Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Octave Day 2

On Friday, we spent the morning getting the house back in order with the children. May I say it is really neat to see how fast Christmas gifts can get put away to all corners of the house when one has spritely 6- and 8-year-olds? They run here, there, and everywhere, and race back for the next item and assignment!

It felt wonderful to this mama to get boxes and bins shuttled away, cardboard taken out, carpets vacuumed, and oh-those-bathrooms that hadn't been cleaned in two weeks all sparkling again. Plus I caught up on laundry which, in a family even this moderate size, means five loads when one has taken all of two days off from the daily duty.

The afternoon was one of naps, rest, and play in the sunshine before going out to eat at a restaurant so Mama could avoid cooking after two feast nights. (We'll serve Leftover Feast on Saturday night--and againI won't have to really cook!)

Then we drove around our neighborhood to vote for the Christmas light contest before coming home to a movie night. The two tiny kids watched "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" while the two bigger kids were allowed to watch Disney's 1957 "Old Yeller" for the first time (their having listened to it on audio CD a few months ago).

I noted something interested earlier in the week when I previewed the movie to make sure it was okay for them. I was so gripped by the story that I read the book (which took all of a few hours while I was sick in bed), having known the story but never read it or watched the movie before.

In the book version (1956), Travis shoots Old Yeller as soon as the dog has been bitten by the rabid wolf, because as a farm boy he knows what is coming and his responsibility. In the movie version, Travis weeps and begs until his mother lets him quarantine the dog in the corn crib for a few weeks, at which point the dog shows symptoms of becoming rabid, the boy still resists shooting him, and then we watch a tense scene in which little Arliss almost opens the pen and faces sure death from the dog, at which point the mother brings the gun and insists that Travis do his duty.

The difference is actually important and notable, especially given the fact that the movie is otherwise completely faithful to the book, down to every scene and the script itself. So, why such a major change?

My thought is that a few decades make a lot of difference. The author Fred Gibson (b. 1908) grew up on a farm, so would have known farm life and a boy's difficult duties that turn him into a man. In the 1920s, 30% of American families lived on farms while in the 1950s the number has dropped to 12% (and would plummet to 3% by 1981). (Citations here and here.) I believe Mr. Gibson was writing from an understanding which those of his generation would understand: a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, even if he's only 14. By the generation of the 1950s, the children who would be going to see Disney's movie were far more removed from farm life, were increasingly the (understandably) more pampered generation of WWII parents who wanted to give a much easier life to their children. I suspect the movie director knew that the children of the 1950s wouldn't so easily accept the immediate and decisive decision of Travis to shoot his heroic and seemingly healthy dog: thus the major plot change at the end.

See, if I could still be in college forever, I would research this matter much more deeply and write a long essay on it, making me quite a happy clam.


  1. Very interesting theory! I also think that, plot-wise, having a much more emotional scene makes the end more climatic and dramatic. Nevertheless, movie or book, I'm sure your children were distraught by the end :( -Emiliann W.

  2. Another theory ... prior to our modern day disordered infatuation with pets and animals -- whereby animals are treated with the same; or in some cases an even higher dignity than humans -- even the most dearly beloved pets would be destroyed if they posed even a small risk to humans.

    God does give animals dignity, but at it's very highest it is only a tiny fraction of the dignity given to mankind. God not only created man in His own image giving him dominion over all the animals of the earth, but He chose to be made man Himself, born of the Virgin Mary. This incarnation of Christ as a man raised the dignity of mankind to a level incomprehensibly beyond that of beasts.

    Whether or not the folks at Disney studios made this change purposefully or not, this one difference between the book and movie is a small part of a larger heresy -- a modern day heresy that is atheistic in nature. By adding a delay into this scene, Disney lessons the gap between man and beast in a not so subtle way.

    In short, the author wrote the original scene with the relationship between man and best in the proper order and it should not have been changed.