Friday, March 20, 2015

The Mills of God (1972)


The Mills of God
William H. Armstrong, il. David Armstrong
1973, Doubleday & Company, Inc.

The boy could not remember how long ago he had started dreaming of a dog to keep him company in the hills. It was, he thought, even before his brother Amos had died. For even with a brother two years younger to play with, the world of Aaron Skinner was a lonely world on a dead-end road called Dry Hollow, a world which was nothing more than a wrinkle in the vast fold of hills that belonged to Thomas Ruffner.

Twelve-year-old Aaron Skinner saves up $15 to buy a dog, a Blue-Tick Hound he names Rowdy.  He plans to hunt raccoons in the fall, to earn money to buy clothing respectable enough the other boys in his class won’t reject him.  The Skinners are “poor white trash” as a classmate called him on his first day of school.  His parents, Sophie and Jake, aren’t trash, but Jake’s meek and Aaron’s inherited his mild father’s dislike of confrontation.  This meekness will come back around to haunt them all when Jake’s overbearing boss, Thomas Ruffner, bullies him for one last, critical time.

A strange, sometimes horrific book.  Aaron, whose worried parents can tell is losing his hopefulness, finds a brief respite from the grinding indifference of classmates and neighbors when he acquires Rowdy.  But when he's faced with losing the dog, he begins to dream of death. Of a neighbor who killed himself after being tormented by malicious gossip and vandals. Of a local ghost, a slave owner whose last order was to be buried standing upright so she could continue to oversee her fields. And a misunderstanding brings exact, brutal justice to the widely loathed Mr. Ruffner. 

Within this larger book, there are brief moments of boy-with-dog: 

The dog caused the boy to almost trio and fall several times. After the washing and rubbing in the sun, it seemed that Rowdy couldn't walk close enough to his new master. The new collar hung loosely on the dog's neck and the chain dangled freely in the boy's hand. After Aaron had become entangled several times by Rowdy circling and looking up into his eyes, the boy unbuckled the collar, wipe both sides of it on his pants, then rolled it up and put it in his pocket.

The quote, the title

Though the mills of God grind slowly
yet they grind exceedingly small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
with exactness grinds He all.

A translation by 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of 17th century German poet Friedrich von Logau, who was in turn translating an ancient Greek philosopher, Sextus.  And this is what happens when you let history teachers from exclusive prep schools write children’s books.

Books – children’s fiction
Sounder (1969)
Sour Land (1971)
The MacLeod Place (1972)
Joanna’s Miracle

The Author

Born in Virginia and raised on a farm, Armstrong attended first the Augusta Military Academy, then Hampden-Sydney College and then the University of Virginia. He ended up teaching at a New England prep school which went co-ed in 1960.  His very strongly   

Armstrong is best known for Sounder, his children’s novel about a faithful hound and his imprisoned master, which won the Newberry Award in 1970. 

He was married and had 3 children, including an artist son, David, who illustrated this book. 


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