BOOKS: Saving Emily
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2002:
by Nicholas Read
Prometheus Books (59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228), 2001.
150 pages, paperback. $14.00.
The two timeless themes of rural literature might be
summarized as, “Country lad (lass) goes to the big city and becomes
corrupted/resists temptation,” and “Displaced city lad (lass) comes
out to the country to discover what is true and real.”
The former theme was the staple of medieval morality plays,
structured the plots of the first English novels, underscored The
Beverly Hillbillies, and remains the predominant theme of
The latter may be the most universal theme of fiction for children.
Both themes are hogwash–and always were. Urbanization
developed as humans found ways to remove themselves from the filth
and bloodshed of rural life, chiefly by perfecting skills requiring
more use of intelligence than most farm chores.
As rural people continue to view the urbanization process,
it is corrupt, in that the people remaining down on the farm still
do the dirty and bloody work, while people in the city forget where
meat comes from.
Yet rural people tend to vociferously prefer this kind of
corruption over the alternative that city people might stop eating
meat–even though rural people would continue to be the food
suppliers to all of civilization. The notion of finding something
good and true in the countryside meanwhile appeals not only to the
rural need for self-affirmation, but also to stressed city people,
who little imagine the unrelenting squalor of hog and poultry barns.
Fiction for children typically depicts rural self-discovery
occurring through learning to hunt and trap, raising animals as 4-H
projects and then tearfully selling them for slaughter, and taking
part in a rodeo.
Yet none of these actually are rituals of self-discovery.
Rather, they are rituals of desensitization. Only the child who
learns to deny the reality of animal suffering can complete the
passage to becoming a livestock farmer.
Saving Emily follows most of the conventions of fiction for
children with a rural theme. The human hero, Chris, is reluctantly
displaced from the city, and he does discover a few things about
himself in learning where meat comes from and attending a rodeo. His
most important teacher, however, is not a pure and wholesome
country lass who can casually wring a hen’s neck, but rather an
animal rights activist, Gina, who dyes her hair, wears too much
makeup, and offends the school football star just by her maverick
The story of Chris is juxtaposed against the story of Emily,
a Hereford heifer born on a typical open range cow/calf beef ranch.
Emily is a young innocent who is taken to the city against her
will–but before she gets there, she finds a way to run for her life.
Wrote my son Wolf Clifton, who at 11 is the same age as
Chris, “Chris and Gina really want to save Emily from slaughter,
but is there any legal way? This is an excellent book for animal
Although author Nicholas Read does not say so, Saving Emily
is also a synthesis of dozens of very similar true stories. Some
readers will recognize a cameo appearance by a fellow much resembling
Roger Brinker of Big Julie’s Rescue Ranch, in Fort Macleod,