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The Incredible Journey

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Instinct told them that the way home lay to the west. And so the doughty young Labrador retriever, the roguish bull terrier and the indomitable Siamese set out through the Canadian wilderness. Separately, they would soon have died. But, together, the three house pets faced starvation, exposure, and wild forest animals to make their way home to the family they love. The Incredible Journey is one of the great children's stories of all time—and has been popular ever since its debut in 1961.

145 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

Sheila Burnford

19 books53 followers
Sheila Philip Cochrane Burnford, née Every, (11 May 1918 – 20 April 1984) was an English novelist.

Born in Scotland but brought up in various parts of the United Kingdom, she attended St. George's School, Edinburgh and Harrogate Ladies College. In 1941 she married Doctor David Burnford, with whom she had three children. During World War II she worked as a volunteer ambulance driver. In 1951 she emigrated to Canada, settling in Port Arthur, Ontario.

Burnford is best remembered for The Incredible Journey, a story about three animals traveling in the wilderness (1961), the first of a number of books she wrote on Canadian topics. The book was a modest success in 1961 but became a bestseller after it formed the basis of a successful Disney film. Although The Incredible Journey is marketed as a children's book, and in fact won the 1961 Canadian Children's Book of the Year award, Mrs Burnford has stated that it was not intended as a children's book.

She also wrote One Woman's Arctic (1973) about her two summers in Pond Inlet, Nunavut on Baffin Island. She traveled by komatik, a traditional Inuit dog sled, assisted in archaeological excavation, having to thaw the land inch by inch, ate everything offered to her, and saw the migration of the narwhals. This is a world that has experienced unlimited change, but Burnford saw the best and worst of Pond Inlet at a time gone forever.

She died of cancer in the village of Bucklers Hard in Hampshire at the age of 65.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,187 reviews
Profile Image for Mike.
6 reviews558 followers
November 17, 2018
This is one of my all time favorites that I read as a kid and I was curious to see if it would wield the same emotional power that it did over 30 + years ago. It came into my hands again through a curious set of circumstances.

First: my mom and I had been talking about books during a phone conversation. She had mentioned finding her copy of "Three Against the Wilderness", which I hadn't heard of before so I thought she had meant this one while substituting a different title. Nope, completely different book, but then she told the story of how she loaned her copy of "The Incredible Journey" to a "friend" at one of exercise classes who had been lamenting that she wanted to read it. A significant period of time passed and when my mom asked for her book back her "friend" stated that it was "her" copy all along. Needless to say, my mom was PEEVED over this set of circumstances but she didn't push the issue to get her copy back. I feel like we both lost a family heirloom.

Second: I'd been digging around in a secondhand bookstore, Red River Books, one weekend, and in the course of such treasure hunting had done a rather nice job of reorganizing the scattered stock. The owner appreciates when I do this, plus the fact I pulled a nice little clutch full of goodies to buy and take home led to his giving me a nice little discount. As I was heading out of the store I found a copy of this book lying in a box in the foyer of the store. I took it back into the store and told him I wanted to buy this as well. He politely waved me off and said I could take it home with me for no cost. Made my day!!

Third: my mom was recently in town, she'd come out from BC to take a trip with my aunt and uncle out to the east coast, and saw my copy lying in the bathroom. When I brought it up you could see that even though she was happy I had a copy, she was still incredibly PEEVED about the loss of hers.

The story is still wonderful, It is so easy to visualize these three characters as I have had the pleasure of dealing individually with all three breeds and Bumford nails their personalities and traits in compelling fashion.

Epilogue: I had gone to visit a buddy and his family there other week and I took this book for his youngest to read as he was the only one that I had yet to find a good book for. I'd also taken a copy of "Crow Lake" by Mary Lawson for his wife. As soon as my buddy saw this book he instantly recognized the title/cover and said to his son, "You are going to love this! It has a porcupine in it!" - last time he had read this one he was in seventh grade.

This is a Canadian classic and I like to think that the Mary Lawson book I brought along is a new Canadian classic. I'm looking forward to seeing what my buddy's family thinks of them.

Update - Nov. 17th 2018

I think my buddy's son finally finished this one but I'm not sure. It seems to have a permanent place on their coffee table along with a bunch of Kenneth Oppel books that the family is reading at the moment. Poor Judy has yet to crack open "Crow Lake"...maybe one fine day.

My mom hit one of her yearly book sales and found a paperback copy for herself before I could send her the one I found. Her story about how her original copy was lost had changed in the meantime and it was interesting to relate what she had originally told me back to her. Regardless, both she and I are very happy that she has a copy back in her possession again. Now we'll have to see if she'll loan it out to my niece.
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
February 8, 2018
this is on my "gimmie sequel" list for riffle:

Last year I decided to reread once book each month that I had loved when I was a little kid to see how they held up to the refined and sophisticated literary standards of my adulthood. As it turns out, I had excellent taste as a l'il nipper. OR I still have the sensibilities of an eight-year-old. Pass the marshmallow cereal.

