I often wonder where I would be were it not for a man called Jim Kjelgaard. Chances are you may not know him by name, though his reach and influence continues to this day. His work influenced a generation of young boys, soon to be men, searching for the soul of adventure and the heart of the wild outdoors.
Wikipedia defines Mr. Kjelgaard as an American Author of Young Adult Literature, which in my way of thinking is like saying that an ocean of water is very wet. As an author of forty novels and countless short stories and other works, he was certainly that, and more. Much, much more. He meant everything to a young boy bursting to learn what lived beyond the outer limits of his own backyard.
I have always been a reader, blessedly so, and born for it I suppose. I took to books like black ink yearns for the creative freedom of an empty white page. My face became well known in any library I could enter, until I had read most everything I could find on animals and fishing and all things outdoors from their limited selections. And then an angel of a librarian handed me a copy of Stormy, a story about an outlaw black Labrador Retriever and his owner written by this fellow with the strange name. It was nothing like anything I had ever read and I was hooked like a catfish on a cane pole.
I was to discover very soon that dogs were a prominent feature in a Kjelgaard story. It’s easy to see why, since there is something completely natural and magical about young boys and their dogs. The combination just begs for adventure and open space to run and roam. They encourage each other on and on, over the hill to the next discovery, past the bend in the ever beckoning road. Together, there is nothing a boy and a dog can’t do.
I have read a little about the author’s life and I am convinced that he understood and loved the outdoors with a passion that even he could not convey. You can feel it on every page and in every character of every sentence. He had a remarkable ability to put you in the moment, in and of the scene, as if it were written just for you. He tells you that you can experience it too, if you chose. Don’t wait, he says, just get out there and listen to the music of the hounds between deep breaths of pine and sugar maple under the brilliance of a harvest moon.
His books hold the waving fields of marsh grass and the woods, full of white-tailed deer and bobwhite quail and the screams of brightly colored bluejays. He shows us boys with guns, back when it was a natural and good thing that made you smile, knowing that some lucky family was sure to be enjoying a meal of squirrel or cottontail rabbit very soon.
Open to any page, and you can hear the sounds in your head as if you were standing there yourself. It was a guaranteed transport to a technicolored world of motion and light with a dog by your side.
Jim has been gone for some time now, just like the world he once knew. His world was defined by the movements of animals and the rhythm of the seasons, punctuated by the sounds of drumming grouse and the chorus of frogs in the evening. The comforts of family and home life ran strong throughout his stories. It was what made it all work.
It was the knowing that safety and the comforting hearth of home stood solidly back where you had come from, when you needed it, which give us all the strength to be brave and venture out and abroad.
He was taken from us much too soon, by illness and despair, and though that world he inhabited may be gone his voice is as relevant today as it was back then. In fact it is even more important than it ever was. He is a beacon of light for the spirits of young boys and their four-legged companions, filled with the quest for exploration and the simple, unmitigated joy of being a boy.
Of course I never met him personally, though I wish I had. Sadly, he was already gone when I was barely born. I would give much of what I have just to thank him for all of his precious gifts to me.
It is because of Jim Kjelgaard and men like him that I have wandered the wilderness and spirited air, and lived a life filled with my own stories to tell.
Turning to face the world, what more can a young boy hope for?
*Many of Jim Kjelgaard’s books are still in print across the globe, and he is a pre-eminent favorite among those who wish to homeschool. So, if you somehow missed him, it’s not too late. You may also want to track down a copy of the 1962 Walt Disney film “Big Red”, named after that marvelous and unforgettable Irish Setter of the same name. It will make you want to run out and acquire an Irish Setter too!
Stormy. By Jim Kjelgaard. “Allan Marley and his father have lived together in the untamed wilderness of the Beaver Flowage all their lives. But when Mr. Marley is jailed because of a bitter feud, Allan suddenly finds himself on his own. Then he meets Stormy, an outlaw dog who has been accused of turning on his owner. Allan knows that the big black retriever has been mistreated, and he works hard to win the noble dog’s trust and affection. As allies, Allan and Stormy overcome every danger they encounter in the unpredictable wilderness…but can their bond protect Allan from the viciousness of his father’s human enemies? ”
Published by Holiday House/Scott, Foresman, 1959. Hard cover. In Very Good condition, without Dustjacket as issue. This is not an X-library copy. Uncommon in this Edition. $65 ppd in U.S. Please contact us to purchase (Subject to prior sale).
Backwoods Freedom! – and Dogs Too.
*Watch here for a fine selection of Jim Kjelgaard First Editions and Autographed Works.