Hello again! It’s Lucinda the literate cat, ready to give my next book review. This time, I will summarize the whole story as I see it. You can read the book to pick up the details I have missed and to decide if you agree with my interpretation.
The book is The Incredible Journey, by a Scottish author, Sheila Burnford. The best part of this book is that it is a story about something that really happened. I was totally amazed at what these animals endured on their journey.
A hardcover copy of the book is available for you to purchase, if you so desire, and may be found at the end of this review.
The characters are members of a two-legged family and their pets (a name given to small four-legged family members.) The family includes the father, the mother, a son and a daughter, two dogs, and a Siamese cat.
The father, Jim Hunter, has been hired to give some talks at a place called England. Apparently this place is too far away and doesn’t allow animal members of the family to come there. The mother, whose name I do not know, the son, Peter, and the daughter, Elizabeth are all going with Jim Hunter on this journey.
They leave behind the heroes of this story: an old bull terrier dog named Bodger, a young golden retriever dog named Luath, and a Siamese cat named Tao.
The Hunters take the animals to stay with a friend, John Longridge. A short time after the Hunters leave, John goes on a two-week fishing trip and leaves the animals alone, outside. His housekeeper, Mrs. Oakes, is supposed to come and feed them.
However, part of John’s note is lost, and Mrs. Oakes thinks that John has taken the animals with him. So, she doesn’t come to take care of them as she is supposed to.
The animals decide to go home, even though “home” is 300 miles away through the Canadian wilderness. Of course, it is the youngest one, Luath, who decides to go, and the other two, not wanting to let him go alone, join him.
They knew which way to go as they had a “home” signal built into their heads. Two-leggeds call this homing skill “magnetics.” The three knew they had to go West. I have seen videos of great flocks of birds, all flying together. They are world travelers, these birds, like the rich two-leggeds. They spend part of the year in one place and part in another.
We animals are not rich, but we have such a good sense of direction built right in that we can know where to go if we need to return to a place we left behind. I believe I’ve read that two-leggeds also have these “magnetics” in their head, but they have forgotten how to use them.
Instead, they have developed all sorts of ways to make up for this loss of knowledge. For example, they make something they call a “map” that shows them where to go to reach a new place they want to visit.
How lucky we are to have such information built right in so we don’t need to carry any maps!
Before I get into the actual adventure, I would like to say something about the three main characters.
First of all, this book changes my feelings a bit about dogs, as the two in the story were completely loyal to each other and to Tao, the cat. I have known a few cats who got along with the dog in their house, but the bonding of these three animals is as incredible to me as the journey. How did this bonding happen?
Well, the old dog, Bodger, was the family’s first pet. Then they found Tao and added him to the family. I can imagine that, at first there was a little dispute regarding territory, but knowing my feline family, I can guess that Tao put his paw down and insisted, since he was part of the family now, Bodger would just have to accept him.
Whatever happened between them, it worked well, because I believe they became a tight unit. One factor that probably helped was that they lived in a remote area, with less interference from other animals and two-leggeds.
They may have bonded partly because they were in the minority in that isolated place, and realized they needed each other’s companionship. At any rate, they became a strong unit of two, and when the young golden retriever joined them, the cat and dog between them taught the newcomer the ins and outs of living together in the wilderness.
Later in the book, I learned that Bodger had an intense hatred of all cats, except Tao. Because Tao stood up to him from the time he was a kitten, he earned Bodger’s respect and eventually his friendship and love.
So, Luath tells the others through animal speak (a kind of telepathy) that he wants to go home. Why did the others follow him? Well, after all, he is the youngest, and perhaps they felt that he might need them to ensure that he stays out of danger.
It is a good thing the cat was along, as he was the only one who knew how to hunt, and did the lion’s share (even though he was a small cat) of finding them food to eat.
Early in their journey, Bodger, the old dog, collapses. He just can’t keep up the pace. Then a baby bear finds him, thinks he is some kind of toy, and starts playing with him, using his sharp claws to grab the dog. Tao, a very brave cat, attacks the small bear to save Bodger.
The mother bear comes to the cub’s rescue, but a misdirected slap of her paw at a cat who suddenly isn’t there, hits the cub by mistake and he goes flying. The mother bear collects him and they go off together.
Such bravery! I have seen a bear or two and think my reaction would be to hide. However, because the cat and dog are now family, the cat must try to rescue his friend.
Then Tao goes hunting and collects some food for the old dog to help him regain his strength.
Finally, the young dog, Luath, shows some value for the group, as he catches a rabbit. These creatures are very nourishing to cats and dogs, so I am sure the rabbit helped them all.
Then the animals come to an Indian village. These two-leggeds all live together and help each other to survive. From my observations, I would say that more of the two-leggeds should learn from these Indians and follow their example.
Luath, full of his rabbit supper, did not want to approach the village, but Bodger and Tao go there.
The Indians believe the animals came from someplace in the World of Spirits, a place that I do not understand. Somehow the spirits, which we cannot see, interact with the world we can see and help guide the people there.
Though I don’t know how such a place can exist, I do think it was good that the two-legged Indians believed those spirits were there. When the hungry and wounded dog with his cat companion come into the village, the Indians believe the spirits sent them to test the villagers’ hospitality. So they feed the animals.
They are not sure what to think of Tao, but when the old dog shares his food with the cat, the two-leggeds decide that the dog has chosen the cat for his companion. The Indians showed great hospitality toward both animals.
The old dog heals. The weather is good — what the two-leggeds call Indian Summer. Their winter coats are growing, which keeps them warmer. However, Luath is growing quite thin.
