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Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life

Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life

3.8 6
by Gretchen Rubin

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Warrior and writer, genius and crank, rider in the British cavalry’s last great charge and inventor of the tank, Winston Churchill led Britain to fight alone against Nazi Germany in the fateful year of 1940 and set the standard for leading a democracy at war. With



Warrior and writer, genius and crank, rider in the British cavalry’s last great charge and inventor of the tank, Winston Churchill led Britain to fight alone against Nazi Germany in the fateful year of 1940 and set the standard for leading a democracy at war. With penetrating insight and vivid anecdotes, Gretchen Rubin makes Churchill accessible and meaningful to twenty-first-century readers by analyzing the many contrasting views of the man: he was an alcoholic, he was not; he was an anachronism, he was a visionary; he was a racist, he was a humanitarian; he was the most quotable man in the history of the English language, he was a bore.

Like no other portrait of its famous subject, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill is a dazzling display of facts more improbable than fiction. It brings to full realization the depiction of a man too fabulous for any novelist to construct, too complex for even the longest narrative to describe, and too significant ever to be forgotten.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A compelling read . . . Gretchen Rubin has produced a shrewd, original, and utterly engaging book, one that achieves the considerable feat of distilling an epic life to its essence while deconstructing the art of biography. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill does for the writing of history what Wallace Stevens’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ did for poetry—both does it and shows us how it’s done.”
—JAMES ATLAS, author of Bellow: A Biography

“At last! A book to put all the other books on Churchill into perspective. The Great Man was in danger of becoming hidden by the forest of verbiage in his memory. Gretchen Rubin cuts a clear path to her subject, and along the way takes the reader on a fascinating and hilarious journey.”
—AMANDA FOREMAN, bestselling author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

“Was there ever a better subject for biography? Heroic, petty, noble, selfish, courageous, devious, grandiloquent, plain-speaking, generous, tyrannical, Churchill was all these and more. Rubin strives to capture the essence of her larger-than-life subject not through a head-on assault, but by circling him and taking snapshots from a multiplicity of angles. Her Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill is a feat of intelligent compression, a stereoscopic portrait for the space age, a biography in miniature, and not least, a rattling good read.”
—MICHAEL SCAMMELL, author of Solzhenitsyn: A Biography

