Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows Religion

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I remembered a passage from the Bible my mother had read to us: "God helps those who help themselves." […] I asked God to help me get two hound pups. It wasn't much of a prayer, but it did come right from the heart. (3.8)

Billy finally realizes he's been asking the wrong person for help. His parents can't help him, so he has to turn to God. But is it God who helps Billy—or is it Billy himself? Does finally turning to God help Billy figure out what to do?

With a smile on her face, she asked, "Do you believe God heard your prayer and helped you?"

"Yes, Mama," I said. "I know He did and I'll always be thankful." (6.79-80)

We already know Billy is a hard worker, and that he's incredibly loyal. Now, we learn that he's also thankful for everything he gets. Wow, it's almost as though he's telling this story about himself!

Kneeling down between my dogs, I cried and prayed. "Please God, give me the strength to finish the job. I don't want to leave the big tree like that. Please help me finish the job." (9.120)

Billy's faith in God here seems tied up with a bit of the old nature worship, since he doesn't want the tree to have died in vain.

"The big tree was the only one touched by the wind. Do you think God heard my prayer? Do you think He helped me?" […] It wasn't hard for me to decide. I was firmly convinced that I had been helped. (9.153-155)

Okay—but notice that he says "was." Does the adult Billy also agree that God was helping him, or are we just getting the young Billy's perspective here?

I walked back to the sycamore tree. Once again I said a prayer, but this time the words were different. I didn't ask for a miracle. In every way a young boy could, I said "thanks." My second prayer wasn't said with just words. All of my heart and soul was in it. (11.78)

Prayer doesn't have to be about asking for something; it can also be a thanksgiving for something that you've been given. Just one more way we know that Billy is a model young gentleman, right?

I went to my mother and asked her if God answered prayers every time one was said. She smiled and said, "No, Billy, not every time. He only answers the ones that are said from the heart. You have to be sincere and believe in Him." (11.83)

Here's something mom is good for: teaching Billy about God. Dad might be able to take him out hunting, but only his mom can answer his questions about God. We're wondering if Billy is saying something about men and women—or if this is just the way it happened for him.

"I know what you're going through and how it hurts, but there's always an answer. The Good Lord has a reason for everything he does." (19.166)

According to Papa, God took away the dogs so Billy could go to town with the rest of the family. We're thinking maybe there was another way—like, maybe finding a house with a big backyard?

"I think it is a miracle," Papa said. "Remember, Billy said a prayer when he asked for his pups and then there were your prayers. Billy got his pups. Through those dogs your prayers were answered. Yes, I'm sure it is a miracle." (19.178)

Billy's dad sees the interconnectedness of all the events that have been happening. Guess what? That's what adults do. When Billy can finally understand the significance of the red fern and his family's move, that's the moment he really grows up.

I knew my father was a firm believer in fate. To him everything that happened was the will of God, and in his Bible he could always find the answers. (19.181)

Notice that Billy refers to it as "his Bible," implying that it is his dad's Bible now and not Billy's. Hello, crisis of faith!

I didn't feel like saying any prayers that night. I was hurting too much. (19.193)

Guess what, Billy-boy? This is exactly the time when you should be saying prayers. Don't worry, though. He's going to get his groove back.

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