During this process, I discovered that several of my beloved books had sequels or in some cases multiple further adventures, and then seeing A Wrinkle in Time getting the big-screen treatment reminded me that I'd only ever read the original trilogy, the "other" two books in the Time Quintet having been published after a long pause while I was off looking at other things. So, obviously, I'm on a new booky quest to read all of these books I missed out on as a child, starting with the L'Engles, but this has started my brain tip-tapping down memory lane thinking about other favorite books - worlds and characters I would like to revisit.

So now even though the stack of books I have here to read is already incredibly ambitious for any mortal creature, I'm making a wishlist of imaginary books - books I would read if only they existed.

And who knows, if there's one thing I've retained from the children's books of my heart, between wishes and tesseracts and the assistance of talking animals, anything is possible.

Profile Image for Ron.
387 reviews89 followers
January 20, 2019
I loved this story. Yeah, it took me awhile to read. In part that's because taking it slow meant savoring it, but I've also been short on reading time lately.

Thanks to GR friend Mike for his inspiring review which led me to finally reading this book about 2 dogs, a cat and their long journey.

When I get the chance, I'll add more to this review. In the meantime, here's what Mike wrote: Mike's review
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews100 followers
February 3, 2018
Yeah! For an animal story where they live. Sheila Burnford knew and loved a Bull Terrier at some point.

I listened to the audio edition rather wish that they had skipped the musical accompaniment for the action scenes. It was little too loud for the narrator.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
796 reviews583 followers
July 21, 2019
I have just become ten years old again!

I sobbed through my reads of this book (& through my viewings of the Disney movie) It didn't matter how many times I read/watched it & that I knew it Would Be All Right in the End, I'd be there with large, gulping sobs. & I kept my whole family awake until I cried myself to sleep. I was a very soft kid though. I wasn't allowed to watch Lassie as I got so upset!

This book is worth all the tears. Burnford tells a wonderful fictional tale using three of her real life pets as the actors. The portrayals are never sentimental & cloying - if a reader can't deal with the reality of what starving animals will have to do to survive, this isn't the right book for them. (I do wonder if the version I read as a child had been censored. I was a kid who like the world best if I was looking at it through rose tinted glasses!)

The animals are portrayed with affection though it is clear that old Bodger is the love of Burford's life.

Longridge the kindly, if failed, pet minder on Bodger (the bull terrier)

Lying awake in the dark that night,unable to sleep, he thought he would have given anything to feel the heavy thud on the bed that used to announce the old dog's arrival. How extremely unloving and intolerant he had felt so often , waking in the middle of the night to the relentless shoving and pushing of his undesirable and selfish bedfellow.

My only criticism is that in most pictures Bodger doesn't look like any Bull terrier I have known & illustrator softens the angular, exotic features of Tao the Siamese cat.

Because I grew up with these pictures I love them, but I hope one day Burford's tale gets the artist it deserves.

Profile Image for Cheri.
1,741 reviews2,267 followers
March 19, 2019
A three-hundred mile journey through the Canadian wilderness, an area of “ endless chains of lonely lakes and rushing rivers,” where “half the year the country is blanketed with snow; and for weeks at a time the temperature may stay many degrees below zero.”

”This is the country over which the three travelers passed, and it was in the fall that they traveled, in the days of Indian summer.”

The three travelers were Bodger, an old Bull Terrier, Luath, a young red-gold Labrador Retriever, and a Siamese cat named Tao.

This would be a tiresome journey under the best of circumstances, but they left their home with no way of knowing the extent their lives would be tested along the way. There are many treacherous nights spent in the forest, but also some generosity shown them by the Objibwe they meet along the way.

”That night they became immortal, had they known or cared, for the ancient woman had recognized the old dog at once by his color and companion: he was the White Dog of the Ojibways, the virtuous White Dog of Omen, whose appearance heralds either disaster or good fortune. The Spirits had sent him, hungry and wounded, to test tribal hospitality; and for benevolent proof to the skeptical they had chosen a cat as his companion—for what mortal dog would suffer a cat to rob him of his meat? He had been made welcome, fed and succored: the omen would prove fortunate.”

And so they continue on their way, continuing to rely on each other for their journey despite their many near-death experiences.

This is a relatively short book, less than 150 pages, generally considered to be a “children’s book” – although the author did not write it specifically for children – about love, loyalty and the bond between man and their four-footed family.

Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Pramod Nair.
232 reviews194 followers
July 26, 2015
Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford is a timeless classic, which narrates the arduous and brave journey taken by three pet animals towards the family they love over harsh and dangerous terrain, and is an emotionally rich story, which will move the reader and will leave him with a glow of satisfaction. The feelings and emotions of these pet animals, their love towards each other and their loyalty and love for their owners are captured and expressed by the author with such a clarity that both young and old readers will find Incredible Journey a highly enjoyable read.

