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The Book of the Dun Cow

By Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Original Publisher: Harper & Row
Current Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Harold Augenbraum writes:

The interest in Wangerin’s fable, the only winner of the National Book Award for Science Fiction Paperback, over such stalwarts as Samuel R. Delany and Norman Spinrad (they broke the mold after choosing this one), may be owed to the fun and entertaining aspects of the book. Sure, it’s about a war between good and evil, but the good characters are not always perfect (remember, the Greek gods had their faults and foibles), and some are downright fun. Nothing like a depressed hound-dog ordered about by a cocky rooster (pun intended), or a Charlotte’s Web-like barnyard struggle between the hero and a rat. And then comes the finale (spoiler alert!) when the forces of good fight the forces of evil in an individual combat worthy of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie or José Rizal’s cockfights from Noli Me Tangere, with the baldly overblown language of parable that only a comic book reader could love. Read it for fun, and imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking these lines, à la his Conan the Barbarian days.

Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.


ISBN: 9780060574604

Science Fiction (Paperback) Finalists that Year:

  • Samuel R. Delany for Tales of Neveryon
  • Vonda N. McIntyre for Dreamsnake
  • Norman Spinrad for The Star-Spangled Future
  • John Varley for The Persistence of Vision

Fiction Judges that Year: Not available

The Year in Literature:  

  • The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Czeslaw Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:

The Book of the Dun Cow is loosely based on the beast fable of Chanticleer and the Fox, and the title is the common name for Lebor na hUidre, an ancient Irish manuscript of stories. It was later made into a musical by Mark St. Germain and Randy Courts, and produced as an Off-Broadway show in 2006 by The Prospect Theater Company. Wangerin also wrote a sequel entitled The Book of Sorrows.

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