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‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ Is The Most Traumatizing Children’s Story We Were All Required To Read

March 31, 2020 11.1k views12 items

There's always that one book we were forced to read in English class that we can never forget - for better or for worse. Occasionally, the teacher would roll in the TV cart and slip in a VHS tape so the class could watch the film adaptation of whatever story they just had to hand-write a report on. If you can't think of an example off-hand, look no further than Wilson Rawls's Where the Red Fern Grows book from 1961 and the 1974 film adaptation.

While both the book and film are considered classics, a closer examination reveals that they are also classically traumatizing for young readers. Legends of frozen children, kids accidentally mutilating themselves, and animal maulings are all fair game in Where the Red Fern Grows. We're all familiar with sad pet movies, and this one might just top the list - not the least bit because Where the Red Fern Grows is a true story (or, at the very least, is based on real events from Rawls's childhood). 

  • Old Dan Is Ripped Apart By A Mountain Lion While Trying To Protect Billy

    As if all the raccoon hunting and Rubin falling on an ax weren't enough, Old Dan's demise at the end of the story happens in the worst way possible. Perhaps there is something to the concept of teaching children about impermanence by taking away their pet, but Old Dan doesn't suffer from old age in Where the Red Fern Grows; instead, he is ripped apart by a mountain lion. What's worse, the 1974 film puts Old Dan's final moments on full display. 

    Old Dan lies there, suffering, so that Billy can say goodbye while he watches his best friend go - not unlike Rubin's final, excruciating moments. 

  • Little Ann Dies Of A Broken Heart

    Old Dan's final moments are hard to swallow for anyone, especially young audiences, but it's nothing compared to watching Little Ann grieve for her companion. Little Ann stops eating, then goes and lays on top of Old Dan's grave, just in case we didn't feel bad enough.

    Ann ultimately passes in Billy's arms next to Old Dan's final resting place, and the young boy is left to deal with the loss of his beloved dogs. In the 1974 film adaptation, Little Ann may very well be the best performer in the cast as she whimpers listlessly next to Old Dan.

  • Billy’s Grandpa Has No Qualms About Making Bets With Children

    While Grandpa tries to give off this wise and wholesome vibe, he actually instigates quite a few problems for Billy and his dogs. When the Pritchard boys bet that Little Ann and Old Dan can't catch the "ghost coon" near their farm, Grandpa immediately takes the boys' bet of two dollars that the hounds can, in fact, catch the raccoon in question. He then sends Billy and the hounds on the hunt, which results in the dogs fighting the Pritchard's hound, Billy being hurt by the boys, and Rubin falling on an ax.

    You might assume Grandpa would have learned his lesson not to make bets with children, but he then convinces Billy to enter the hounds into the "coon hunting" contest, which results in the untimely demise of both dogs.

  • Billy's Mom Worries About His Safety Until Money Is Involved

    Similar to the trope used in horror movies, nobody listens to Billy's mom when she thinks it's a bad idea for him to be hunting raccoons. In fact, she threatens to "whoop" him if he doesn't come home, only to be overruled by her husband. Furthermore, she's simply known as "Mama," and is the only woman in the 1974 film with a speaking role.

    What's worse is that she is eventually in favor of her 10-year-old son "coon hunting" once she realizes how much money Billy makes from selling pelts. Billy gives all of his money to his family so they can move to Tulsa, making him Mama's ticket out of the Ozarks.