.
Danny bled the bull, and ripped its belly open with a knife so it wouldn't bloat. Keeping the rifle ready, for he was afraid of the bear, he backed away from the bull's carcass and started off through the beeches.
A huge black bear named Old Majesty, which is the "savage and unforgiving enemy of every human being in the Wintapi," tries to kill Danny. Red, unafraid of the beast, challenges Majesty.
Majesty had left his retreat by the beech tree, and with whipping front paws had tried to pin the red dog to the earth. Red had danced before him, keeping out of reach while he retreated. A hundred feet from the tree the bear, afraid to leave his rear exposed while a dog was upon him and a man might come, had gone back. Red had charged again, and again had danced away from the bear's furious lunges.
For Danny and Red, each day was a new adventure.
A squirrel flashed across the trail, and Red sprang at it. The squirrel ascended a tree, and balanced saucily on a swaying branch while Red bounded on down the trail to overtake Danny. A buck snorted from a thicket, and farther down, near the border of the beech woods, some of Mr. Haggin's finely bred young calves raised their heads to stare. Danny broke into the edge of the clearing, and Red fell in beside him as both slowed to a sober walk.
They picked up the six fox traps and carried them down to store in the shed. The next day they made the long trip over half of Stoney Lonesome, taking one good fox and liberating two that, like the one in the valley, had been burned. Red pranced ahead of them, burying his face in the snow and then playfully shaking it off.
Red is not only a great hunting dog but a prize-winning show dog, as well.
Danny was present when Red missed by a hairsbreadth being the best in show, and started happily home with Mr. Haggin to dream of the great days through which he had lived. Red hadn't won all the honors, but he had won enough. He was an official champion.
After Old Majesty takes a swipe at Red, Danny knows his dog will never be the same but loves him more than ever.
Blood trickled through his fingers as he felt torn flesh and muscles. Even as he turned the light on, he knew that Red would never win another prize in a dog show. His left front leg was ripped half away. Danny picked the dog up, and carried him down the mountain to where he had left the pack. He knelt beside him, dusted the gaping wounds with sulfa powder, and wrapped a clean white bandage around them. Danny took off his jacket, made of it a soft bed for the big setter, and built a fire.
Kjelgaard paints a beautiful picture of the unmistakable connection between a boy and his dog.
Red trotted back to Danny, buried his muzzle in Danny's cupped hand, and sniffed. Danny looked away, and Red bumped his forehead gently against Danny's wrist, demanding more attention. Ross looked proudly from Danny to the dog, and his eyes drank in all the things that a born dog man will see in a fine dog.