Luath, a young and strong Labrador Retriever; Bodger, an old English Bull Terrier and Tao, a sleek and resolute Siamese cat are pets of ‘The Hunter Family’ and lives in northwestern Ontario in Canada. When the ‘Hunters’ leave for England for a few months these three lovable pets are left in the care of ‘John Longridge’, a family friend. With in a few days Longridge and the animals settle into a routine life of mutual companionship and contentment. But when Longridge leaves for a two-week hunting trip, Luath who was constantly longing for the company of the ‘Hunter Family’ urges the two other animals to take a journey towards their original home which is about 300 miles away. Following their instincts and led by Luath, these three incredibly loyal companions braves through the harsh Canadian wilderness overcoming a range of obstacles – like starvation, drowning, attacks from wild beasts, exposure to nature and really harsh terrain - fueled only by their mutual love and their insatiable desire to be with their owner. Author does a commendable job of describing the frigid scenery of the Canadian wilderness and the approach of the winter with supreme clarity and this adds to the reading pleasure.

One of the strengths of the book is the choice by the author not to make it into a fantasy by giving the animals ability to talk; instead Sheila Burnford presents the story by observing and narrating each details of adventure, misery, plight and danger that the animals experience from the journey to the reader lucidly, which makes it seem a realistic tale.

Incredible Journey is a fantastic book, which narrates an incredibly charming story of love, survival, loyalty and companionship brimming with adventure and excitement and the calm pace with which the narration follows will mesmerize the reader. If you have a young reader at home, or if you love animals, or if you are a reader who love to read something that will make you feel good then this story, which has a healthy dose of ‘sharing and caring’, is highly recommended. The live-action Walt Disney movie of 1963 titled ‘Incredible Journey’ and the 1993 remake titled ‘Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey’ were both based on this book.
Profile Image for Natalie Vellacott.
Author 18 books858 followers
February 1, 2020
Beware: animal lovers will need tissues!

I don't know why this timeless story of two dogs and a cat just trying to get home should provoke such raw emotion. But it does, every time. The movie Homeward Bound is just as much of a tear-jerker.

You have been warned.
November 3, 2017
Sheila Burnford's storytelling is great, if she pieced accuracy together and only re-imagined the time between eyewitnesses. She excelled at a complex task. I had a few quibbles. When I visit countries, I use their languages. I enjoy differences, unless they forgo vocabulary that keeps something clear. Sheila emigrated ten years before publishing this. She knew generalizing “property”, “lawn”, “grounds”, “yard” with “garden” does not fly! She referred to John's “garden door” but since a garden is soil, growing vegetables or flowers; no door opens onto that. Even if she meant a yard door, the word was wrong. All doors open onto your property or yard. If she meant “backdoor”, she needed to say that.

Sheila could be fanciful with grating, incongruous things, like calling a “shrill” whistle “sweet”. No, it isn't! The end milked drama. If two pets arrive, you search or wait, because the third is on his way too! You would not give up on Bodger, with miracles in front of you. Lastly, when did this occur? Who was the author to them? Four stars appreciate everything else about this special novel. Have no doubt that I savour hearing about pets coming home. I was reluctant about this, in a bag of books borrowed from Mom. It cheered me up.

My precious cat has been away three months. Sheila's details about cats doing well in a forest, bolstered me. Balm to my soul, her emphatic assertions that cats travel unseen and unheard. The reaction of a serviceman, without knowing our boy left voluntarily, was crass. First: don't disrespect anyone who is optimistic about their son. Secondly: we say “F” him.

We are sure Conan has concluded his sojourn since it has snowed and is heading home. Our reunion is imminent. This was more poignant to me, than for those appreciating heartfelt stories. I cheered that family's happy resolution and will be eternally grateful for ours!
Profile Image for Jim.
1,123 reviews65 followers
November 24, 2021
It really was an incredible journey. This is a classic animal story by Sheila Burnford (1918-1984). The three animals are unforgettable--Tao the Siamese cat, Bodger the old English bull terrier, and Luath the young Labrador retriever. And the story is about their journey across more than 250 miles of Canadian wilderness.
Reading it, I forgot that it was marketed as a children's book, I suppose, because it's short and it's about animals. It was also the basis of a popular Disney film. Reading about Burnford, I noted that she had not intended this book to be a children's book. I certainly think this book works well for animal lovers of all ages! I was also curious about any other books that Sheila Burnford wrote. She did write a number of books. One of them, "One Woman's Arctic," about the time she spent on Baffin Island, looks particularly interesting. Something to look for in the new year (2021!) !
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews404 followers
May 10, 2016
I haven't seen the 1993 movie "Homeward Bound", but it doesn't sound like it would do justice to this wonderful story by Sheila Burnford. Published in 1961, this novel tells the story of an unusual trio of domestic pets that make an unlikely journey of 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness to return to their family's home. As you read the story of the trials and adventures of the three pets, you can't help but fall in love with Luath the Labrador, Bodger the Bull Terrier, and Tao the Siamese cat.
Profile Image for Janete on hiatus due health issues.
655 reviews264 followers
January 29, 2019
This is an abridged and retold text for people who are learning English. I loved it too much. It's adorable and heartwarming. The book is about a long journey of 2 dogs and a cat returning to their home through wild Canada.
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 148 books487 followers
April 21, 2023
There have been many films of this story. The one you may have seen is called Homeward Bound. 🐕 🐕 🐈 It’s an amazing book about three animals finding their way through the Canadian wilderness back to the family they love. A real uplift for the spirit. Reading it as a boy, I swore the story was true.
Profile Image for Chris Thompson.
791 reviews14 followers
December 4, 2013
As a kid, I fell in love with the movie inspired, thirty years later, by Sheila Burnford's novel, The Incredible Journey. That movie was called Homeward Bound and had a cast of talking animals who set out on an incredible one hundred mile journey to return home. The Disney film gave the animals human personalities: Chance the bulldog was goofy and reckless; Shadow the golden retriever was wise and loyal; and Sassy the Himalayan cat was, well, sassy. Burnford's novel deals with the animals much more realistically. They don't talk with one another except by language of instinct. The novel is much more about survival and animal behavior, though companionship is important as well. What Burnford does is show just how amazing our two favorite pets, cats and dogs, are.

