HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Book of the Dun Cow
Author: Walter Wangerin Jr.
Cover Illustrator: Laura Beers
Publisher: HarperOne, republished in 2003
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Older teens and adults
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Wangerin, Walter Jr. The Book of the Dun Cow (published in 1978 by HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York City, NY 10007; republished in 2003 by HarperOne, a trademark of HarperCollins Publishers). In a time before humans when the sun turns around the earth and the animals can speak, Chauntecleer the mighty rooster rules over his more or less peaceful kingdom. However, the animals do not know that they are the Keepers of Wyrm, a serpentine monster of evil long imprisoned beneath the earth. Wyrm sends his emissary Cockatrice, who spawns poisonous basilisks, to prepare the way for him to break free from his earthly prison. With the help of his wife Pertelote, his friends Mundo Cani Dog and John Wesley Weasel, and the other animals, Chaunticleer must fight to save his kingdom from attack, conquest, and destruction. What will happen? Who will win the battle?
In a new Afterword, author Walter Wangerin Jr., a Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University, specifically says that The Book of the Dun Cow, which won the National Book Award, “is not—nor was ever intended to be—an allegory.” It is simply a fantasy of good and evil. The story draws upon Geoffrey Chaucer, the early church fathers, medieval cosmologies, romances like Le Morte D’Arthur, various mythological figures, and Biblical patterns. On the one hand, there is a moderate amount of cursing (the “d” word is used rather frequently and even the form “dammit” appears), along with some profane use of the terms “God” and “Lord” as interjections and a little bit of childish, near-vulgar slang. On the other hand, some reviewers do not care for what they see as “a heavy-handed religious overtone.”
Some sources say that Dun Cow should be of interest to all age groups, but probably young adults would be most likely to appreciate its message while not being frightened by the fairly violent and scary parts. One person noted, “It’s the only book about talking animals I’ve ever heard of with bad language in it (or at least stuff that’s not for kids).” A few people may have difficulty with the symbolism. Dun is a dull grayish-brown color, and a “Dun Cow” is a common motif in English folklore. In the plot, it seems to represent God’s messenger. The book does not offer any magical solutions to the problem of good and evil which make everything perfect so that people can all live happily ever after, but it does show that life is filled with both heart-rending sadness and soul-cleansing joy. The sequel was originally entitled The Book of Sorrows, but apparently it has been revised and is now published as The Second Book of the Dun Cow: Lamentations. There is also The Third Book of the Dun Cow: Peace at the Last.