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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Yearling

A few months ago I watched The Yearling with my granny. I really loved the movie; lots of good acting, especially from Claude Jarman Jr. as Jody (child acting can either make or break a movie in my opinion), beautiful scenery, and a wonderful story. Perhaps best of all, it's set in Florida, the place where I was born and raised, and where my family and I moved back to in 2012.
I found out we already had the book, and on this past Sunday afternoon I picked it up and started reading it. I usually find that if I watch a movie before reading the book it's based on, it's really difficult to then read the book because of all the differences between the two. I always have the movie's version in my mind, and especially when the order of things is different between the two it's hard to get into it.
I had no trouble getting into the book. The movie was actually, surprisingly, very faithful to the book (although it left out a few major things).
I guess the main difference between the book and movie was in the descriptions of the characters, and the people who ended up being cast. Gregory Peck, at 6' 3", is a far cry from the small, wiry Penny Baxter (actually nicknamed Penny because of how small he was even in adulthood), and Ma Baxter is described as a large and hefty woman while Jane Wyman is slender.
But that doesn't much matter to me.
Part of what I loved about this book was all the description of Florida scrub and swamp and the day-to-day living which the Baxters make on Baxter's Island.  Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings had an eye and ear for the smallest details; she obviously knew a whole lot about nature and she is able to make it interesting.
All the characters are clearly defined, very well developed, all the more remarkable for being written in a time period where character development wasn't common in books. The emotions are portrayed powerfully, from simple contentment to abject sorrow. Jody is written as a real child on the brink of his teenage years. He's irresponsible and dreamy, skipping chores when he can so that he can run off and play, but he thrives on listening to the men talk, and on hunts and other grown up activities.
The book is really more about Jody's growing up, becoming mature and responsible, than it is about the yearling fawn that he adopts. But the fawn isn't unimportant, either. For Jody, who doesn't really have anything else he can call his very own, the little animal is all important. He dotes on it as if it were his child and is willing to do everything in his power to keep it.
I love the backwoods grammar which the characters have (a favorite word of mine was 'faintified'); they're just simple people who don't have much learning, though Penny and Ma are determined that Jody get the education that he can.
Really, the book held my interest through from cover to cover though I knew pretty much what was going to happen (the last hunt of Old Slewfoot, however, was completely left out of the movie, and was a thrilling read because of not knowing how it would end).
The scene where Penny gets bitten by a rattlesnake is one of my particular favorites.

All in all, I would definitely rate this 5 stars, although I do have a few complaints. Mainly in regards to the use of the word 'damn' several times, as well as a few places where God is spoken of irreverently.
It also annoys me when characters who are regularly drunk are portrayed in too favorable a light (Ol' Doc and Buck Forrester) instead of being shown to have a destructive problem (Buck Forrester does make trouble near the end of the book, while drunk, but Ol' Doc is never any the worse for being stoned every time he's seeing to a patient).
But overall, this was a book that I think is one of the few Great American Novels of all time, and I would highly recommend it.

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