12 Things You Might Not Know About Where the Red Fern Grows

istock (blank book)
istock (blank book)

Where the Red Fern Grows, Woodrow Wilson Rawls’s touching tale of a boy and his loyal hounds, has been captivating audiences since its publication in 1961. Even if you loved the book when you read it in school, you may not know about Rawls’ background and inspirations for this classic coming-of-age tale. 

1. Rawls was an unlikely bestselling author. 

“Woody” Rawls was born in Oklahoma’s Ozark Mountains in 1913. He was one of six children, and since there was no school in the area, most of the family’s education came from his mother. She taught the kids to read and write as best she could; the children would take turns reading aloud to the group from whatever books she could get. When a school finally did open nearby, Rawls and his siblings had to wade across a river to get to class, and it was only open during summer months. Rawls put in four years at this modest school and later spent a few months in high school before the Depression forced him to get a job.

2. Another man-and-dog story inspired Rawls’ entire literary career

As a young child, Rawls wasn’t too interested in reading; he referred to stories like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Chicken Little” as “girl stories”—he just couldn’t identify or connect with the mostly female protagonists. But one day, his mother brought home a book that changed his life: Jack London’s Call of the Wild. The story of a man and his dog resonated with him, and he began to dream of writing a book like it someday. He eventually shared this dream with his father, who told him, “Son, a man can do anything he sets out to do, if he doesn’t give up.” 

3. The lack of education hurt Rawls’ chances at publication.

Although Rawls knew he wanted to be a writer from the time he was 9 or 10 years old, his unpolished command of spelling and punctuation doomed him in the eyes of prospective publishers. He wrote five manuscripts, including what would become Where the Red Fern Grows, but they were too rough to be published. Rawls later admitted, “The spelling was bad and I know absolutely no punctuation.”

4. Rawls burned all of his manuscripts. 

Rawls eventually settled into life as a carpenter and moved to Idaho to work at a defense installation. While there, he met his wife, Sophie. Instead of admitting to Sophie that he secretly dreamed of becoming a writer, Rawls burned everything he had ever written just before they were married. 

However, a few months later he confessed everything to Sophie, and she encouraged him to write again. In longhand, he replicated the story of a young boy and his hunting dogs. 

5. Rawls rewrote the book in three weeks—completely from memory. 

All that was left of the original manuscript were charred remains, but Rawls knew the story by heart. With his wife's support, he quit his job in order to focus all of his time and energy on the rewrite. He wrote nonstop for three weeks and absolutely refused to let anyone, even Sophie, read it until it was finished. 

He handed the manuscript over to Sophie and went to town for the day while she read. Rawls was sure Sophie would hate the novel. To his surprise, she called him and gushed, “Woody, this is marvelous. Come home and work on it some more and we'll send it to a publisher."

6. The finished product showed husband-and-wife teamwork.

Since Sophie had formal education, she helped Rawls smooth out the spelling and grammar. She also suggested that he beef up the tale because she believed that it was “too short to be a novel but too long to be a short story.” Rawls set to work, and soon he had written his signature book—all 35,000 words in longhand! Sophie typed it up, and together they delved into the world of publishing. 

7.  It was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post. 

Although the Post initially rejected Rawls’ story, it later accepted the work after the Ladies Home Journal sent it their way. (The Journal’s editors felt that it was not quite right for their magazine, but they liked it and wanted it to be seen.) In 1961 the tale was published as a three-part series titled The Hounds of Youth.

8. The book’s title was changed without Rawls’ permission.

When Doubleday picked up the novel for publication as a book, it changed the title to Where the Red Fern Grows in an attempt to market the book to adult readers. Rawls said Doubleday “broke [his] heart,”­ because now his children’s coming-of-age story was not even reaching children. 

9. The story is loosely based on Rawls’ own childhood. 

Before he settled down in Idaho, Rawls constantly wrote autobiographical fiction while traveling for work. He penned tales about the farms of the Ozark Mountains, stories that reminded him of stories from his youth. The first audience of these stories had been his own faithful boyhood companion, a bluetick coonhound. 

10. Sales were slow.

Where the Red Fern Grows wasn’t an overnight success when Doubleday released it in 1961. Even several years after its publication, Rawls was still working as a carpenter, and by the mid-'60s the novel was scheduled to go out of print. Then Rawls got an invitation to speak at the Intermountain Conference on Children’s Literature in Salt Lake City. Again, Sophie saved the day. Rawls later said, “I had never spoken in public before. I woulda backed out if I could of, but my wife wouldn’t let me. I wondered what I had got myself into now.” 

Rawls must have wowed the assembled teachers. After they returned home to their schools, orders for the book began pouring in from around the country, and Where the Red Fern Grows was finally a hit. 

11. Rawls only published one other book.

Rawls’s second novel, Summer of Monkeys, was published in 1976 and found even quicker success than Where the Red Fern Grows—perhaps due in part to his now reputable name.

