The Original Feechie

By

When I was a graduate student at Vanderbilt, I went back to my hometown in Georgia to work on a remodeling crew. One of my crewmates was a boy named Jake. He was seventeen and skinny but tough as beef jerky. He was so country that the dash and bustle of Warner Robins, Georgia made him gape the way you might gape at Times Square, and any time we went to a restaurant for lunch, he had the unsettling habit of telling the town girls how pretty they were.

Most mornings Jake came to work bleary-eyed, as if he had stayed up all night. I asked him what that was about, certain there was a good story behind those red-rimmed eyes.

“I hunt wild hogs,” he said. “Me and my buddies spend most nights in the swamps, either at the Ocmulgee or the Flint.”

“Boar hunting!” I said. This was interesting. I didn’t figure it would be hard to get him going on that subject. A question or two, and he would be off. “So, what kind of gun do you use?” I asked.

“Gun?” he scoffed. “We don’t take no guns!”

“Then what do you take?”

“Dogs. Rope. A flashlight.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, not sure we were talking about the same thing. “What did you say?”

“We got these dogs,” Jake said. “Mostly bulldog. We slog through the swamp until they bay up a hog. Then a catch dog grabs holt of his ear.” He paused, basking in my fascinated attention. “And then I whirl in with the rope to tie him up.”

“Tie him up?” I asked. “Tie who up?”

“The hog! Who else?”

“You mean like calf-roping at a rodeo?”

“About like that. Except that a calf aint slinging five-inch tusks around and kicking like a roto-tiller and squealing to deafen a feller. It’s some excitement, I don’t mind telling you.”

I gaped. “So you tie him up,” I said. “What do you do then?”

“We carry him out on a pole, kicking and squirming.”

I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but the next day he brought me pictures of the dogs, the hogs, and the hunters, both in the swamp and in the pen where they fattened up their captured hogs.

Jake came to work one morning more red-eyed than usual. Obviously he had been crying. I put a hand on his ropy shoulder. “What’s wrong, Jake?” I asked.

He gave me a doleful look, then busted out crying again. “We were hunting last night,” he sobbed. “And an alligator ate my dog.”

I thought, What a world is this? I was living this suburban, academic life, and yet there was this alternate world swirling just around the corner where men wrestled wild boars in the swamp and alligators ate their dogs. I decided that if I ever wrote a book, Jake would have to be in it. And he is. He is the original feechie.

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


25 Comments

  1. Chaela Mick

    I’m absolutely thrilled that Rabbit Room will be re-releasing series!! When these books came out originally, I was just a kid, and was totally enchanted with the books! I can’t wait to buy them again in March and re-read them!!!

  2. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Kenny, Grady wandered off into the swamp, and I haven’t been able to track him down. I’m hoping one of these days I can rassle him down and get him into a sequel, but it’s not happening yet. Thanks for asking.

  3. DrewSmusic

    I’ve never read the Wilderking trilogy (#1 is on my shelf) but I have read and loved the language of The Charlatan’s Boy. Didn’t realize the worlds overlap till the mention of Feechies. Have I messed up our spoiled anything?

    Looking forward to buying volumes two and three from my favorite publisher.

  4. Loren Warnemuende

    I love how you continually show us that truth is stranger than fiction, and then you take that truth and weave it into incredible fiction.

    I’m looking forward to the Wilderking Trilogy and introducing our kids to the world Of Feechies. I’m glad I was introduced to them too late to find the first editions easily so I can get the Rabbit Room ones now.

  5. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Loren, at author visits I used to tell the story of Jake and his hand-to-hand combat with wild boars. It was a huge crowd pleaser. The children were always wowed by Jake’s adventures; they clapped, they cheered. But once I visited a school in Twiggs County, GA, not far from the Ocmulgee River mentioned in the anecdote above, and when I got to the rousing conclusion of the story, the kids just stared blankly, politely waiting for me to get to the part that might be surprising and unusual. It’s a tough crowd of fourth graders who aren’t impressed with an old boy tying up wild boars and getting his dog eaten by alligators.

  6. Loren Warnemuende

    I can believe it, Jonathan! Now, the question is, of we sent my husband in to tell some of his childhood tales of living in the wilds of Africa, would they get impressed? Or would even that just be par for the course? He has a good one about the thirty (or sixty?) foot croc the villagers hauled in from the River one time.

  7. KJ

    No joke, a pastor from Macon was telling me about hunting with boys from Perry. These boys were barefoot most of the time and probably hunted hogs like that. While walking through the swamp, they told the pastor, “step where we step”. He didn’t take the instruction too seriously and wound up stuck in the muck. They knew their hunting grounds. I know these boys and their family. They wear shoes nowadays. But their dog did get bit by a water moccasin once – and survived!

  8. Mark T. Collins

    This is a great series. So glad that Rabbit Room is re-releasing it. It took me a while to find all of my copies. But, thanks to the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library and the Palm Beach County Library System, I have all three.

    Now, I can recommend this series knowing that people can get a hold of their own copies. GREAT!

    Thanks Rabbit Room.

  9. CyndaP

    I read Charleton’s Boy to a third grade class a couple of years ago. They loved it and it’s a wonderful story to read out loud. I even came up with a sorrowful tune for the song Grady’s mother sang to remember him by. I can’t wait to read the Bark of the Bog Owl to the children!

  10. Jason Mitchell

    This is the best news I’ve heard in a while! I had to get my copy of book 1 secondhand from Amazon Marketplace. My 7-year-old and I took turns reading it over the course of a weekend ’til we’d both finished. And the origin of the feechies is perfect. I grew up in a small rural town, a few doors down and several worlds away from quite a few potential feechies…

  11. Scott Richardson

    Reminds me of the time I was making a series of sales calls in Louisiana with my local sales rep when I was a product marketing manager for the company I still work for now. This instrumentation technician at a large chemical company had a picture of a ferocious looking dog on his computer … wearing some sort of protective vest. I asked about it, curious. He explained that he and his buddies hunt hogs, and this is his dog (some sort of pit bull or at least a dog in that direction).

    I asked what he was wearing … “A Kevlar vest”, was the reply. I was mystified. I think of Kevlar as “bulletproof”, but apparently, these dogs wear these vests to protect them from the boars being hunted.

    I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like a foreign intruder into a world I have no clue about, as that day. “So … would you like to hear about our pressure instrumentation?” was pretty awkward after that …

  12. Jonathan Rogers

    Scott, I’ve seen those Kevlar dog vests. In fact, my story in The Molehill Vol 1 mentions a dog wearing such a vest.

  13. Mindy

    These books are my children’s and I’s favorite! We re-read them every year out loud as a family and have so much fun. Every character has its own voice!. My son has fechiefied hiself several times over the years, covering himself with mud from head to toe! We will finally be able to introduce others to these wonderful books and keep our copies. We only have the first two in print the last as a digital copy and our friends always groan when we can’t lend them the final story! We are thrilled at the re-release and look forward to any other books Mr. Rodgers might write!

  14. Dawn

    We read these books aloud years ago and they were THE books that got them excited about reading. At the time money was short and I was only able to purchase the first two hardbound- one each Christmas, but after that the third was no longer being printed. Any chance the third could be printed again in hardbound edition? One son in particular would like to have the books for his own children and grandchildren. It would be nice to have a complete set for him. Thank you for your hard work writing stories that excite boys and challenge them to be men of character.

  15. Kalmar Wingfeather

    I really, really, really want to read more of Grady’s story!!! Please release another book.

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