The Hunter family, leaving on a nine-month trip to Europe, have left their beloved animals with their trusted friend, John Longridge. These animals, not named until the very end of the tale, are an old bull terrier, a young Labrador, and a Siamese cat (Disney decided to go with more popular and attractive animals for Homeward Bound). Burnford skips the requisite drama of the kids, teary-eyed, leaving their beloved pets behind, and she also does away with any tensions between the three pets. These animals have grown comfortable with their stay at Longridge's place. Except for the young Labrador. The Labrador, rather than being the goofy animal his counterpart is in Homeward Bound, plays the role of the leader. That's because in the animal kingdom it's not the old and frail who are the leaders, but the young and strong. On the day Longridge sets off for a lengthy fishing trip, the Labrador decides it's time to return home, and the other two follow along.

Life isn't so easy in the wild for these animals. This is especially apparent to the bull terrier early on, whose age slows him down. Amazingly, this pack of animals is attuned to the injuries and weaknesses of its members, and the Labrador leads them to a resting place when the older dog runs out of energy. This suggests animals do have a sense of empathy. Survival instinct would say to leave the old dog behind, but companionship tells these animals to behave differently. We also see this when the cat begins hunting in order to feed not just itself, but the weak old bull terrier as well. That the cat would do this for the dog is believable when you consider the number of little dead mice your own cat leaves for you on the front porch.

Burnford describes these animals with fondness. They aren't judgmental. They crave your attention and companionship. They can sense when you are feeling lonely. They can even protect you if need be. They also seem to sense that their family extends beyond just the humans, but one another. We see this in the way the animals feed each other and provide warmth at night. It's the cat whose perhaps the most impressive of the bunch. He scares off a full-grown bear, and at another point he must outwit a much more terrifying hunter than himself. The dogs have their own adventures as well, but excel the most when it comes to begging food off of the humans they come across on their journey.

The novel is a tribute to our beloved pets. They are attuned to their owners so much that they are able to travel one hundred miles through wilderness to return home. In order to survive their journey, they must depend on one another for sustenance and for comfort. These animals are not only loyal to their owners, but to one another as well. While these animals do travel on an incredible journey, Burnford provides just the right details to make it credible - and enjoyable.
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,574 reviews271 followers
February 12, 2020
“He broke into a run, faster and faster, until the years fell away, and he hurled himself towards Peter. And as he had never run before, as though he would outdistance time, Peter was running towards his dog. John Longridge turned away, then, and left them, an indistinguishable tangle of boy and dog, in a world of their own making.”
― Sheila burnford, The Incredible Journey

Any animal lover needs to read this. What a story! Wonderfully written and just so moving.


I gave it a 4 and not a 5, because while reading it, parts were painful. I was so worried about all the animals. And I did not know if they would make it home.

It is a remarkable story of quite a journey and I'd recommend it to all animal lovers.
Profile Image for Josiah.
3,211 reviews146 followers
September 8, 2020
Sheila Burnford is only remembered for one book, but The Incredible Journey is a classic. The story pours forth like the tranquil flow of a mini waterfall in the forest; the main characters face daunting odds on their quest to reunite with family by crossing three hundred miles of Canadian wilderness, but the task is not impossible. The odyssey presents a question to the reader: how far you would go for your loved ones? It all starts with a simple misunderstanding in the home of John Longridge, a middle-aged man living in the backwoods of Ontario, Canada. A bachelor and writer, Longridge's practical needs are regularly tended to by Mr. and Mrs. Oakes, a couple residing nearby. This frees Longridge up to focus on writing, though the past several months have been different. Three pets are temporarily lodging with him as a favor to friends: an elderly white English bull terrier named Bodger, a Siamese cat named Tao, and a youthful red-gold Labrador retriever named Luath. The pets were visibly disconcerted when their owners, the Hunter family, left them with Longridge to accommodate a series of lectures Jim Hunter was to deliver at universities in England, but the dogs and cat eventually settled into a routine. Bodger still pined for Peter Hunter, the boy he has loved and belonged to for years, and Tao prefers the company of Peter's younger sister Elizabeth, but for now they're content to board with Longridge. Luath wants to get back to hunting with Jim, but he, too, stays put at Longridge's cabin, and probably would have remained there without incident until the Hunters returned if not for a fateful miscommunication.

