Here’s part two of my read-along of Jeff Smith’s delightful Bone series.
This installment will cover the second trade, The Great Cow Race.
The valley’s Great Cow Race was hinted at a bit in the first trade, Out from Boneville, but the race itself takes center stage in the second, where the villagers arrive to bet on who will win the annual event, the speedy-for-her-age Gran’ma Ben, or someone’s cow. Gran’ma Ben always wins and the villagers always bet on her.
That, of course, would be why Phoney comes up with a plan to make a lot of…well, not money. Money is useless in the valley. Let’s say he’s looking to make a lot of valuables in the form of livestock and such and leave it at that. His plan is fairly simple: convince the people of the valley that Gran’ma Ben is getting too old to keep winning the race, and that a new “mystery cow” could easily win the whole thing. Then he sets up a betting booth at the fair with odds favoring the mystery cow, with Gran’ma given 100-to-1 odds to win.
Those two by themselves might be enough to tempt the less savvy of the villagers, but he also needs an actual cow to throw the race. That’s where Smiley in a bad cow costume Smiley made himself comes into play…
Phoney actually could pull this off if his greed didn’t get the best of him. He continues his whispers to Lucius the tavern-keeper he’s currently working for. Lucius thinks something’s up and decides to act on it…by betting his tavern on Gran’ma Ben at those 100-to-1 odds.
This leads Phoney to attempt to change the plan by trying to get Smiley now to win the race instead of throwing it, and he doesn’t trust Smiley to be able to pull it off on his own, so he climbs inside the suit with Smiley just as the race is starting.
While all this happens, Fone Bone goes off to write a love letter to Thorn, off advice from Ted the Bug, and gets chased by the same two stupid, stupid rat creatures. Then more rat creatures get involved. Then the rat creatures get into the cow race, every living thing involved panics, and Gran’ma wins the race. Phoney ends up more in debt than ever, and he and Smiley are lucky enough not to get really hurt by the valleyfolk.
Now, the thing that strikes me the most about this volume is Smiley Bone. Smiley is supposed to be a simpleton, and little else. When asked about the Bone cousins later, Gran’ma tells Lucius that Fone is a good soul smitten with Thorn, Phoney is devious and untrustworthy but probably as ignorant as he claims on why the rat creatures are after him, and Smiley just simply has no brain.
Why, then, does he seem to very willingly go along with Phoney’s cow race scheme?
That strikes me as an excellent question. I can see a character like Smiley getting into trouble, or doing like he does at the end of the volume where his general slowness and incompetence gets Lucius angry and injured in that order, but he doesn’t seem like the greedy or malicious type at first glance. His actions should be largely forgivable. But he is an active participant in Phoney’s scheme. And even more striking, Smiley is not the reason the whole thing fails. Phoney screws it up by trying to entice Lucius. Why Smiley cares that much for getting rich I can’t say. His actions in other places don’t seem to suggest a greedy character, but Phoney obviously couldn’t have pulled the plan off alone, and Smiley says later he mostly works for Phoney back home, but even there, the other Bones hate Phoney, not Smiley.
On the more epic end of things, Thorn remembers she drew the map Smiley found lying around in Out from Boneville, she remembers being taken by the dragons including the big red one, and it seems that Lucius also remembers the big red dragon, implying the dragon has as much of a past with the big tavern-keeper as he does with Gran’ma Ben. Thorn’s past is still a mystery, and it seems to be getting less clear as opposed to more.
Volume Three is titled Eyes of the Storm. I’ll be getting to that shortly.