Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod



Book: Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

Author: Gary Paulsen

Publisher: Harvest Books, republished 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0156001458

ISBN-10: 0156001454

Language level: 5

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Adults only

Rating: * 1 star

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Paulsen, Gary.  Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (Published in 1994 by Harcourt Brace and Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Dr., Orlando, FL  32887). Fueled by a passion for running dogs, author Gary Paulsen, poverty stricken and living with his wife Ruth in a cabin in the woods of Minnesota, where he uses a team of dogs to pull a sled as he checks his trap lines, begins taking the team on longer and longer runs, sometimes staying out for several days at a time, and decides to enter the Iditarod–the 1150-mile winter sled-dog race between Anchorage and Nome in Alaska.  The first section covers his obtaining the dogs and the year or so of training.  The second section describes the seventeen-day battle against nature’s worst elements and his own frailty, with a record of how he, in dangerous ignorance yet with a fierce determination, and his team of dogs endure snowstorms, frostbite, dogfights, moose attacks, sleeplessness, and hallucinations in the relentless push to go on.  Does he lose any dogs along the way?  Will he finish or have to scratch?

If someone is fanatically passionate about sled dog racing and the Iditarod, there is an interesting story here with a lot of information on the subject.  However, the story is marred by being profusely laced with cursing (e.g., the “h” and “d” words, the latter often with the prefix “god-“), profanity (the terms God, Jesus, and Christ used as exclamations), and even quite a bit of pure vulgarity (including the “s” and “f” words as well as crude slang terms for urination and the rear end).  In one chapter, Paulsen gives a rather detailed and gruesome account of the intentional killing of a dog by one of his fellow mushers.  And he makes a reference to his bucket list which includes “make love to Cher.”   Winterdance is the inspiration for the Walt Disney Pictures movie, Snow Dogs, a 2002 American adventure comedy film directed by Brian Levant and starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Coburn (in one of his final roles).  However, while Disney turned into a family flick, and Paulsen is an acclaimed children’s book author, this book is not fit for youngsters.  It is definitely an adult book.

I agree with the following assessment by another reviewer.  “This book is recommended reading for accelerated 5TH grade by New York state. So I was very surprised when my ten year old daughter told me of the swear words in it. The book is chock full of ‘F’ words, God******, and various other phrases that I won’t go into. Her teacher handed this book out all the time knowing of this. I threw a fit and the book was recalled by the school.  This is the sad state of our American education system today. This book might be fine for college students but not for my little one. I didn’t know that our American literature was so devoid of good reading that this book was chosen.”    At the end of the story, Paulsen is diagnosed with coronary heart disease and is told that, while he may be able to live a reasonably normal life, he can never do something as strenuous as sled dog racing again. Before returning home, a devastated Paulsen calls a family friend and asks him to take all of his dogs except for Cookie, the dog who led his Iditarod team.

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