You know what they say: behind every great man is a great woman.
Well, putting aside the horribly sexist nature of this statement, it's kind of true in Wilson Rawls's case. It's safe to say that Rawls would never have been a writer without his wife.
See, Rawls never had any formal education. He was so ashamed of his spelling and grammar that he tucked his stories away in a trunk (literally). When he did get up the nerve to submit them to publishers, they came back rejected. All of them. At one point, he got so discouraged that he burned everything.
Moral of the story, Shmoopers: teach yourself some grammar. It might save you some heartache.
Enter Mrs. Rawls. When his wife found out about his dream, she encouraged him to write a novel. But first, she agreed to edit all his work before sending it to publishers. His first rewritten and edited story, "The Hounds of Youth," was published in 1961 by The Saturday Evening Post.
Well, Rawls kind of hit it out of the park on the first try. Today, we know the story as Where the Red Fern Grows. It was huge when it was published in 1961, and it is still huge today. And seriously, how can you not love a story about a cute little kid and his two adorable hound puppies.
Think the story has the ring of truth about it? You're right. Rawls based Where the Red Fern Grows on his own experiences as a child growing up in the Ozarks. Maybe that's why it's been so stinkin' popular, winning tons of awards and getting some not-so-great film adaptations. But be warned. It's not all cute puppies and country hijinks. Without spoiling the ending, let's just say that things get real. So get comfy—you're going to want to do this all at once.
Close your eyes. Now think about the one thing in your life that you really, really want. (Got you! If you're reading this, your eyes aren't really closed, are they?)
Anyway, close your eyes or not, just be sure to think of that one thing you want more that anything else in the world. Now, how hard would you work to get it? Would you wait two years, saving every nickel and penny you earned? Would you pick blackberries till your hands were cut and bleeding from the thorns, just to earn another couple of cents? How about walking 20 miles barefoot through the woods to finally claim your prize?
Yeah, we wouldn't either. We'd probably give up about a mile in and head back to sit on the couch and eat the rest of the blackberries. (Maybe with some vanilla ice cream. Delish!)
Well, not Billy Colman. Determination is this kid's middle name. (Well, not literally because that would be…unusual. Although we're sure that someone, somewhere has that as a middle name.) He's so smitten with puppy love that he works for two years to save enough money to buy a pair of hound puppies. And when he finally gets them, it's even better than he imagined. If only every dream turned out so well.
So whether you're an outdoorsman (or outdoorslady), a dog lover, a nature lover, or just know what it feels like to work hard at a goal, you're sure to find something to enjoy in Where the Red Fern Grows.
Just be sure to keep those tissues handy.
Ain't Nothing But a…You Know
More information than you probably ever wanted about hound dogs from the American Kennel Club itself.
Libraries: For More Than Just Fines
The Idaho Falls Public Library has a huge section dedicated to Rawls, who moved to Idaho in 1958.
Get the Tissues Out
This is the original 1974 movie production of Where the Red Fern Grows. Wilson Rawls even consulted on the set, so it's got to be good.
Where the Red Fern Shouldn't Have Grown
Not really a sequel, Where the Red Fern Grows: Part 2 (1992) takes place in Louisiana after WWII. It uses all the same characters, but other than that it is a completely different story. For your own good, don't watch it.
Dave Matthews Has an Acting Career?
Yep. And in 2003 he played Papa in a remake.
It's a Hard-Knock Life
Hey, here's what not to do if you want to be a writer.
Rawls got to visit the set of the 1974 film, and had a majorly nostalgic moment.
Trailer for the updated, but not necessarily better, 2003 movie.
Someone Make the Popcorn
YouTube has the full 1974 movie online. It's a little dated, but also worth a watch.
Live and In Person
Want to hear what Billy would have sounded like? Here is Rawls reading from the first chapter of the book.
Dreams Can Come True
Wilson Rawls has his own memorial statue. How cool is that?
Two Dogs and a Boy
Check out the original book cover for the 1st hardback edition.
Even though we sort of want to fill this page with pictures of dogs, we will contain ourselves to just this adorable picture of a hound puppy.
Rather than link to his stuffy author portrait, here is a more casual picture of Rawls.
The Land of Ozarks
This is where Billy would have lived. Kind of beautiful don't you think?