Publishers Weekly
Eschewing the linear, chronological approach of most biographies, Yale Law School professor and Churchill devotee Rubin (Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide) has written 40 brief chapters looking at the British prime minister from multiple angles: Churchill as son, father, husband, orator, painter, historian, enemy of Hitler and many other roles. Rubin's unique approach works surprisingly well, bringing fresh insight to an exhaustively covered subject. Writing on Churchill as son, for instance, Rubin hammers home the point that he spent his life trying to measure up to an imagined, idealized father. Churchill's real father, Rubin makes clear, thought his son was destined for mediocrity and told him so. When she discusses Churchill's famous gifts as an orator, Rubin contends that his speeches were sometimes overblown, overly heroic and often ignored. She agrees with David Cannadine (In Churchill's Shadow) that Churchill's oratory was most effective when matched by times that required heroic action, such as the spring and summer of 1940. In a chapter devoted to Churchill's legendary drinking, Rubin provocatively presents arguments from both sides: that the drinking was harmless and that it was a major problem. In the end, Rubin sees "her" Churchill as a tragic hero. His life's goal was to preserve the British Empire, yet his greatest achievement, the defeat of Hitler, hastened the empire's end. While Rubin's account clearly isn't comprehensive and belabors a rather obvious point-that different, even opposing, perspectives on one life are possible-it is an excellent introduction to one of the most written about men in history. Photos. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What do you get when a management author writes about Winston Churchill? This sampler of the many Churchill biographies already available. Rubin (Power, Money, Fame, Sex: A User's Guide) counts herself among Churchill's great fans. Among her 40 ways of looking at him are "Churchill the Drinker," which includes a section headlined "Churchill was an alcoholic" followed by another section countering "Churchill was not an alcoholic." It all depends on whom you quote. There are "Facts at a Glance," with a list of names of the people Churchill met, a list of the titles of royalty he served, and, near the end, "Churchill True or False." Most of the entries are about four pages long, with large type, wide margins, and nowhere near the exacting vocabulary for which Churchill was known. Newcomers to the topic may find some entries titillating, notably the section on Churchill's sex life, but it's hard to determine the best audience for this book. Any academic biography of Churchill would be more useful than this frothy title. An optional purchase.-Robert C Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, Billerica, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this fast-paced, fragmented account, each of the 40 short chapters examines one topic: Churchill as leader, father, in tears, etc. Some are no more than lists, one is a simple chronology, and another a compilation of quotes. But taken together, they capture some truths about him, chiefly the many contradictions and complexities of his life and career. Moreover, there are valuable lessons here concerning the difficulties of examining the great lives of history. Rubin has almost as much to say about biography as a subject as she has about Churchill-a good thing for readers relatively new to the genre. And a further lesson lies in her extensive notes and bibliography. It is instructive to witness how much research is necessary to support even a brief account of a long life. Average-quality, black-and-white photos have been thoughtfully chosen. Rubin has much to offer teens, especially those with only vague notions of the great man.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fan’s notes on Winnie the Tory, tanked-up inventor of the tank and stalwart captain of Team UK in its finest hour. There’s only one way to look at a politician, said the curmudgeonly H.L. Mencken: down. But Rubin (Law/Yale), born after Churchill left this vale of tears, finds no cause to scorn the venerable Winston. His contemporaries surely did, of course, and for many reasons: some because his mother was American, some because he was apparently indifferent to the working class, some because he was something of a cold fish. Rubin takes up those arguments one by one, offering a sort of point-counterpoint examination of Churchill’s character. Considering him overall to have been a "tragic hero," she allows that his critics had their points. On Churchill’s legendary drinking, for example, she accepts with regret the possibility that Churchill may have been an alcoholic—after all, he drank 96 bottles of champagne in two weeks after being turned out of office at the end of WWII—but counters, "Given Churchill’s extraordinary accomplishments . . . it’s difficult to credit that dependence on alcohol in any way impaired his health or abilities." Explaining merrily away, Rubin favors a newsreel style throughout: "When Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government fell in May 1940, the nation turned to Churchill. At last his unique qualities were brought to bear on a supreme challenge, and with his unshakable optimism, his heroic vision, and above all, his splendid speeches, Churchill roused the spirit of the British people." Though her research obviously goes deep, a little of this breeziness goes a long way—and doesn’t really do justice to a complex man whose long life beganshortly after the Civil War closed and ended the year Malcolm X was assassinated. Consider this a Cliff’s Notes for those too busy to read Churchill himself or one of his many solid biographers. Not much meat on these bones. Agent: Christy Fletcher/Carlisle & Co.

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Read an Excerpt


Churchill as Liberty's Champion

Heroic View

As their subtitles reveal, most of Churchill's biographers acclaim him as a hero: Isaiah Berlin's mystical tribute, A Portrait of a Great Man at a Great Moment; Geoffrey Best's balanced praise, A Study in Greatness; Martin Gilbert's meticulous volumes, including The Prophet of Truth and Finest Hour; William Manchester's virile adventure story, The Last Lion. Memoirs like Violet Bonham-Carter's intimate portrait, Pug Ismay's loyal account, and Jock Colville's reminiscences argue the same case. And of course, of all the mythmakers, no one did more than Churchill himself to construct the heroic "Churchill."

A torrent of facts proves their conclusions: that Churchill was a great man and the savior of his country; a farsighted statesman; a brilliant politician, orator, and writer; a loving husband and father; a man with a few endearing faults--or if not endearing, excusable.

