RING: A FRONTIER DOG written by Walter McCaleb
While the blog, Dog Reads primarily focuses on author interviews, from time to time, I will honor dog books written by authors no longer with us. That said, I’d like to share one book from my childhood that made a huge impression on me when I was ten years old:
RING: A FRONTIER DOG
NY: Prentice-Hall, 1921
Written by Walter McCaleb
Illustrated by Edwin Megargee
One autumn Sunday in 1973 not long after we moved from New Jersey to New England—specifically to Northampton, Massachusetts, my parents took me and my siblings antique shopping along country roads through the Berkshire Hills. It was peak season. So the maples popped red-orange against vibrant green pines and pastures dotted by grazing white horses. With blue skies the air was as crisp as a McIntosh apple.
When we reached the Antique Shop, a former tobacco barn, my mother handed each of us a dollar. And we all darted out of the station wagon in search of finding something special. A leather bound book featuring a headshot of a black dog, named Ring on the cover caught my eye. Not surprisingly, Ring wore a white collar of fur around his neck. His eyes were big, round, and inviting—just like those of our family dog, a black cocker mix named Emma.
As I opened the book, the artwork by Edwin Megargee appealed to me most. His work looked as real as photographs with tissue paper protecting each page-length illustration. Pencil drawings mostly of dogs lined the top of each new chapter and told a story in images as I flipped through the pages from start to finish.
I was sold!
Like Old Yeller, the ending made me cry. So I only read the book once because the feeling I had experienced had stayed with me long after I had turned the last page. I didn’t need to relive it by re-reading the book. As sad as it had been to experience Ring’s fate and his dying loyalty to his family, I held onto this book into adulthood even though I had donated many other good books over the years to create space for newer books. So why did I keep this book, I often wondered? Was it the fancy and expensive-looking illustrations? The gorgeous leather bound cover? These were the answers I had come up with until I started to write my own stories.
After I revised Lara’s Gift, I decided to re-read Ring: A Frontier Dog to see if it would produce the same kind of feeling I had had as a kid. And wow! While the language is dated (with expressions like “Gee whilikins!” and “Geep!”) and more typical of language from the early 1900s, I was amazed at how the writing and story brought me right back to when I was ten reading it for the first time. And even though I knew the big scene was coming, it still made me cry just as it had forty years ago.
So I revise my answer of why I always kept Ring: A Frontier Dog because Walter McCaleb makes us care about Ring just as any modern day writer would do through the careful choices of scenes he selected to show us exactly who Ring was such that we care about him just as we would for any of our own loyal dogs. For this reason, I will continue to hold onto Ring: A Frontier Dog as a reminder of how important it is to make our readers feel their way through our stories and because I have no doubt of how it will make me feel should I pick it up again in forty years for a good read and cry.