This past week I rediscovered Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. In doing so, I realized it held even more depth to it than my childhood reading of it had revealed. For example, this beloved classic dog story is set in a different time and place than those with whom I am familiar. Even the main character of Lassie is a more complex dog than I remembered, in that she at times like humans wavers between fear and love.
Lassie Come-Home was first published in 1938. At that time, just like today, there was a disparity between the poor and the wealthy. Back then, however, those struck by poverty might consider selling their canine companions to dealers, kennel owners, or rich men. And so Knight writes in his fictional story, “That way many fine dogs had gone from homes in Greenall Bridge. But not Lassie!” The day came however that even the Carraclough family had been beaten so low that the parents felt there was no other choice. Imagine growing up, every day being met faithfully after school or work by your dog, and then one day she is not there. Such is what happened to Joe. When he inquired of his parents, they told that Lassie had been sold and would not ever be theirs again. Needless to say, Joe was devastated and Lassie was confused.
Eric Knight was born in England. Although he later moved to the United States, his homeland is believed to have served as the setting for Lassie Come-Home. In the early chapters of Lassie Come-Home, Lassie escapes the kennels to which she has been sold and devotedly returns to Joe. She doesn’t understand that because the family has sold her, they will be obligated to return her. The third time this happens, Joe doesn’t take her home but instead hides out with her on the moors, which Knight describes as: “as island of outcropping rocks, great sharp-edged blocks that looked much as in some strange long ago a giant child had begun to pile up building block towers”. Eventually, the new owner relocates Lassie to Scotland, where he hopes to put an end to her escapes. For a time it does, but one day on a walk Lassie breaks from her collar and begins the long journey across Scotland to England and back home again to Joe. She encounters many adventures and Knight treats readers to descriptive passages of the landscape.
Of course, at the heart of Lassie Come-Home is the bond which exists between boy and dog. Although Lassie had to traverse mountains, swim rivers, and resist attacks, she persevered. One instinct kept her going, despite injuries and fevers, and that was the one to meet Joe at school at 4:00. Along the way, Lassie sadly discovered that not all men are equal in their treatment of animals. Boys threw rocks at her. Men shot their guns at her. Others hurled sticks or came with nets to imprison her. Given how daring Lassie acts in the television series, you might not recall this detail but in time, Lassie came to fear those men whom she didn’t know. At a pivotal time, when a peddler who had befriended her came under assault, Lassie at first runs away. As she heads homeward, Lassie feels conflicted. Fear would tell her to just keep going, going, going…. Love would require her to return and defend the peddler, even if meant even more harm to herself.
If it’s been awhile since you last read Lassie Come-Home, this holiday season would make an excellent time to pick up a copy again. And if you have yet to read the tale which inspired such adoration for the breed of collies, what are you waiting for?
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?