Summary- Travis must be the man of the house while his father is driving cattle. While he works tirelessly to keep the farm going and his little brother in check a stray no good dog appears creating havoc. Initially, Travis hates the dog but in time sees the help the dog can be to him. He and Old Yeller grow close as Yeller saves his family from bears and bulls. Then, a terrible tragedy strikes and Travis will have to prove once and for all that he is ready to man up and do the right thing even if it breaks his heart.
This Review may contain Spoilers. I don’t normally include spoilers but I am this time because there is no other way to honestly review this book. I have also seen the Disney movie and there are some places that the movie was better than the book and this review might have spoilers for the movie as well.
The book is told in first person from Travis’ perspective. I thought the narrative voice was very suitable for a teenage boy but it also made Travis hard to like. Travis doesn’t much like his little brother or Old Yeller through most of the book and his negativity really annoyed me. For instance “I guess I had been looking on him about how most boys look on their little brothers. I liked him, all right, but I didn’t have a lot of use for him” (54).
Travis is hard for me as an adult to really relate to. He is probably much easier for the intended audience of young boys to understand.
There was quite a bit of description of farm life in this book. It was fascinating and very educational for me. I was a bit thrown by how different many of the scenes in the book were vs the scenes in the Disney movie. I was glad pictures were included in the version of the book I read because from the descriptions I had a hard time understanding what Travis was doing some of the time. Particularly, there is an adventure where Yeller helps Travis corner pigs so he can lower a rope and lasso the piglets and pull them up to the hillside so he can slice their ears for identification. I have never worked on a farm and so much of this was hard for me to really understand. Luckily, the pictures helped.
I think the book is a bit challenging for the modern reader who is removed from country life. It is interesting to learn about how pioneers had to live but Travis is sometimes a difficult narrator to follow.
The end of the book is a tear jerker. Travis must kill Yeller after he is bitten by a wolf who shows signs of hydrophobia (rabies).
I had seen the movie so I knew how things ended for Yeller however the book had one big difference from the movie that I really disliked. In the movie Travis waits to see if Yeller becomes rabid. Then, he is forced to kill him.
In the book Yeller has just saved the family from a rabid wolf and Travis’ mom tells him he has to kill Yeller. Travis initially asks for the chance to see if Yeller gets sick. His mom tells him they can’t take that chance. So after having just saved the family and not yet showing any signs of rabies Travis calls Old Yeller to him and shoots him in the head.
I think that scene really frustrated me beyond anything else. In the movie Travis had no choice but to kill Yeller. He had rabies and would have died anyways. Travis was protecting his family and he was preventing the painful death of Yeller. It was tragic.
The books ending though I found very upsetting. Yeller probably would contract rabies. He was in a fight with a rabid wolf. Still, to kill a perfectly healthy Yeller who just saved the family because he might have gotten rabies bothered me. It shows the harshness of pioneer life I don’t think much else could have shown so well.
This book is a classic for a reason but I did not really enjoy reading it. Can’t recommend it as a pleasure read but it is a good piece of literature.