Friday, June 17, 2011

Books I Want: The Book of the Dun Cow



A few weeks ago, I was curious if any science fiction books had ever won the National Book Award. So far as I knew, none had. But this award has been handed out for more than 50 years, so I was unaware of several awesome titles on the list.

One was Jem by Pohl Anderson (not related to the doll or subsequent TV show). The other was The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. I immediately added them both to my reading list.

BOTDC sounds especially entertaining to me. Based on the tale of Chanticleer and the Fox in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, this book focuses on Chanticleer and his barnyard domain. The characters, all talking animals, exist in a time before mankind existed on Earth, when there was a darkness imprisoned at its heart: Wyrm, who seeks a way out into the world. Chanticleer starts having prophetic end-of-the-world dreams, and soon encounters Cockatrice, an antichrist clearing the way for his father Wyrm.

According to various reviews, good versus evil is the theme of this book, and some of the evil makes me kind of shocked that this was published, even in 1978, as a children's book. Which, of course, makes me want to read it even more.

That and the fact that it became an off-Broadway musical a few years ago. I want to see how they pulled off the half-serpent, half-chicken character Cockatrice without making him look completely ridiculous, though according to the New York Times review, he's turned into Paradise Lost's Satan. How anyone can say that's a bad thing, I don't know, but it's presented as such. Wangerin is a minister, so I suppose he wouldn't like his evil character stealing the show from the good one.

This book has mythology, a heaven-versus-hell theme, and from the sound of it, lots of other allegories buried deep within. And I really want to know more about that cow in the title, who isn't featured in any of the reviews I've come across. If you're interested in reading it, stay away from the Wikipedia article - it basically sums up the whole book. I'd be willing to bet fans of Redwall would love this one.

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