For Longridge, extended hunting trips at the lodge he owns by Heron Lake are one of life's pure pleasures. Playing host to Bodger, Tao, and Luath puts a crimp in his plans to go this time, but there's an easy workaround: Mrs. Oakes can monitor the pets, feeding and spending a few moments with them around the house on a regular basis. Longridge pens a note detailing everything he requires of Mrs. Oakes during his absence, but Tao inadvertently spoils the clarity of the message. As Longridge drives off in his car alone, the Labrador decides the time has come to find the Hunters. Leading the way westward with deep conviction in what they are about to do, Luath is followed closely by the Siamese and hesitantly by the terrier, who doesn't have the stamina to walk more than a few miles even over smooth ground. The trio has no awareness that hundreds of miles of rocky, rutted path loom ahead. When Mrs. Oakes arrives to care for the pets, she finds a marred note written in Longridge's hand, and infers that he has taken the dogs and cat to Heron Lake. How many weeks will pass before the mistake is discovered?

Luath sets the pace, a strong young dog determined to find his family, and Tao and Bodger have difficulty keeping up. At least Tao can hunt for birds and other small animals, but Bodger's empty belly quickly undermines his energy on the trail. His thick body weighs heavy on his stubby legs, but the Labrador is reluctant to let him rest for long. Haste is important in crossing the wildlands; Luath always believes home is just over the next mountain, a place of safety where Peter and Elizabeth are waiting. The further the trio ventures into the Canadian bush, the more unpredictable the hazards; while making an extended stop for the terrier's sake, a bear cub ambles up and treats the old white dog like a toy, clawing his unprotected face and chewing his tail. Tao returns in the nick of time, fresh off a successful hunt. The terrier and the Siamese had some contentious moments at the start of their cohabitation with the Hunters long ago, but Bodger and Tao gradually formed a bond that now spurs the cat into a frenzy at the sight of the bear torturing his friend. The Siamese leaps at the big animal, slashing with his own sharp claws. The mother bear comes running, but is confronted by a pair of unfamiliar animals—a Siamese cat and a red-gold Labrador—and elects to retreat with her cub. Bodger's life is spared, but the message is painfully clear: he will be a liability in the miles ahead. Tao has thus far jealously guarded the food he has hunted, but begins sharing with Bodger after the bear attack. For all three pets to survive, they must work together.

Adventure multiplies from here on in. When Bodger rebels momentarily and leads his friends into an Indian campsite—a human interaction the Labrador would rather avoid—the terrier unwittingly inserts himself into a local legend about the White Dog of the Obijways, a tale that suggests the Spirits will send a dog in distress to test the tribe's hospitality. Our trio of travelers welcome any small serendipity that keeps them fed and healthy, for many more miles lie ahead. Crossing a swollen river seems relatively low-risk, but it turns tragic when Tao tumbles in and is swept out of sight. Losing their friend is a sobering reminder that the journey is grueling, and even one of them surviving would be lucky. Grief covers terrier and Labrador like a stifling blanket, but Luath gently urges Bodger to move on and not obsess over Tao's untimely passing.

The Siamese is not dead, however. Unconscious and waterlogged, the cat washes up in view of ten-year-old Helvi Nurmi, daughter of a family that immigrated to the Canadian wilderness from Finland. The Nurmis' austere existence leaves little room for animals that don't contribute tangibly, but Helvi's father, Reino, senses her emotional need for a pet. Tender healing administrations work their miracle on the comatose feline and Tao is snatched back from the grave, though his ability to hear is gone. The Siamese spends a few days in the Nurmi home regaining strength, nurtured by Helvi's affection. When his hearing returns and the cat hits the trail, Helvi blinks back tears and watches him go, refusing to keep the animal against his will. Their time together was a blessing they both needed, brief as it was.

A confident Siamese should have no trouble tracking a pair of dogs he knows well, but Luath faces a calamity of his own before there is opportunity for a reunion. Driven by hunger and curious as to whether a porcupine he sees would make a decent meal, the Labrador is skewered by several of the creature's barbed quills, which lodge in the tender flesh of his face. A nuisance at first, the untreated wound progresses to a life-threatening infection. Meanwhile, the Siamese has a harrowing encounter with a mountain lynx, a cat every bit as savvy as Tao but with superior strength, speed, and familiarity hunting in the mountains. The two predators engage in a game of wits, the lynx stalking the smaller animal as his next meal. Tao is cagey and resourceful, but requires a nearly miraculous intervention for the lynx to be defeated. Long hours of travel remain to catch up with Bodger and Luath, but when the moment comes it couldn't be more joyous, a reunion of road-weary travelers who never expected to enjoy one another's company again. By luck and fortitude they have dodged numerous dangers that could have killed them; might they actually make it the three hundred miles to the Lake Windigo mountain cottage the Hunter family owns?

