Book Review: The Incredible Journey

Rating: ★★★★★

Sheila Burnford’s story of three beloved family pets (a Labrador retriever, bull terrier and Siamese cat) who make a cross-country trek across Canadian wilderness to reach their home has an undeniable appeal for animal lovers.  The book is written in a realistic style without anthropomorphic overtones, and each animal’s personality is developed in line with the characteristics of its breed.

For parents who wish to cultivate a biblical view of humans stewarding the environment in line with the Creator’s dominion mandate given in Genesis 1:28, this story holds a particular appeal.  Rather than being coequal with humans or returning to some ideal state of nature during their journeys, these pets are thoroughly domesticated.  They brave the wilderness only to return to the family to which they are loyal and beloved.  Furthermore, at each point when the animals’ adventures take them beyond their ability to cope, they find help from kind humans that cross their path and so are able to continue.

It is not only in the pets’ relationship with humans that Burnford’s view of dominion is revealed.  In chapter six the author describes a Finnish family who lead lives

as frugal and orderly as the fields they had wrested from the wilderness.  They had tamed the bush, and in return it yielded them their food and their scant living from trap lines and a wood lot, but the struggle to keep it in subjection was endless.

This positive description of people subduing their environment for the benefit of their family (while extending benevolent help to the obviously needy cat who crosses their path) is clearly in line with the biblical mandate to rule over creation and care for it on behalf of its Creator.

One flaw of this book is an encounter the animals have in chapter four with a group of Ojibwe.  In this scene, the white dog and his companion cat become omen-bearers to the tribal people, fulfilling a traditional legend which seems to be entirely made up.  This is an unfortunate plot feature, like being kidnapped by gypsies, that often appears in literature of this era, but the final paragraph in chapter four, in which the “legend” is described, can be skipped without doing great harm to the story.

Burnford’s writing style is magnificent, and her precise use of uncommon vocabulary makes the book best suited for confident readers, although if read aloud with interpretive help from adults it can be appreciated by younger listeners.  A great part of the story’s pleasure comes from savoring Burnford’s eloquence, and if the adience has too much trouble following the story they are likely to become bored.

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Publication Information: Burnford, Sheila. Incredible Journey, The. Burger, Carl (Illustrator). Yearling. 1960. ISBN: 0440413249.
Categories: 5 Stars, Age 12-16, Amblesideonline, Book Tree, Books Children Love,, Honey For a Child's Heart, World Books That Show
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Posted on August 5, 2010

2 responses to Book Review: The Incredible Journey

  • Kristina says:

    I have an audio book of this is you are interested. I had the boys listen to it a year or two ago, and it was too much – I don’t think they could follow it. We are currently reading (aloud) Lad: A Dog which they love and seems to have similar characteristics to this story. I would love to hear your thoughts on it if you know it.

  • Thank you, we’d love Incredible Journey. I haven’t read Lad yet, but it’s recommended by several of my good book lists. Elisabeth Wilson says of it: “This and a number of other Terhune titles comprise the stories of the wonderful collies of Sunnybank. The tales are exciting and eventful, but they are written in a dated and sometimes highly sentimentalized manner. They are, however, enjoyable and cheerful reading for lovers of dog stories.” Would you agree with her?

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