by Fred Gipson
2 stars - oh dear
It does distress me when a book is recommended by a friend and it is not to my liking, but these things happen.
First a note on the unfortunate cover art. On page one of the novel, Sam is described as
... big-footed, rump-sprung pup, sort of liver-speckled, with flop-hound ears, a stub tail and a pot belly that was all appetite.
Um, hello? That couldn't be further from the curious blend of Golden Retriever and Lab on the cover of the edition I read. Sigh.
Murder, torture, animal abuse galore, and that's just in the first fifty pages.
The story is told in the first person by Travis, a fifteen year old boy living in Texas in the year 1870.
Travis, his six year old brother, and a 12(?) year old neighbor girl are kidnapped by Indians (what we would call Native Americans nowadays, but I'll use the terminology used by the author). Why do the Indians take them? My guess is because they are generally PO'd at the white man, but no reason is ever given.
The Indians proceed to carry their quarry at breakneck speed across miles of Texas all the while stealing horses and causing general mayhem.
But, hey, this is a dog story, right? Sam is the son of the famously dead at the end dog, Old Yeller (note Sam does *not* die). He is particularly attached to Travis's little brother, Arliss, and is hot on the trail of the Indians (that is once he recovers sufficiently from getting a hatchet in his back). Travis can hear Sam baying along somewhere behind them.
Eventually Travis escapes, meets up with Sam, and then with the posse put together to go and fetch him and the other two children to safety. They all follow Sam some more and catch up with the Indians whom they slaughter. Children return home, Sam recovers from the multiple wounds suffered during the whole adventure and there you have it.
As a faced paced adventure, the story fulfills its promise. But as a dog story, not just my cup of tea. It's overall an incredibly brutal and violent book. Since the book came out of the juvenile section of the library, it would appear that the target audience would be young people. I certainly wouldn't recommend this for young children. For teenagers, it isn't any more violent than an action movie so if it gets them reading, I'm all for it.
I understand the Disney movie based on the book softened things up a bit (as in the poor old family mule is traded with other Indians rather than having it's throat slit in front of Travis and the broiled remains subsequently served for dinner). Plus, I doubt a 1963 Disney movie actually shows a 15 year old boy stripped naked, beaten, and then tortured with hot coals, but I could be wrong.
I don't doubt that some horrific violence was perpetrated by the Native Americans as they attempted to defend their land from invaders. That stuff goes down plenty today all over the world. The author even eludes to what has the Indians so wound up when one of the men on the posse talks about how the white men are messing with the buffalo, but it's a point easily missed and overall, the impression given is that the Indians were just plain mean.
Finally, as for Sam himself, he seems like a good dog. He's certainly one tough dog. Savage? No. Just loyal to the end.