Upon returning from his hunting trip, John Longridge figures out the miscommunication with Mrs. Oakes and realizes that Bodger, Tao, and Luath left the cabin weeks ago. He surmises they set out west in search of the Hunters, but surely all three are dead by now. No pet could survive the Canadian bush for long. How will he tell Peter and Elizabeth, his godchildren, that their dogs and cat are gone forever? Back on the trail, the Labrador has the good fortune of meeting John Mackenzie, a hunter who recognizes the seriousness of the dog's infected face wound and carefully performs the procedure to extract the quills. Sepsis had spread nearly to the point of irreversibility; Luath would have soon died. Mackenzie and his wife Nell take the dogs into their modest home for some needed care—all three are starving and exhausted—but the Labrador is anxious to resume walking. He doesn't know there are only fifty miles left, but these cut across the Strellon Game Reserve, lands that are more arduous than anything so far, filled with predators. Longridge and the Hunters visit Lake Windigo for a few days on the off chance the animals might show up, but only Elizabeth truly expects they will. The Labrador's return would be a longshot, the Siamese even more so, but old Bodger could never have endured the Strellon Game Reserve...could he? Are Longridge and the Hunters about to witness a miracle that proves the seemingly impossible can happen, that what appears inescapably lost can come back to you after all?

The Incredible Journey offers wisdom and assurance for our own life journeys. When you accept a challenge against staggering odds and achieve success early on, it's easy to start believing the task isn't so hard, that ultimately your triumph is a foregone conclusion. This leads to carelessness, a sure path to destruction. Luath falls into that trap when he isn't cautious with the porcupine; the quills that pierce his face become a reminder that complacency is a death sentence in the Canadian wilderness. A grievous wound suffered because you took success for granted might never go away, and could derail your future. Never assume a happy ending is guaranteed, or you could wind up with a literal or metaphorical face full of quills that add great hardship to your journey. Tao's interlude with Helvi also exudes meaning; the girl and the cat need each other for a time, but a life together is not meant to be. Tao loves Elizabeth Hunter and has gone to astounding lengths to be with her; when the Siamese recovers enough to resume his odyssey, he leaves immediately, and Helvi doesn't intervene despite her heartbreak. Sometimes when we pass a length of time with a dear friend on life's trail, the crucial moment is recognizing when we should part ways so the relationship remains a positive memory. Losing a friend isn't easy, but doing so with grace is the best way to honor what you had.

When they depart Longridge's cabin, Bodger is in no condition for a three hundred mile jaunt across wild frontier. His geriatric body has seen better days, and that's truer than ever after the bear attack; he's more suited to a sedentary lifestyle than that of a hiker. But a transformation occurs as Luath guides him through the mountains. "(D)aily the terrier became stronger; after a week he was lean, but the scars on his shoulders were healing, and his coat was smooth and healthy; in fact, he was in better condition and looked younger and fitter than at the outset of the journey." We may not be physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared at the start of an odyssey we undertake, but just walking the path strengthens us, so we develop the vitality to complete our quest. Don't despair if at first you lack necessary traits; you'll earn them along the way. Deep character and fanatical determination are required to accomplish an "impossible" journey, and Luath possesses these qualities. His yearning for the Hunters is evident before the three pets leave Longridge's cabin; Luath maintains a daily vigil for any sign of his human family, "...listening and listening for the sound that never came: the high, piercing whistle of his master that would have brought him bounding across the world if only his straining ears could hear it." Do the Hunters know how much their young dog wants to be with them? Longridge is a benevolent caretaker, but Luath's heart is with Peter, Elizabeth, and Jim. Once the Labrador leaves on the journey, his dedication is undeterrable: "Only one thing was clear and certain—that at all costs he was going home, home to his own beloved master." Good fortune and physical prowess would never have been adequate to lead a Labrador, a Siamese cat, and an elderly terrier through the Canadian bush to a home hundreds of miles away. The desire in Luath's heart is the only reason this story could happen. Luath, Tao, and Bodger's journey shows that even the ostensibly weak are capable of magnificent things.

This book is a special favorite of mine. Sheila Burnford's storytelling is vast and glorious, though simple enough to be an excellent read-aloud. The communion with nature is a rich, wondrous tapestry depicting how it feels to be alive for the short time we are. Will we stay home and play it safe, or venture into the unknown and risk everything for a life of greater reward? Carl Burger's homey illustrations are a winsome partner to the narrative. I liked the 1963 Disney movie, and loved the 1993 remake (Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey), but the book, too, holds a place in my heart. I'd rate it three and a half stars, and I submit that Sheila Burnford is a lustrous gem among twentieth century children's authors. Her most famous novel is one for the ages.
Profile Image for MaryG2E.
372 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2016
Written in 1961, this book was pitched at children, but I think it is equally appealing to adults, particular to those who are animal lovers.