No leader did more for his country than Winston Churchill. Brave, magnanimous, traditional, he was like a king-general from Britain's heroic past. His gigantic qualities set him apart from ordinary humanity; there seemed no danger he feared, no effort too great for his limitless energies.

Churchill's finest hour came in 1940. After warning for years against the Nazi threat, he rallied Britain to stand alone against Germany--after France and so many countries had fallen, and before the Soviet Union and the United States could be prodded into action. Churchill--with his tremendous gifts of eloquence, energy, and refusal to compromise and with his colorful symbols of cigar, whiskey, and V sign--became an icon of courage and liberty. In the greatest conflict in human history, which consumed the lives of 55 million people, Churchill alone saved England and the world.

But the famous triumphs of 1940 are just a small part of his story. Churchill burst into public life as a war hero and journalist and entered national politics at age twenty-five. Within a few years, he was a leading English figure--in fact, the first Churchill biography appeared when he was merely thirty-one years old. In his sixty-two years in the House of Commons, Churchill held every major government office, with the exception (ironically, given his tremendous influence in Foreign Affairs) of foreign secretary. This experience gave him an unparalleled grasp of the workings of Britain's civil and military machinery.

Churchill's abilities weren't exhausted by political administration. His voluminous writings and speeches were of remarkable quality and influence; he was an accomplished painter, a fast bricklayer, an airplane pilot, a polo player, and a crack shot; he was also a devoted husband and loving father.

The facts of Churchill's life are fabulous in their sweep--a pageant of English life. His earliest memory was of watching scarlet soldiers on horseback while his grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough, addressed a crowd in Ireland. India, primogeniture, the trenches, Windsor Castle, silver trays, labor strikes, puddings, rose gardens, lions, umbrellas . . . all these weave through his story.

Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a gifted politician and a descendant of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough and the greatest British general of the eighteenth century. His mother Jennie, a beautiful, accomplished American, was the daughter of New York financier Leonard Jerome.

From boyhood, Churchill had craved adventure, and in 1896, he sailed with the Fourth Hussars to India. There, restless with a cavalry officer's light duties, he pored over works by Macaulay, Gibbon, Darwin, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as records of parliamentary debates and his father's speeches, in a rigorous program of self-education. Impatient to make his name, to see action, and to earn money, Churchill also won assignments as a war correspondent. This began his career as a writer; over his lifetime, he would write acclaimed books about military campaigns he'd seen, biographies, histories, essays, and even a novel as well as innumerable magazine and newspaper articles.

In 1899, Churchill set off to report from the Boer War, where he was captured during a brave attempt to rescue an armored train. He soon managed to escape and, as he stole across enemy countryside, happened by pure luck to knock at the door of a British-born coal-mine manager, who arranged his passage to safety. He received a hero's welcome, and the thrilling story of a Duke's grandson outfoxing the enemy made him a national celebrity.

But Churchill knew he wanted to be a politician, not a soldier. Back in England in 1900, he won his first election and entered the House of Commons as a Conservative at age twenty-five, as his father had done at the same age.

Because of his strong support for free trade, in 1904 Churchill switched from the Conservative to the Liberal Party. His talents shot him into prominence, and, already a Cabinet member at age thirty-three, he would go on to hold a remarkable array of offices. His tremendous abilities, forcefulness, and trenchant wit were acknowledged by everyone. In no time, Churchill made himself into an outsize public figure famous throughout Britain; he wasn't even thirty-five years old when Madame Tussaud's added his life-size wax figure to its displays.

In 1908, after a whirlwind courtship, he married Clementine Hozier, to whom he remained happily married for the rest of his life.

In his early Cabinet posts, Churchill helped build the foundation for the modern welfare state; then, in a move that marked a shift from domestic to military policy, he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. Although his tenure there was among the most satisfying in his career, it ended in frustration.

During World War I, Churchill championed a daring plan to break the war's bloody stalemate by taking the Dardanelles Straits, which lie between the Turkish mainland and the Gallipoli Peninsula. By forcing the Dardanelles, the link between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and by seizing Constantinople, the capital of Britain's enemy, Turkey, the allies could ship supplies directly to Russia's Black Sea ports--and by helping the Russian armies, reduce pressure on the Western Front.