Fortunately, an old two-legged with a kind and gentle voice finds them and feeds them well.
They come to a river. The dogs manage to swim across, but the cat gets hit in the head with a floating log and drifts away from them. Luath tries to save him, but cannot reach the cat. He searches for the cat until the light is gone. That night, old Bodger can’t sleep, but howls all night.
I am so impressed with the degree of caring these animals show for each other. In a world full of battle and bitterness, it is a refreshing change to read of such love and loyalty.
A young girl and her family live on a small homestead in the wilderness next to the river, far from anyone. The girl, Helvi, goes to the river, wishing she had someone to play with. At the river, she sees the cat, unconscious on a rock. She gets her parents to come to the rescue.
The parents take the cat home and heal him, and when he’d recovered, they found he was deaf. He could not hear the two-leggeds speak to him, or birds singing. Meanwhile, he gets to know the family well, and follows the girl everywhere.
Then one night his hearing returns. He must have had so much water in his ears that it washed away all the sounds. Finally, the water must have dried up and his ears worked again. Then Tao leaves to find his dog friends.
Meanwhile, the dogs are having troubles of their own. They see a two-legged carrying a porcupine. The two-legged is scared of them, and runs off, leaving the dead porcupine. The dogs have a feast.
Later, Luath sees a live porcupine and tries to kill it. Instead, he ends up with needles from the animal’s body stuck in his face. He tries to take them out, but only drives them deeper. The dogs continue on, though Luath is now in great pain.
The cat, Tao, is trying to catch up. He wants to leave no trace of his trail behind, so he treads carefully. He climbs up in trees for cat naps, as he doesn’t feel safe, sleeping on the ground, and doesn’t want to sleep long. He just wants to find his friends.
Then the cat sees a lynx. This animal is wild and fearsome, and the cat is afraid of him. Tao finds a nearby rabbit burrow and squeezes in there. The problem then is that he can’t see what is going on, but he waits quietly.
Luckily for Tao, a young two-legged who is out hunting deer with his dad comes up and sees the lynx. At the same time the lynx sees him. To keep from being attacked, the boy shoots the lynx and kills him.
Two-leggeds are so poorly equipped to hunt on their own that they have invented things to help them. They have this long tube with a handle at one end that they call a gun. They put something in it and pull a little lever, and fire shoots out the end. It’s a good thing they have such a thing, or the lynx would have killed and eaten both the boy and the cat.
Though I cannot hunt such a big animal, I can hunt for smaller animals that I am fully equipped to catch, kill, and eat. I have my weapons built right in, as my claws and teeth are very sharp. It’s a good thing, as I couldn’t possibly carry something with me. I need all four paws just for walking, or for the claws at the ends.
The two-leggeds, instead of having paws on their upper limbs, have something they call hands. These hands are so clever, as they can grasp and carry things. Even if we walked on our back legs, it would be hard for us to carry much with our small front paws. Besides, we would get very tired if we only walked on two legs. How do two-leggeds manage?
Back to the story. The father finds the boy, and the two leave. Tao backs out of the burrow. He sees the lynx, dead, and flings dirt over it with his back feet, just to show his dislike and disdain for the creature that would have killed him.
Two days later, Tao finds the dogs, and all three are happy to be reunited.
The old dog, Bodger, is very hungry and decides to ask for food at a house. He goes to the place and scratches at the door.
A little girl opens the door, sees the dog, and yells for her dad. When the father comes, he hollers at the poor old dog and throws a bucket of water over him. The dog had never been treated that way before by a two-legged, and he feels sad and ashamed.
The poor thing! He doesn’t see that the two-legged was in the wrong, because he sees two-leggeds as perfect and above reproach. Thus he thinks he must have done something wrong.
That attitude is due to dogs’ feeling that two-leggeds are their masters. Now, we cats do not have masters. We see two-leggeds more as “staff,” meant to serve us. We feel we are equals to two-leggeds, so they’d better not try to boss us!
It is fortunate that we four-leggeds tend to forget about being wronged a lot faster than our two-legged associates. Thus, no more than two weeks later, Bodger tries his luck at another house. This time he meets an old couple who let him in, feed him, and treat his wounds.
The next day, the old man goes hunting for ducks. However, the ducks are too far away. Enter Luath. He chases a duck toward the old man, catches it in his mouth, and brings it to him.
The old man sees Luath’s inflamed jaw and takes him to his wife. They pull out all the needles, saving the dog’s life, as the extremely bad sores in his mouth would have killed him.
That night, they shut the animals in the barn for the night. Tao, watching nearby, waits until the old couple go in their house, then he opens the door to the barn and goes in. Because he is hungry, he enters the henhouse and eats all the eggs. In the morning, the three leave together.
Meanwhile, John has come home and finds the animals gone. He looks everywhere. The Hunters return and are devastated to find the rest of their family missing. They, too, search and find two-leggeds who have seen the trio. Now they know the animals are out there, or at least they hope so.
They go to their cabin for a visit. They have just about given up ever seeing their pets again. Then Elizabeth, the daughter, says, “I hear them.” Soon the cat and Luath appear. A short time later, the old dog also returns. Then there is a joyous reunion.
If cats cried, I might have shed a few tears at the end of this book. There are so many good things in this story. It talks of loyalty and friendship and love of family. It illustrates how you should never give up, no matter how hard the trial.
It tells the readers not to underestimate the intelligence of their pets. It shows how two different creatures — dogs and cats — can live in peace and love. The two-leggeds need to learn some lessons from these animals, such as the power of hope and belief and caring for one another.
This is a four-paws-up book.
The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford