Literature / Old Yeller

"Old Yeller was a hunter,
a rearin', tearin' hunter.
In any chase, he knew just how to run!
And when he got in trouble,
he always found it double,
and that's when Old Yeller had fun!"
—from the opening credits of Disney's Film of the Book

Old Yeller is a 1956 novel by Fred Gipson about a boy and a stray dog in post-American Civil War Texas, later made into a live-action Disney film in 1957.

15-year-old Travis Coates has enough responsibility taking care of his mother, little brother Arliss, and the family farm while his father goes away on a cattle drive. Then the wilderness blows a stray "yeller" dog into his life whom he initially takes a strong dislike to... until Old Yeller saves Arliss from a Mama Bear (kids shouldn't play with bear cubs). The two become inseparable partners, hunting and facing the dangers of The Wild West together. Then a rabid wolf comes along...

Warning, this page has Spoilers, but most people already know what they are.

The novel and highly faithful Disney film contain examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: In the book, Travis shoots Yeller immediately after the fight with the wolf, knowing he will inevitably contract rabies, and the scene takes up less than a page. In the film, he delays the inevitable for two weeks, hoping Yeller won't become rabid, and shoots him only when it's clear that he has.
  • All Dogs Are Purebred: In both the book and film, Travis finds a random stray who happens to be a purebred dog. In the book Yeller is an Original Mountain Cur while in the film he is a Labrador Retriever.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Little Arliss.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Arliss eventually starts believing he really is the clever hunter he boasted of being, which gets him in serious trouble when he tries to catch a bear cub.
  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his dog.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Arliss at times.
  • Children Are Innocent: Arliss carelessly puts himself in dangerous situations, mostly because he's too young to understand the danger.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Cub Cues Protective Parent/Bears Are Bad News: Arliss plays around with and tries to catch a bear cub, resulting is a rather displeased mother bear showing up. This bear might have killed Arliss had not Yeller been there to fight the bear off.
  • Darker and Edgier: Meta example. You thought "that" infamous scene in Bambi was bad? Wait'll you see this movie...note 
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Travis ends up having to shoot Old Yeller due to rabies.
  • Determined Homesteader's Wife: She cooks and cleans, works the farm, is able to handle a gun, settles disputes between Travis and Arliss, and doesn't bat an eye at stitching a wound shut.
  • Disappeared Dad: Not dead, but gone on a cattle drive until the end of the story. This means Travis is the man of the house until he returns.
  • Disneyfication: A minor example. In the film version, it's confirmed that Yeller has contracted rabies and putting him down is sad but necessary as the only safe and humane thing to do for both dog and family. In the original book Travis makes the decision to put him down immediately, leaving the possibility that Yeller might not have caught the wolf's rabies forever uncertain and likely to cause more anguish for both Travis and the reader alike.
  • Downer Ending: The one Disney movie to have one of these (even if it is live-action).note  Though the very end is bittersweet as the family adopts Old Yeller's puppy son.
  • Face–Monster Turn: Old Yeller, thanks to the rabies he contacts.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Go Look at the Distraction: Mom asks Arliss to get her a horned toad, so he won't be present while she's dressing the injury that a boar gave to Old Yeller.
  • Happily Adopted: Non-human example. Old Yeller is so ingrained into the family that by the time his rightful owner shows up, even he sees that Old Yeller is better off with them than with him.
  • The Hero Dies: Old Yeller himself at the end.
  • Heroic Dog: Yeller won't stand down to save his family from any threat, even if it has a negative impact on him.
  • "I Am" Song: "Here, Yeller... Come back, Yeller... Best doggone dog in the West..."
  • Hope Spot: In the movie, he isn't shot right away, in the hope that he won't turn rabid. He is merely caged in the corncrib as a safeguard. As the weeks pass, Yeller shows no signs of rabies, and it seems as though he might have been lucky after all. But only a few days before they intend to release him, guess what happens.
  • Manly Tears: A meta-example: the film's ending is often cited as an example of a time when it's entirely permissible for a grown man to cry.
  • Mercy Kill: Wow, is every trope about Old Yeller about the ending?
  • Mood Whiplash: Poor Yeller, having to be shot for contracting rabies... Hey, look! Papa has come home!
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Old Yeller protects the family from a rabid wolf, only for him to turn rabid as a result of getting bitten. The family is forced to put him down.
  • Oblivious to Love: Lisbeth Searcy has an obviously crush on Travis, who either doesn't notice or doesn't care.
  • Promotion to Parent: Travis.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Downplayed somewhat, but still present. Being able to "man up" and shoot his faithful companion Old Yeller to protect others from being infected by rabies is portrayed as Travis's introduction to the realities of adult responsibility.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Savage Sam.
  • Savage Wolves: The Downer Ending is brought about by a rabid wolf whom Yeller fights and drives away from the family, contracting rabies himself.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Yeller in the book is an American hunting dog breed known as the "Original Mountain Cur".
  • Shoot the Dog: Trope Namer present and accounted for, sir!
  • The So-Called Coward: Old Yeller.
  • Spin-Offspring: Savage Sam: Son of Old Yeller — also filmed by Disney, although deviating more strongly from its novel than the first film did.
  • Zombie Infectee: This is why they need to Shoot the Dog, substituting "rabies" (or "hydrophobia" as it was called in both book and movie) for "zombie".