The War Cabinet approved Churchill's plan but failed to ensure sufficient support, and despite Churchill's monumental efforts to save the campaign, it failed. When the Liberal government fell, the Conservatives insisted on Churchill's ouster as a condition of coalition. Out of office, discouraged by his inability to contribute to the war effort, Churchill went to serve at the Western Front (no other politician of his stature served in the trenches). His war against lice, his improvements to conditions, and his fearlessness under fire won the admiration of his men. Too capable to be allowed to remain in the field for long, he returned to London in 1917 to take up a series of important positions.

After returning to the Conservative Party, Churchill ascended in 1924 to Chancellor of the Exchequer--a post second only to the Prime Minister. He'd nearly reached the summit of power.

In the "wilderness period" of the 1930s, however, the political tide turned against him. From the sidelines, he hammered against the menace of German rearmament and the policy of appeasing dictators, but for years, no one listened. Over time, though, as Hitler's treachery confirmed his predictions, Churchill's authority grew. He'd long urged a confrontation with Germany, and when Britain declared war, it was clear that Churchill must join the fight. He returned as First Lord of the Admiralty.

When Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's government fell in May 1940, the nation turned to Churchill. At last his unique qualities were brought to bear on a supreme challenge, and with his unshakable optimism, his heroic vision, and above all, his splendid speeches, Churchill roused the spirit of the British people. Years later, Churchill recalled this time: "There was a white glow, overpowering, sublime, which ran through our island from end to end." Churchill lit that glow.

On June 16, 1940, France collapsed. Britain stood alone, under constant air attack and threat of invasion, while Germany controlled all of Europe. "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties," Churchill exhorted, "and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.' "

On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and Churchill immediately pledged British aid. On December 7, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and Britain declared war on Japan even before the U.S. Congress did. The three great Allies were then engaged, to fight to the end, despite their profound differences. Slowly, the Allies began to turn the tide, and after years of battle, Germany capitulated. On May 8, 1945, as Churchill announced victory in Europe, an enormous crowd gathered to cheer him. "In all our long history," he thundered, "we have never seen a greater day than this."

Churchill wasn't allowed to savor victory. Within weeks, to the shock of the entire world, he was voted out of office by a public determined to put memories of the war and its sacrifices behind them. With remarkable prescience, Churchill had observed in 1930: "The Englishman will not, except on great occasions, be denied the indulgence of kicking out the Ministers of the Crown whoever they are." In 1945, the British people showed him just how well he understood them.

On August 14, 1945, after two strikes by atomic bombs, Japan surrendered.

After the war, Churchill devoted himself to writing, but he wasn't content merely to comment on history. He continued to be an influence on foreign affairs and in March 1946, on a visit to the United States, gave his famous speech: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." The public called Churchill back to power in 1951, and he remained Prime Minister until old age finally halted him in 1955. He took leave of Queen Elizabeth, whose great-great-grandmother had reigned when he received his army commission.

Still active in retirement, in 1962, at age eighty-seven, he broke his hip while abroad. A French hospital prepared a bed for him, but he said, "I want to die in England." The Prime Minister sent a Royal Air Force Comet to bring Churchill back to London. Churchill kept his seat in the House of Commons, the institution he loved so much, until 1964.

Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965, at age ninety, and in a rare honor, received a state funeral. Hundreds of thousands of people stood in line for hours to pay their respects to the man who'd done so much, in so many capacities, for his country. Afterward, his body was carried by train through the winter countryside to Bladon churchyard, where he'd chosen to be buried beside his father.

"We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be," Churchill had vowed in June 1940. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds . . . we shall never surrender." His service to his country will never be forgotten, and his words will be celebrated as long as the world rolls round.


