The Book of the Dun Cow (novel)
The Book of the Dun Cow (1978) is a fantasy novel by Walter Wangerin, Jr.. It is loosely based upon the beast fable of Chanticleer and the Fox adapted from the story of "The Nun's Priest's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Wangerin wrote a sequel, The Book of Sorrows (1985).
The novel begins with the introduction of the hero, Chauntecleer, a rooster in command of a company of hens, and the land surrounding his coop. The story takes place at a time when humans have not yet made an appearance upon the Earth (a time before the Book of Genesis). Animals have been put on earth before man in order to protect the world from an ancient evil Wyrm, which is trapped at the center of the Earth. Chauntecleer, while not a bad ruler, is a flawed character, somewhat quick to anger, and self-important. The novel's initial chapters define several important characters as well as the origins of the main antagonists in the book, Wyrm and Cockatrice.
While Chauntecleer spends his days dealing with a rogue rat that has invaded his coop, and trying to become accustomed to a newcomer, Mundo Cani, a depressed dog that is always crying out in anguish, the reader is shown another country from across the river. There is where the author introduces the evil in the book. For in the land away from Chauntecleer's there lives another rooster named Senex. He is a rather weak ruler, and his barnyard subjects don't think anything of him. What troubles Senex the most is his lack of a son, which he mourns greatly over. One day though, he is spoken to by Wyrm, who communicates to him through dreams. Wyrm instructs Senex to have faith in him, and to wait for him to deliver Senex a son of his own. Senex does exactly what his visions request, and soon he manages to lay an egg, defying the natural order of mating. Eventually the egg hatches, though what appears from it is a horror beyond words.
Trouble is still ahead, though, for although all of the animals thought the war over, there enters the final evil. A great crevasse in the land breaks open, as Wyrm attempts to enter the world. During all of the turmoil Chauntecleer stirs inside the coop, and, delirious from exhaustion, he sees the dog and thinks him a traitor. He scolds him fiercely, rebuking him and instructing him to leave. In response, the other animals all agree that Chauntecleer is delusional, and that Mundo Cani should not be forced to leave. The dog turns to them and tells them that he knows what he must do, and takes off without any further words. The animals are confused by all of this, and only Chauntecleer, still in delirium, shouts for Wyrm to emerge so that they can fight.
This causes Wyrm to fall back into the crevasse, collapsing the earth and sealing both Wyrm and Mundo Cani in a dark world below the crust. The entire world is safe again, though horribly shaken. The animals all find it difficult to fit back into their normal lives, especially Chauntecleer, who after bottling his emotions for a while, breaks down in front of his wife. He cries out in pain, knowing that the last thing he said to Mundo Cani before his great sacrifice, were words of scorn and hatred. His wife seeks to comfort him, saying that his penance is to honor Mundo Cani and to ask for his forgiveness.
- From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual awards for hardcover and paperback books in many categories. Most all of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.
- Wangerin, Jr., Walter. (1978). The Book of the Dun Cow. San Francisco : Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-057460-7. (Note: 25th Anniversary edition published by HarperSan Francisco September 1, 2003)
- Wangerin, Jr., Walter. (1985). The Book of Sorrows. San Francisco: Harper & Row. (Republished 1996, Zondervan Publishing House) ISBN 0-310-21081-X
- Greenmanreview review of book, likens it to Narnia meets Animal Farm
- NY Times review of musical
- American Theater Web review of musical
- walterwangerinjr.org, also contains a review by Robert Siegel, who characterizes the book as Norse-Teutonic pessimism mixed with Biblical symbolism