Accidentally abandoned by their minders, three domestic pets embark on a 250+ mile trip across rugged country in northwest Ontario to be reunited with their owners. The animals don’t realise that their owners, the Hunter family, have been absent in England for 9 months. The young Labrador, Luath, has an excellent sense of direction and leads the ‘expedition’.

The trio heads due west to where their home is located. The story demonstrates the animals' courage and endurance as they struggle in harsh conditions. They learn to co-operate with each other, exploiting each others’ particular skills in order to survive. For example, elderly Bodger has poor eyesight and is slow. Tao, agile and deadly hunter, provides him with food.

I was fortunate to be reading an original 1961 edition, complete with its dust jacket intact. The jacket blurb describes the animals thus:
Bodger, the hero, the old bull terrier with a sense of humour. Age was against him, but he was bred to fight and endure.
Tao, pampered but hard, the provider, the Siamese cat who was a superb hunter, Bodger’s bosom companion and protector
Luath, the cautious navigator, the young and gentle Labrador retriever, with a red-gold coat and a broad, noble head, rather suspicious of humans.

The animals did exist, and their photos are included on the dust jacket. The author has taken episodes from their actual lives and woven them into an adventure.

I wonder if the author has in fact written a parable, a story that addresses the need for human co-operation and understanding, in the guise of an animal adventure. It is a heart-warming story, simply told, and thus accessible to all ages.

Short and sweet, 4★s
Profile Image for Paul (Life In The Slow Lane).
616 reviews31 followers
July 15, 2021
53 years after I saw the movie as a young child, I finally found the book.

My fondest childhood memories revolve around my two best friends - our Labradors. While their doggy antics (including "retrieving" our neighbour's prize bantams and corralling them ever so gently in our laundry, and "retrieving" everyone else's newspapers almost faster than the newsboy could deliver them) caused my parents so much distress, I only remember them with kind thoughts.

I think any animal lover, young or old, could appreciate this beautifully worded novella. It has no deep meaning, but still manages to tug those old heartstrings with a superb ending. An easy one day read. Mrs Burnford, if you were alive today, I'd give you a hug.
Profile Image for Jerry.
4,640 reviews56 followers
May 14, 2022
The movie Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, as well as its sequel, were among my favorites as a kid. Some of you may think that was because said duology was both Disney and rated "G," but it stands apart many other films I saw time and time again during my childhood that fall into both of those categories for two reasons: Not only was it live-action--and, as I've said before, I've always preferred the House of Mouse's non-animated films--but, it didn't feature characters randomly breaking out into song. Add to that the hilarious dialogue and animal action, and you've got a kid-pleaser.

So...how was the book? Well, just like Dodie Smith's original version of 101 Dalmatians, it's rather different than the celluloid adaptation I grew up watching. (I haven't seen the old-school flick! I know; what kind of Disney fan am I?) It's still a fun story, but, don't go into it expecting the kind of witty banter among the animals that were in the nineties films.
Profile Image for Sheila .
1,921 reviews
March 15, 2013
Oh *sniff* My *choke* Goodness!*sob*
Please excuse me while I go find some Kleenex!

*blows nose, wipes tears, regains composure*

How can I not give this book anything other than my own 5-stars of LOVE!
*blows nose again, swallows hard*

I was a child of the 70's, so I knew of this story from clips of it I saw on The Wonderful World of Disney, which my sister and I watched every Sunday night. I don't think I ever saw the whole, original, 1960's Disney movie based on this book (and I never saw the 1980's remake), but I remember highlights which were shown on the TV show, so I knew the basic story of the three animals and their incredible journey home.

But I was not prepared for the emotion of this story! It is so well written, at least for an animal lover like myself. I loved how the author expressed the feelings of the animals. They are never given words, but their feelings, their emotions, are unmistakable in the writing. Their love for each other is palpable, and their love for their owners is unequivocal. What a book! What a journey! What more can I say, except, please pass me some more Kleenex.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,768 reviews332 followers
October 30, 2018
Digital audio book read by Megan Follows

Three beloved family pets – a young Labrador, an aged bull terrier, and a Siamese cat – head home across 300 miles of wooded and mostly uninhabited territory in Ontario, Canada.

This is a wonderful tale of adventure, friendship, loyalty, teamwork, and kindness. The animals face considerable danger, fight bravely, work together to survive, are fortunate to find a few kind people to help them along, are sometimes separated, but continue with a sense of purpose.

I saw the original Disney movie when I was a child and read the book at about that same time. I’m glad I revisited it now. The text copy is illustrated at the beginning of each chapter with drawings by Carl Burger.