Churchill as Failed Statesman

Critical View

Laboring beside the Churchill mythmakers are the demythologizers, who challenge the heroic accounts by exposing a different set of facts. Clive Ponting, for example, emphasizes Churchill's reactionary, arrogant ideas; John Charmley argues that Churchill's unrealistic dedication to war and trust in the United States led to the collapse of British power; and David Cannadine amasses evidence of Churchill's many character flaws. Diaries and letters, such as those by Lord Moran and General Sir Alan Brooke, divulge Churchill's failings as an administrator, a strategist, and a colleague.

Together, these describe an opportunistic, antidemocratic, warmongering, spendthrift egotist who, with his obstinate belligerence and sentimental trust of the United States, fatally undermined the Empire.

Churchill was a crossbreed of English aristocracy and American plutocracy.

On his father's side, the Churchills were a textbook example of a blue-blooded dynasty in decline. Though the Marlborough line was ancient, family members distinguished themselves mostly by debts, gambling, drinking, philandering, and scandal. Churchill's father Randolph shared many of these faults. He was a brilliant but unstable demagogue who rocketed his way to early political prominence and then threw away his career when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he resigned over a budget issue. He never held office again and died young and insane, likely from syphilis.

The family of Churchill's American mother, Jennie Jerome, was also inclined toward gambling, profligacy, and infidelity (Jennie was named after one of her father's mistresses, Swedish soprano Jenny Lind). Jennie escaped none of these undesirable family traits. She had numerous lovers, many of whom would be conscripted to boost her son Winston's career. Throughout her life, her extravagance would keep her on the brink of financial disaster.

Randolph and Jennie met on August 12, 1873, and married the following April. Winston was born only seven months later--according to the Times, prematurely, but not everyone believed that.

Too busy with their fashionable lives to take an interest in their children, Jennie and Randolph left their two sons mostly in servants' care. Churchill depended on his nanny Mrs. Everest--whom he called "Woom" or "Woomany"--for affection and attention. Already at boarding school at age nine, Churchill wrote his negligent mother, "It is very unkind of you not to write to me before this, I have only had one letter from you this term." When his parents did concern themselves with Winston, he disappointed them with school reports of tardiness, laziness, and misbehavior. He also lisped on the letter s, which gave his speech a slurred, unattractive sound.

His father arranged for him to go into the army--not out of any belief in Winston's military abilities but because he'd concluded his son wasn't clever enough to become a lawyer. Even so, Churchill twice flunked the entry exam for the military academy at Sandhurst and barely squeaked through after six months with a London "crammer." He qualified only for the cavalry--where, because financial demands on officers were greater, intellectual demands were lower than for the infantry.

Churchill's regiment arrived in India in 1896. Churchill had skated through school, but at this point he decided that to achieve the fame and power he craved, he must educate himself. In a crash course of self-improvement, Churchill read through an assortment of books sent by his mother. Throughout his life, he showed the undisciplined intelligence typical of autodidacts; he was incapable of rigorous analysis, and after making his conclusions, clung to them too stubbornly.

Over the next few years, Churchill schemed to join Britain's "little wars." He relished these battles: "This kind of war was full of fascinating thrills . . . at the worst thirty or forty, would pay the forfeit; but to the great mass of those who took part in the little wars of Britain in those vanished lighthearted days, this was only a sporting element in a splendid game." (The "fascinating thrills" were perhaps less obvious to those fighting the British. In the Battle of Omdurman, for example, British losses were 25 dead and 136 wounded; Muslim dervishes had 10,000 dead and 15,000 wounded.)

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

GRETCHEN CRAFT RUBIN received her undergraduate and law degrees from Yale and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. She clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court and served as counsel to Federal Communications Commissions Chairman Reed Hundt. She teaches at Yale Law School and School of Management and is the author of Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide.

