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Re: "Where the Red Fern Grows"

In addition to Blechnum, red is common on new growth throughout the 
Blechnaceae. However, the Blechnaceae are not common in Oklahoma. The 
only member of the family native to OK is Woodwardia areolata, and its 
spring growth is better described as reddish rather than red.

The only other North American fern that comes to mind with reddish new 
growth and with distribution in Oklahoma would be Adiantum pedatum. The 
coloration is only a fraction of that in the closely related (and often 
subsumed in pedatum) A. japonicum, a fiery orange-red, a candidate for 
most intensely colored fern in the world, not obviously a denizen of 

"Where the Red Fern Grows" is a tear-jerker novel used in classrooms to 
teach vocabulary and criticism. Here is an excerpt from a teaching site,


... where you can visit if I have short-sheeted you.

From the summary of chapter XIX:

> Chapter XIX Summary:
> One night three weeks after the championship, Billy's dogs chase what he
> thinks is a bobcat. They have killed them before, but Billy thinks it is
> an unnecessary risk. They tree the cat, and Old Dan is especially vicious.
> Billy realizes they have not treed a bobcat, but a dangerous mountain
> lion.
> The lion jumps out of the tree and fights the dogs. Little Ann is wounded,
> and Billy joins in the fight with his ax. The lion turns on Billy, but his
> dogs protect him. The fight continues down the mountain. The lion has Old
> Dan's throat, but Billy lodges the ax in its back. The dogs finish it off
> as it tries to get to Billy. Billy faints and wakes up. The lion is dead
> and the dogs are still holding on to it with their jaws.
> Billy pries them off and inspects them. They are both injured, but Old Dan
> is far worse off. He leads them home, but soon discovers that the lion had
> slashed Old Dan's belly, and his entrails have come out. Billy puts them
> back in Old Dan's belly and carries him home. Mama helps Billy bathe Old
> Dan and sew up his belly before they tend to Little Ann. But Old Dan dies.
> Billy stays up at night next to his body. Little Ann joins them and
> snuggles up next to Old Dan. Billy runs outside and cries in the early
> morning.
> In the morning, Billy buries Old Dan in a crude box by a red oak tree. Two
> days later, he finds that Little Ann will not eat and has lost the will to
> live. Billy force-feeds her for a few days, but it does no good. She is
> missing one day, and he finds her dead on top of Old Dan's grave. Mama
> joins Billy at the grave and tells him he did nothing wrong and that
> everyone must suffer sometimes. He rejects the idea of getting new dogs
> and says that he no longer believes in prayer, since he prayed for his
> dogs and they have died. They cover Little Ann's body in leaves and go
> back to the house.
> Papa shows Billy the money his dogs have earned; they now have enough
> money to move to town. Mama and Papa had decided to let Billy help out
> Grandpa in the store so he could remain with his dogs for a while, but
> they knew that was not a good solution. Papa believes God did not want to
> break up the family like this, so he took the lives of Billy's dogs.
> Billy cries during the night and Mama tries to comfort him, though she
> cannot think of any way to do it. The next morning, Billy buries Little
> Ann by Old Dan, carves their names into a red sandstone, and places it by
> their graves. Mama reassures him that his dogs are in heaven, and Billy
> feels a little better.
> Analysis:
> The mountain lion episode demonstrates not just loyalty but love, as one
> of the men in Chapter XVIII said. Loyalty is too weak a word for what the
> dogs and Billy do for each other. Rawls makes the dogs' final actions
> sacrificial. Old Dan sacrifices his life for Billy, while Little Ann
> sacrifices her life for Old Dan. Unwilling to eat, she appears to lose her
> characteristic determined will for the first time, but really she wants to
> join Old Dan as soon as possible.
> This quality of love is perhaps why Rawls has used red throughout Where
> the Red Fern Grows. The dogs are red, Billy buries them by a red oak, and
> he uses a red sandstone for their tombstone. Red, of course, is the color
> of blood and the heart, and serves as a symbol of the dogs' deep love,
> their strong will power, and their sacrificial intimacy with each other
> and Billy. Rawls withholds, however, the meaning of the novel's red title.
> Billy's faith is shaken after his dogs' death. After so many of his
> prayers have been answered, he cannot understand why a benevolent God
> would take away his beloved dogs. Papa has a good answer: the dogs have
> sacrificed themselves not only for Billy, but also for the family. After
> his period of doubt, Billy regains his belief in God and heaven.
> The appearance of the mountain lion provides structural symmetry. As Billy
> points out, his first major test with the dogs was in challenging a
> mountain lion from a cave their first night together. The mountain lion
> adds another religious meaning. Billy feels he has rid the mountains of a
> great evilthe "devil cat"and made it safe for the defenseless animals
> there. He and his dogs have swept out evil with their love and goodness.
> Chapter XX Summary:
> The family leaves the Ozarks in good spirits the next spring. Billy goes
> to his dogs' grave to say goodbye. He finds a tall, beautiful red fern
> between the graves. He remembers the Indian legend about a little boy and
> girl who had been lost in a blizzard and froze to death. When their bodies
> were found in the spring, a red fern had sprouted between them. As the
> legend goes, only an angel can plant the seeds of a red fern, which never
> dies and makes the spot sacred.
> Billy calls his family, and they feel it is God's way of explaining to
> Billy why his dogs have died. Billy does feel better, and he says a final
> goodbye to his dogs. The family rides away and looks back at the red fern,
> visible in the distance.
> The adult Billy reflects that he would like to revisit the Ozarks of his
> childhood. He would like to see his old haunts and landmarks. He is sure
> the red fern has grown and now covers his dogs' graves, for in his heart
> he believes "the legend of the sacred red fern."
> Analysis:
> The poignant ending of Where the Red Fern Grows does not manipulatively
> pull heartstrings, but earns its emotional payoff. We have grown with the
> dogs and Billy, and their adventures and love for each other have
> culminated in the mystical growth of the red fern.
> Rawls has made the red fern seem plausible in two ways. First, Billy
> mentioned early on that his mother was part Cherokee; her Native American
> background, then, has made Billy aware of the story of the red fern.
> Moreover, the story involves a boy and a girl who freeze to death in a
> blizzard, whereas Old Dan and Little Ann nearly froze to death in the
> blizzard during the championship coon hunt.
> The meaning of the novel's title is finally revealed, as is the novel's
> final usage of the color red. Beyond love, determination, and intimacy,
> red now takes on a mystical quality that has been building through all of
> God's seeming interventions in the lives of Billy and the dogs. The novel
> ends on an upbeat spiritual note. As an adult, Billy is now a full
> believer in the legend of the red fern and in heaven. ClassicNote on Where
> the Red Fern Grows
Bottom line: the red fern is a myth.

Tom Stuart
New York
Who has been irritated no end by having Amazon's site show up when trying 
to google ferns.

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