Sunday, June 3, 2012

In The Valley of the Grizzly by Ed Ferrell

In The Valley of the Grizzly is a wilderness survival novel. Fourteen year old Ben James, a Tlingit Indian and his grandfather Cyrus Paul accompany Dan Taggart, a bush pilot on a trip into the northern British Columbia wilderness. They are flying from Wrangell, Alaska to Tahltan Creek, British Columbia when engine trouble forces their plane to land on a lake. Dan is able to repair the plane and inexplicably leaves Ben and his grandfather in the small camp to cancel the mayday. He never returns. This leaves Ben and his grandfather stranded in the unforgiving northern wilderness, some 300 miles east of Telegraph Creek, British Columbia.

On their own, Grandfather realizes that Ben needs to learn the way of the bush so he begins instructing him in the bush craft used by his Tlingit ancestors. He teaches Ben how to pray before hunting, promising never to waste anything and how to show respect for all the animals and the environment. At first Ben is embarrassed and uninterested in his grandfather's Indian lore. But when it becomes apparent that Dan might not return, Ben becomes more open and he begins to listen and try to understand what his grandfather is teaching him. He learns how to make a fire, set snares, and to be observant about the signals other animals are sending that might indicate danger.

That danger is identified when the two encounter a huge grizzly bear, whose territory they find themselves in. After a first terrifying encounter in which Grandfather talks the bear down using formal Tlingit to show the bear respect, Ben realizes that they will have be on the watch all the time. Grandfather tells Ben that he believes this bear has been hurt by humans and is angry. Further adversity hits when Grandfather dies and Ben now must face the wilderness alone.

Gradually throughout the summer Ben learns how to live off the land and begins preparing for winter. He picks up a friend in a lone wolf who serves to alert Ben to the presence of the grizzly. Although he tries to avoid the grizzly there are more encounters. There is a detailed and gory description of the grizzly killing and feeding on a caribou, which is sure to fascinate boys.
"The silver tip reared up to his full height and located Ben, its broad head just a few feet below Ben. The grizzly stared into Ben's eyes and he saw death looking at him. In a strained voice, Ben said, 'Hootz, I didn't set the trap that tore off your foot or hurt you in any way. I am Ben James of the Gooch Kaynlye House.'"
Ben locates a cave and makes it his home, preparing for winter by stocking up on caribou jerky and using whatever he can to help him survive the coming cold weather. But one day he and Wolf return to find the grizzly has entered their cave. Ben knows he needs that cave in order to survive the winter. This leads to a final, brutal confrontation that forms the climax of the novel.

Originally published in 2002 as Wolf Brother. Survival in the Far North, this novel is sure to appeal to young teen boys interested in wilderness survival and animals. The novel was reprinted in 2011 with a dedication to their father from William and Patricia Ferrell. Overall it is well written, with considerable detail given to surviving in the wilderness. The encounters with the grizzly are exciting, as Ferrell effectively captures the terror and awe of these large, dangerous animals.

Carroll Edgar Ferrell moved to Alaska when he was a young man and loved the northern wilderness. He used his extensive personal experience in the Alaskan and Canadian back country to help him write this novel. Ferrell also relied upon information provided by Tlingit Medicine Man, Cyrus Peck, Jr. and accounts of grizzly attacks in the north.

A map of Ben's territory would have added significantly to this novel, allowing the reader to place the story. A more appealing cover would also entice more young readers to read what is a very well written, but somewhat predictable survival story. And the novel could do without the typo errors, especially the one on the back cover.

Book Details:
In the Valley of The Grizzly by Ed Ferrell
Alaska Northwest Books     2011
179 pp.

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