12. Rawls was perhaps most influential as a motivational speaker. 

Following the success of his books, Rawls received invitations to speak at schools across America, where he told the story of his life and offered writing advice to students. Visiting over 2000 schools before he passed away in 1984, Rawls always brought a powerful visual aid:

I always take my second original manuscript of Where the Red Fern Grows to show the youngsters. I want to stress to them how important it is to learn to spell, punctuate, and mainly how important it is for them to stay in school. They always look at the manuscript in disbelief.

Rawls encouraged students to begin writing and stressed that getting one’s ideas down on paper was the first and most important step. In a letter to aspiring writers, Rawls wrote, “Do a lot of reading … Read all the books you can find on creative writing … Do not wait to start writing. You are never too young to start.”

Oscar Wilde's Gold Friendship Ring Recovered Nearly 20 Years After It Was Stolen

Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

After missing for 17 years, a piece of literary history has been found. As Smithsonian.com reports, a gold ring that writer Oscar Wilde gifted to his friend is back home at Oxford's Magdalen College, following its theft from the school in 2002.

The friendship ring's history at Oxford dates back to 1876, when Wilde was studying there with his friends Reginald Harding and William Ward. Ward was planning to drop out of school to travel, and Wilde and Harding wanted to give him something to remember them by. The gift—an 18-karat gold ring shaped like a belt buckle—is engraved with the initials of each member of the trio and a Greek inscription that translates to “Gift of love, to one who wishes love."

The ring wound up back at Oxford, where it was kept with a collection of Oscar Wilde artifacts at the university's Magdalen College until 2002. That year, a former college custodian named Eamonn Andrews broke into the building through a skylight and got away with the friendship ring and three unrelated medals. The thief was eventually apprehended thanks to DNA he left at the scene, but by then it was too late: He had already pawned the jewelry for less than $200. The gold band is estimated to be worth around $70,000 today.

Hopes for the keepsake's recovery deflated after that. Investigators assumed that it had been melted down by scrap dealers and declined to pursue the case any further. That seemed like the end of the story until 2015, when art detective Arthur Brand (known as the "Indiana Jones of the Art World") heard whispers of a black market ring that fit a similar description to the missing item. Brand theorizes that after originally being stolen from Oxford, the ring wound up in one of the safe-deposit boxes that got looted during the infamous Hatton Garden heist of 2015. After the heist, it hit the market again and landed on his radar.

With help from William Veres—a London antiques dealer—and George Crump—a man with connections to the British underground crime scene—Brand determined that the ring had recently switched hands. The new owner was shocked to hear that the unusual Victorian ring once belonged to Wilde and was fully cooperative in returning it to the college.

The ring will resume its official spot in Magdalen College's collection at a small ceremony on December 4.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Charlotte Brontë's Final "Little Book" Returning to Haworth After $665,000 Auction Bid

Brontë Parsonage Museum, Crowdfunder
Brontë Parsonage Museum, Crowdfunder

Soon after his father gave him 12 toy soldiers as a gift, Branwell Brontë and the three Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—established an imaginary, miniature land called the Glass Town Federation where the soldiers could reign. To supplement their game, 14-year-old Charlotte Brontë wrote a series of six books beginning in 1830 called “The Young Men’s Magazine,” which she made tiny enough for the soldiers to “read.”

Four of the books are kept at the family’s former home, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, in Haworth, Yorkshire. A fifth volume has been lost since the 1930s. Now, after a lengthy fundraising endeavor, the Brontë Society has purchased the last remaining volume at a Paris auction. It’ll soon be displayed alongside the other issues in the museum.

It isn’t the first time the Brontë Society tried to bring the book back home. According to The New York Times, it surfaced at an auction in Sotheby’s in 2011, but the society was outbid by the Paris-based Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, which later folded after being accused of fraud.

The Guardian reports that upon hearing the item would soon be up for auction again, the Brontë Society launched a month-long public campaign to raise money for its purchase, with the public support of Dame Judi Dench, honorary president of the Brontë Society. They crowdfunded about $110,000, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund along with other organizations will cover the rest of the $777,000 cost (bid and fees included).

The 4000-word book measures about 1.5 inches by 2.5 inches and contains all the trappings of a quality literature magazine—ads, stories, and writerly wit. One ad, for example, was placed by “six young men” who “wish to let themselves all a hire for the purpose in cleaning out pockets they are in reduced CIRCUMSTANCES.” And one of the three original stories includes a scene similar to the one in Jane Eyre when Bertha sets Mr. Rochester’s bed on fire.

“Charlotte wrote this minuscule magazine for the toy soldiers she and her siblings played with, and as we walk through the same rooms they did, it seems immensely fitting that it is coming home,” Brontë Parsonage Museum principle curator Ann Dinsdale said in a statement.

[h/t The Guardian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER