Funny how freedomista books can turn up out of the blue, disguised as something else. Two such landed in my hold box at the library this week.
I went online, searching for the parody The Dangerous Book for Dogs. In the mysterious ways of the library’s search engine, the words “dangerous” and “dogs” popped up a few other titles, as well. Children’s books. Hm, I thought.
Pretty soon both Dangerous and two other titles were waiting for me. While I expected to be just mildly entertained (because a good kid’s book is a good book, and usually easy on the brain), I was blown away by a pair of freedomista stories.
The first is A Dog Called Grk.
Grk is a small black-and-white mutt found in the streets of London by independent 12-year-old Timothy Malt. Tim’s fussy, workaholic parents won’t even let him bring the dog in their house, and when they learn that Grk’s owner, a 12-year-old girl named Natascha Raffifi, has left London and returned to her native Stanislavia (an obscure nation somewhere near Russia), they determine to take the dog to a kill shelter.
Tim, who has a finely developed sense of right and wrong, decides that’s quite wrong. What’s right is to return Grk to young Natascha, no matter where she may be. So off he goes with the dog to Stanislavia. He is undeterred in his efforts to restore the dog to her — even when he learns that the girl and her family have been arrested by the evil Colonel Zinfandel, who has overthrown Stanislavia’s government. Zinfandel now holds the girl and her brother in prison and unbeknownst to them has killed their parents.
Tim lets nothing stop him — not Authority, not border crossing procedures, not carefully staged governmental PR events, not even the fact that flying a real helicopter isn’t exactly like “flying” one via computer simulation.
Adults will recognize … well, a certain lack of regard for reality. Kids should have a blast. And there were a couple of scenes that, if they appeared in a more conventional, explicit freedom novel, would have you cheering the courage and integrity of the characters. What the heck; they’re worth a cheer here, also.
A Dog Called Grk turns out to be book one of a growing series of comic adventure books featuring Tim, Grk, Natascha, and her older brother Max. And I say let me at ‘em!
The second book is entirely different. Stormy is hyper-realistic. It’s also old enough to be called a classic. It was originally published in 1959, the 46th (and final) novel by outdoorsman and children’s author Jim Kjelgaard.
Kjelgaard (whose most famous work was Big Red, which became a Disney movie) believed you should never talk down to children, that in fact you had to live up to their expectations. And he does in this ultimate guy book.
Teenager Allan Marley is living alone in subartic wilderness. He and his father once earned their living guiding hunters who came to their lodge. But now his hot-tempered father is in prison for nearly beating a neighbor to death, and the neighbor’s vengeful family has cut off vehicle access to the lodge so hunters no longer come. Allan survives by hunting, fishing, and raising his own crops. He earns money by trapping and selling pelts, but his funds are rapidly diminishing.
Then, as winter sets in, early and harsh, Allan discovers a magnificent mixed-breed retriever, wounded (but dauntless) in the snow and ice. He learns that the dog is an “outlaw,” to be shot on sight for having attacked its last master. But Allan quickly realizes the dog, which he names Stormy, is not vicious at all, but an independent soul like himself, whose trust must be won and who will tolerate no mistreatment.
One of the things I enjoyed about Stormy is that, even though Allan interacts frequently with people in the nearby town, including authority figures like the local game warden, no one ever questions his right to be on his own or suggests that he needs any help or care. Everyone — including Allan himself — implicitly understands that he’s perfectly capable.
The novel is as much survival manual as story; you may get more information about wilderness living than you really want to know. But there are valuable lessons here, including think rationally and don’t panic even when a situation looks dire. Oh, and there’s a decent, if thin, plot in there, too.
Stormy is available via Amazon, but you can also read it free online via Project Gutenberg Canada.
The Dangerous Book for Dogs (a comic twist on the famous Dangerous Book for Boys) turned out to be entertaining — anything from howlingly funny to mildly lame and doggily gross. But A Dog Called Grk and Stormy were the real prizes of the week’s book haul.