Visit the author’s Web site at www.gretchenrubin.com

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Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gretchen Rubin has the merit to make the complex personality of Winston Churchill accessible to a wide audience. Rubin is very good at reducing a mass of information and data about her tragic hero to the key talking points about a wide range of topics relevant to the life of Churchill. Some biographies about Churchill can intimidate many readers because of their size and/or complexity. Rubin, a lawyer by training, plays the devil¿s advocate in some chapters by arguing both sides of an issue without taking side. Some readers, understandably, would have preferred that Rubin took a clear stance in these chapters. Although Rubin deeply admires Churchill, she ultimately passes the test of impartiality by acknowledging his most egregious shortcomings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An absorbing account of Winston Churchill through 40 anecdotes ranging from memorable quotations, to his sex life (or relative lack thereof) and love for England. A quick read with many overlapping ideas and observations, Rubin at times repeats herself, but not with any emphasis, suggesting she recycled material from earlier chapters with no new spin. However, this repetition does not weigh down the book any more than the few fluff chapters do. For example, the one paragraph “How He Saw The World” chapter included a map of the Britain at the height of it’s empire in 1930, in attempt to show us what has already been established – Churchill was an imperialist and always hoped to preserve the British Empire. Also, an unenthusiastic true/false questionnaire chapter drags us down a puerile path heading towards an obvious conclusion: Churchill’s life is the stuff of legend.  This book continually claims an unbiased account of Churchill, especially through many chapters posing two opposite views. This initially pushes the reader to choose one or the other, but these dichotomies condition the reader to a more meaningful conclusion - toward the end of the book it becomes easier to accept both claims and infer, for example, that Churchill was both depressed and cheerful during periods of his life. Rubin may have intended this effect, which enforces the underlying purpose of this book and allows the reader to synthesize his or her own view of Churchill. Like a decent tomato-basil soup at the beginning of a delicious five-course meal, this book both pleases and invites us to keep reading about a legendary and polarizing figure.   Final book rating:  65/100
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
40 Ways to look at Winston Churchill is a great summary of Winston Churchill. This biography offers everything there is to know about Winston Churchill. Gretchen Rubin, the author, does a fantastic job in always providing both sides of the argument. Additionally, her writing is differentiable from all the other authors, who have written memoirs and biographies of Churchill. She does not simply retell what everyone already knows about Churchill but she describes  “her” Winston Churchill. The quotes and speeches she includes are so purposeful that they always enhance her argument. Quotes, letters and speeches of Churchill and others are always including with a purpose and elevate the overall arguments. I really think Gretchen Rubin did a good job at cutting these pieces and including only the most important things. Her biography is different form any biography or memoir I have ever read. In my opinion, this well written biography gives a new insight to Churchill from a more modern day perspective. Yet, even though the content is great an academic scholar did not write this book. This means that the book does not have the best imagery in it; as well as, it is often lacking the eloquent writing style that one would expect out of a Winston Churchill biography. For all these reasons I would give this book a 3.5.  - Laura
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chapter 3: Karatepaw awoke to nothing. He walked outside and noticed no scent markers. "They must have moved camps." He said. Then saw a marking in a tree stump that read. 'Wind and fire.' He walked there and saw the new camp. It was so much bigger than the last one. This one had sunningstones and many other things. He trained with blacktail then after that. Something happened. He heard an explosion and then saw at the med cat den. The med cat was dead. The den was destroyed. "What happened!" Mistystar asked. Murmering came from the wariors and he picked up a snicker from out in the woods. The warriors and me went to go see. He sniffed the air and picked up a killer scent. Twoleg with dynamite and a dog. The warriors went looking for it. "Oh my god. Im not risking my life." He said going back to where the apprentices were. He was talking and ravenpaw (srry i forgot to mention the ceremony. :P) said. "No. This is absoloutly horrible. We must never go to where the warriors are unless we are one of them. Im not taking ANY chances here." She said. We all agreed and then a voice spoke from out in the woods. "Weve killed him! The twoleg has fallen!"||||| end of chapter. Chapter four will be in the 5th result. I will make it as soon as i can. Plz rate this chapter!