Megan Follows does a fine job narrating the audiobook. She has clear diction and imbues the work with the drama and tenderness appropriate to various scenes. I especially liked her interpretation of the more dangerous episodes – the flood and the bear attack, for example. My one complaint about the audio is the cheesy dramatic music. It really irritated me, but I imagine it would add much to a child’s experience listening to the story.
Profile Image for Tracey.
908 reviews25 followers
February 22, 2018
Anyone who has a love of animals will like this tale of the love of 3 animals for each other and most especially for the humans they consider more than life itself.

The animals names are interesting;
Tao-the Siamese cat; path, route, road, choose
Luath- the Labrador retriever; quick, fast, early, soon
Bodger- the English bulldog; a creator of things from found or improvised materials.

It seemed to me that Tao's canniness, Bodger's friendliness and Luath's faithfulness worked together for the group.
Profile Image for Ava.
62 reviews
November 21, 2017
This book was so amazing. I love the writer and the characters were brilliant. 🐶🐶🐱 but it didn't reveal their names until like the last five chapters...🙊
This is a story I could see myself writing. Except, my dogs and cat would have names, and would talk to each other. The last chapter was so wonderful I didn't quite know what to rate it... It was really four stars until then. So, five it is! 👏🏼⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Timothy Boyd.
6,551 reviews32 followers
May 16, 2016
One of my favorite books as a young adult. This is still one of the best animal stories every written to me. Any pet owner should read this book. Highly recommended
Profile Image for Rachel Aranda.
879 reviews2,260 followers
October 24, 2017
If you are a fan of the 1993 Disney movie called Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, which is based off this book, then you are not alone. I love that movie and when I first read this book I expected the book to be exactly like the movie. Ah youth ignorance about how movie versions are not the same as the books their based off of. Anyway, I am surprised to say that I actually liked the movie version better and that rarely happens for me.

There were some things that were in the book that I was really happy to see. For example Tao, the Siamese cat, is deaf (for a little bit in chapter 6). This is a nice and surprising difference from the movie. It's nice reading about deaf animals as they don't get much representation in media. It would have been nice if they had included Native Americans in the movie as there were a few characters who played a role in the book. There were some times that I felt the animals didn't have as much camaraderie between the animals sometimes; it seemed like they played favorites or were separate from each other.

Starting this book I knew the book would be different from the movie but I wasn't expecting to be bored at times during the book. I mean you have animals traveling 250 miles by themselves it shouldn't be boring for one moment. I can see why so many people really like this book but it just wasn't for me. Guess I expected more of an emotional attachment to the story like I did to the movie.
Profile Image for Margaret.
75 reviews29 followers
March 31, 2022
I only started to read this bc it was on my bookshelf, and never expected it would be so good. IT WAS SO GOOD PEOPLE!!! LEGIT YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.
Profile Image for Michal Crum.
34 reviews8 followers
November 5, 2021
This book totally exceeded my expectations. I am not an animal lover. I really wish I were, but I’m not. And yet, this book had our whole family engrossed as we read it aloud together. You cannot help but become attached to the animals. She paints their personalities so vividly. And the quality of the writing was astounding. It’s books like this that make me read. I love having my mind opened to the way other people think and feel. This book did just that, Oman understated way.
Profile Image for Stephen Wallace.
532 reviews72 followers
November 27, 2021
Another dog book most have read but that I am late to the party. Copyright 1960. For some reason I saw and loved the movie and didn't feel the need to go read the book earlier.

Very nice book and a quick read. There are true stories of dogs that have traveled on their own to get to their owners, and the other perils that befall the dogs and cat are very believable. And it is very nice to have dog book with a happy ending.

I liked the style of the author and saved one quote:

"Anyone unaccustomed to the rather peculiar points of bull terrier beauty would have thought him a strange if not downright ugly dog, with the naked, down-faced arc of his profile, his deep-chested, stocky body and whip -tapered tail. But the true lover of an ancient and honorable breed would have recognized the blood and bone of this elderly and rather battered body; world have known that in his prime this had been a magnificent specimen of compact sinew and muscle, bred to fight and endure, and would have loved him for his curious mixture of waked, unyielding fighter yet devoted and docile family pet, and above all for the irrepressible air of sly merriment which gleamed in his little slant eyes." - Sheila Burnford, The Incredible Journey
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,630 reviews325 followers
August 1, 2020
Re-read (I think) of a book I may have read when it was new(ish)? Or I might be remembering the Walt Disney film adaptation. Regardless, it's nicely done, and the reunion at the end will likely bring a tear to the eye of any pet owner. The author based the story on pets she and her husband owned while living in Canada: a Bull Terrier brought from England; a Siamese cat, whose mutual relationship with the terrier she described as "closer than any other cat-and-dog relationship I had ever seen"; and a young Labrador Retriever, who also developed a close relationship with the older dog. It's usually considered a children's book, although Burnford has stated that she did not write it specifically for children. It is fiction. Recommended as a short read, with a flavor of a long-past Ontario.

The Wikipedia page has more info, some of which I've borrowed for this review:
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