I read so much about Hank the Cowdog in Mr. Erickson’s book Story Craft that I felt like I had already met Hank. And in a way I had. But the only way to really know Hank is to read his own flamboyant account of himself in The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog.
Hank the Cowdog is saddled with a mighty heavy responsibility. He is Head of Ranch Security and together with his sidekick Drover he protects his farm and upholds the dignity of the Ranch by engaging in nightly barking contests with the outlaw coyotes. Life is hopping along just fine until tragedy strikes – a chicken is found murdered on the ranch premises. Hank hastily bends all of his detective powers to the test, scrounges for clues, and even apprehends a few suspects, but before he can solve the crime another bird is found dead.
Although grief-stricken at this loss, Hank cannot reconcile himself to wasting a perfectly good chicken, so he does the only thing any sensible cowdog would do. He eats it. That is his first mistake. The second mistake is gulping it down in such a hurry that he drops off into a snooze lying among the cast-off feathers and bones of the chicken. And it is there that Hank’s owner, Sally May finds him several hours later.
Although Hank is entirely innocent of the crime, the circumstantial evidence all points in his direction and Sally May blames him for the murder. Consumed with despair and bitterness, Hank makes up his mind to abandon his lofty position and join the outlaw coyotes who have been loitering around the ranch.
Has Hank lost his moral sense altogether? Or is this part of some greater, undercover plan of his to apprehend the real criminal?
Hank is probably the most original – and hilarious – narrator I’ve ever come across. Here are a few examples of his style.
The coyote hasn’t been built who can out-yap Hank the Cowdog.
A little before dawn, Loper, one of the cowboys on this outfit, stuck his head out the door and bellered, “Shut up that yapping, you idiot!” I guess he thought there was only one coyote out there.
They kept it up and I gave it back to them. Next time Loper came to the door, he was armed. He fired a gun into the air and squalled, something about how a man couldn’t sleep around here with all the dad-danged noise. I agreed.
Would you believe it? Them coyotes yipped louder than ever, and I had no choice but to give it back to them.
Loper came back out on the porch and fired another shot. This one came so close to me that I heard the hum. Loper must have lost his bearings or something, so I barked louder than ever to give him my position, and, you know, to let him know that I was out there protecting the ranch.
The next bullet just derned near got me. I mean, I felt the wind of it as it went past. That was enough for me. I shut her down for the night. If Loper couldn’t aim any better than that, he was liable to hurt somebody. [pgs. 3-4]
Obviously, Loper knew exactly where he was aiming…..
That business about the secret was the perfect stroke, and it probably saved my life. In desperation, I had lucked into it. Turns out that coyotes are superstitious animals, even though they’re known to be cunning and vijalent vijalunt vijallunt vijjullunt…..
I don’t know how to spell that word. Spelling is a pain in the neck. I do my best with it, but I figger if a guy has tremendous gifts as a writer, his audience will forgive a few slip-ups in the spelling department.
I mean, it doesn’t take any brains to open a dickshunary and look up a word. Anybody can do that. The real test of a writer comes in the creative process. I try to attend to the big picture, don’t you see, and let the spelling take care of itself.
Vidgalent. Vidgallunt. Still doesn’t look right. [pgs. 85-86]
We may presume that if Hank were a stellar speller he would consider it to be the most glorious art on earth….
“In a way I felt sorry for the coon, even though he’d committed a crime and become my mortal enemy. With me on his trail, the little guy just didn’t have a chance. One of the disadvantages of being as big and deadly as I am, is that you sometimes find yourself in sympathy with the other guy.”
Hank undoubtedly has an *ahem* swelled opinion of himself, but he does work dilijently dillijently dilajintly dillajuntlee earnestly at his job. Granted, his antics generally counteract the work that he does get done, but at least he tries.
Hank and Drover unmercifully taunt a bull-dog on their trip into town.
On one occasion Hank and a few coyotes get drunk on silage. Afterwards they act goofy, singing songs and the like.
Several times Hank brags about his success with ‘the women’ (meaning female dogs). For example:
“I’d seen women before, lots of ‘em, scads of ‘em. I’d been through times in my life when women were hanging all over me, and I literally couldn’t take a step without bumping into an adoring female.
If you’re a cowdog, you get used to this. It’s common knowledge that cowdogs are just a little bit special. Read your dog books, ask anyone who knows about dogs, check it out with the experts. They’ll tell you that women flip over cowdogs.
What I’m saying – and I’m just trying to put it all into perspective, don’t you see – is that I wasn’t one of these dogs that chased women all the time or even had much interest in them.
But you know what? When I seen Miss Coyote’s face, with those big eyes and that fine tapered nose, I got weak in the legs and kind of swimmy in the head. She was the by George prettiest thang I’d ever laid eyes on.” [pgs. 70-71]
There are no actual curse words in this book but several expressions such as ‘gee’, ‘dang’, ‘darn’, ‘heck’, ‘holy cats’, ‘son of a gun’, ‘by George’, ‘shucks’, and ‘golly’ are sprinkled throughout the book. There is also some name calling (nothing vulgar, but a little rough).
Conclusion. I, as a young adult, enjoy reading Hank the Cowdog. I find it offers me perspective and relaxation when I’m stressed, and, because of my age, I am able to enjoy the humor and leave the silliness behind. However, I do not believe that young readers will be able to read Hank the Cowdog without being encouraged in silliness and sarcasm. For this reason, I do not recommend Hank the Cowdog for young readers, while reserving the right to enjoy it myself.
Note: This review is of The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog not the entire Hank the Cowdog series.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret