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Alfred Ollivant's Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir

Alfred Ollivant's Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir

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by Alfred Ollivant

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Bob, Son of Battle, is a sheepdog so canny and careful of his flock, so deeply devoted to his master, James Moore, and so admired for his poise and wisdom by the residents of a small village in the rugged mountains of England’s North Country, that young though he is, he is already known as Owd Bob. In a recent contest, Bob has proved himself a matchless sheepdog


Bob, Son of Battle, is a sheepdog so canny and careful of his flock, so deeply devoted to his master, James Moore, and so admired for his poise and wisdom by the residents of a small village in the rugged mountains of England’s North Country, that young though he is, he is already known as Owd Bob. In a recent contest, Bob has proved himself a matchless sheepdog, and if he wins the trophy two more times, he’ll be seen as equal to the legendary sheepdogs of yore. 

But Bob has a real rival: Red Wull, with his docked tail and bristling yellow fur, a ferocious creature, just like his diminutive master, Adam McAdam, a lonely Scot, estranged not only from his English neighbors but from his son, David. McAdam just can’t stop belittling this strapping young man, all the more so since David began courting Moore’s beautiful daughter Maggie. But what McAdam really wants is for his beloved Wullie to wrest the prize from Bob once and for all. 

The story takes a darker turn when a troubling new threat to the local flocks emerges. A dog has gone rogue, sneaking out at night to feast on the flesh and blood of the sheep he is bound to protect. Again and again, new sheep fall prey to this relentless predator; again and again, he slips away undetected. This master hunter can only be among the boldest and sharpest of dogs . . .

Bob, Son of Battle has long been a beloved classic of children’s literature both in America and in England. Here the celebrated author and translator Lydia Davis, who first read and loved this exciting story as a child, has rendered the challenging idioms of the original into fluent and graceful English of our day, making this tale of rival dogs and rival families and the shadowy terrain between Good and Bad accessible and appealing to readers of all ages.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - M.H.B. Hughes
Davis has modernized the archaic country British jargon of Davis’s original story for a new version in “The New York Review Children’s Collection” series. After reading the 1898 original novel when she was a child, Davis never forgot her early impressions of the unfortunate characters it portrays, nor her feeling that they could have been saved. A full read indicates that she might have served her cause better with more abridgment of the three hundred pages. The style of the original book makes it difficult to recognize as a modern classic, sounding overblown and overemotional. Another question is whether today’s young readers have the determination to reach the meaty part of the book. The tale could lose the first hundred pages to get to the core mystery after following the lives of feuding English shepherds. The protagonist is the boy David, who grows up to become enamored of a neighboring farmer’s daughter, but the adolescent has unconsciously embodied the negative attitude of his father. The repetitive and typecast descriptions of the noble master, Kenmuir Farm, and the drunken child-abuser, The Grange, make the reader cringe even before reading the gilt-embroidered descriptions of the two dogs involved. The references to Kenmuir Farm as “The Master” conjure the venerable Albert Payson Terhune in his overuse of the same designation in his collie dog books from the post WWI era. Bob sparks considerably when a mystery beast slaughters sheep all over the county, with no sign of the perpetrator’s identity. Subordinate characters gossip, chat, and back up their favorites in the battles, adding fuel to the emotional fires. For those with an interest in working collie trials, this book may be enjoyable because of the several competitions described. Author Ollivant was an army officer crippled by a riding accident and Bob was his first novel. Illustrator Kirmse produced prolific dog artworks in the early twentieth century. Davis won the 2013 Mann Booker prize for her book of short stories Can’t and Won’t. Known as a master of the short story, she has produced sensitive translations of French works. Although Davis qualifies as a great wordsmith, she was reluctant to change the core of the original book. Reviewer: M.H.B. Hughes; Ages 8 to 12.
Children's Literature - Jill Walton
Will this resurrection of a beloved 1898 British novel about sheepherding dogs and their humans be placed on the banned book list? One reviewer has stated this book is too violent for children while others remember and treasure the original book read in their childhood. This version offers fresh, contemporary language and keeps the richness of the original tale of author, Alfred Ollivant. Bob, known locally as Owd Bob, is a sheep dog beyond compare. His lineage is in the Moore family Bible and he is the last and best of his line. The poetry of Scotland’s Robert Burns speaks often in the voice of a lonely and miserable widower Adam McAdams, as he rails against nearly all living creatures including his young son and Owd Bob. But Adam McAdams has one ally left in the world, his mongrel Red Wull, and his anti-social dog does win the trophy over Owd Bob in the annual sheepherding contest. High drama, romance, tragedy, and revenge meet in the North Country’s rugged mountains and weave the spell again for new and old readers. Reviewer: Jill Walton; Ages 8 to 12.
From the Publisher
“A classic tale skillfully revived for a new generation.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Probably the greatest dog story ever written, and one you will love as long as you live.” —Life 

