Friday, June 01, 2007

Lassie Come Home

Lassie Come Home, Eric Knight.

Lassie Come Home is a perfect boy-and-his-dog adventure story. Published around 1940 and set in a Yorkshire mining town, this timeless story revolves around the relationship between a dog and her boy. The story of Lassie's journey home is a classic adventure story. Lassie is a collie, remarkable not only for her beauty, carriage, and intelligence, but also for her unfailing routine: She always meets the boy, Joe, at the school gates when school gets out at four o'clock. " 'You can set your clock by her,' " say the village women. In this poor mining town where owning the finest collie around is a source of pride for the whole town, Lassie's family is set upon by hard times, and they're faced with the painful decision to sell Lassie so that both dog and family can be fed. Lassie is taken four hundred miles away to the highlands of Scotland, where she escapes from her new home and sets off toward Joe and home. Lassie Come Home tells the story of Lassie's many adventures as she travels, her struggles for survival, and the people she meets, both good and bad.

As a child I read and re-read Lassie Come Home, and each time I wept at the ending of Lassie's journey. This time, reading Lassie's story out loud to the fine young gents and lovely ladies, I realized that it's not only a tale of an adventurous journey. Some of Knight's most poignant and memorable writing centers around the boy Joe, his coming-of-age, and his relationship with his family. At twelve Joe is caught between childhood and manhood. His love and loyalty toward his dog match hers toward him, and he's torn between their fierce desire to be together and the financial worries from which his parents wish to protect him.

And in a passage that made a deep impression upon me as a child and upon my children as I read the story, Joe's father impresses upon him the importance of honesty and the value of one's word. In one of the most beautifully written passages of the book, in the chapter titled, "Nothing Left but Honesty," Joe's father tells Joe: "It's just--well--back of it all, a chap's got to be honest, Joe. And never thee forget that, all thy life, no matter what comes. Ye've got to be honest....And sometimes, when a chap don't have much, Joe, he clings to being honest harder than ever-- because that's all he does have left. At least he stays honest. And there's a funny things about honesty; there's no two ways about it. There's only one way about it. Honest is honest. D'ye see?"

The ladies and gents, even four-year-old gent who usually gets a bit restless during read-alouds, were enthralled by Lassie's story. I love reading the stories that wrapped themselves around my heart when I was young. I love sharing them with my own children and seeing them as inspired as I was when I was the age that they are now. Lassie Come Home resonated with my kindergarten gent in particular. He dug out his sister's old stuffed collie, adopted her and named her Lassie. He follows Poppy the puppy around and tries to pretend that she's Lassie waiting at the school gate. (She's not very obliging. At her age waiting for anything is a bit of a stretch.) He plays out bits of the story over and over. There's something tremendously appealing about the kind of love and loyalty and courage Lassie shows, especially to a young boy. Lassie Come Home is a fabulous story and a wonderful read-aloud for all ages.

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