Over 100 years after his birth in print, Bob, Son of Battle is seeking a new audience. He deserves one.
Ollivant’s late-19th-century tale—invariably described as a children’s “classic”—tells of two sheepherding dogs at the top of their craft, the masters of these dogs and the hatred and jealousy of one for the other, and the quest for the coveted Shepherds’ Trophy—not once but thrice. It is also a boy’s coming-of-age story, a love story and a mystery of the Black Killer (of sheep). Ollivant is a master storyteller, and he plays a veritable fandango on the heartstrings when the identity of the killer is disclosed. Popular in its day, the work is now virtually unknown. Davis’ intention with her adaptation is to bring this worthy tale to new generations of readers. Her major change is the transposition into modern English of Ollivant’s extensive use of the Cumbrian dialect. Other unfamiliar English and Scottish words and expressions are also modernized. Is this effort successful? Indeed, yes. The power and sweep of the original remain, and those changes made are thoughtfully and sensitively executed. Is something lost in translation? Yes, that too. Ollivant’s use of dialect had beautifully pinned the story to its time and place. Nevertheless, for the modern reader, this new version is a winner.
Welcome back, Owd (Old) Bob! (Historical fiction. 10-14)