“The greatest dog story I ever read: it is like Hamlet with Hamlet left out, all the more noticeable because the Great Dane is included.” —William Lyon Phelps

School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—What's a childhood without dog stories, such as Lassie, Old Yeller, and Shiloh? With this new version of Ollivant's Owd Bob: The Grey Dog of Kenmuir, Davis ensures that Bob, son of Battle, is a name to be added to that list. First published in 1889, Ollivant's work follows two sheepdogs and their masters: prickly Adam McAdam and his brutish dog, Red Wull, who herds by force; and kindly James Moore, whose equally skilled but more gallant Bob keeps order through an intuitive understanding of sheep. These two arch rivals are about to go head to head in a contest that will prove which is the superior sheepdog. Adding to the drama, Adam's son, David, who recently lost his mother, attempts to court James's daughter, while by night, sheep are menaced by what appears to be a rogue sheepdog. Though this reissue keeps the original art by Marguerite Kirmse (best known for illustrating Eric Knight's Lassie, Come-Home), Davis translates the Cumbrian and Scottish dialect of the original into modern English, ensuring that this classic canine tale will once more find a home among readers.
Kirkus Reviews
Over 100 years after his birth in print, Bob, Son of Battle isseekinga 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). Ollivantis a master storyteller,and he plays a veritable fandango on the heartstrings when the identityof thekiller 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)

Product Details

New York Review Books
Publication date:
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Alfred Ollivant (1874–1927) was born in Old Charlton, Kent, the son of a colonel in the Royal Horse Artillery. Shortly after he graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, intending to pursue a career in the army, he was thrown from his horse and seriously injured. While beginning his recuperation from the accident (he was to remain under his doctors’ care for the next fourteen years), he wrote Owd Bob: The Grey Dog of Kenmuir (known in the United States as Bob, Son of Battle), which was a best seller both in the United Kingdom and the United States when it came out in 1898. Ollivant would go on to publish fourteen more novels, as well as various occasional essays, poems, and other works, including, during the First World War, a series of articles describing wartime life in England for an American audience.

Marguerite Kirmse (1885–1954) was born in Bournesmouth, England. She emigrated to the United States as an accomplished harpist in order to continue her musical education, but instead embarked on a highly successful career as an illustrator. She is best known for her drawings of dogs, including those in Lassie, Come-Home by Eric Knight.

Lydia Davis is the author of seven collections of stories, including Break It Down, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, and, most recently, Can’t and Won’t, as well as one novel, The End of the Story. Her Collected Stories were published as a single volume in 2009, and in 2013 she was awarded an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story, as well as the Man Booker International Prize. She is also the translator of many books from the French, most notably Proust’s Swann’s Way and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

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Alfred Ollivant's Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Storywraps More than 1 year ago
This amazing story is one not to be missed.  First published in 1898 it went on to become a classic in both the UK and the US.  It is a story of good and evil and how good prevails.  Two sheepdogs, totally different in looks, temperament, and purpose, vie for the Shepherd's trophy admids an ongoing feud from their owners where jealousy, hatred and covetous reign.   The storyteller extraordinare weaves a love-story, a heart-breaking and tragic relational story between a father and son, and a mysterious sub-plot to uncover the identity of the Black Killer who roams around at night viciously killing off the local sheep. The magnificent twists and turns will have you up late at night trying to figure out who the culprit is and why he is so elusive and cannot be apprehended.  You are kept in suspense right up until the end as Ollivant shows his brilliance as a master storyteller over and over again throughout, luring you on deeper into the plot to find out the answers you are seeking. Thanks to Lydia Davis and the New York Review Children's Collection for re-introducing this book into the public domain once again for future generations to enjoy.  I myself had not read the book as child (or adult) so I was very fortunate to have had a chance to read one of the best books that I have read in a long, long time.  I highly recommend it.