by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff
Interests: birds, India, jungle, animals, war, religion, Buddhism
E. P. Dutton & Co.: 1927
191 pages, 17 chapters
Also by this author: Ghond the Hunter, Hari the Jungle Lad, Kari the Elephant, The Chief of the Herd, Hindu Fables for Little Children, Rama the Hero of India, The Master Monkey, Fierce-Face the Story of a Tiger
Based on the author’s experiences as a boy in India, this is the story of a carrier pigeon of remarkable intelligence who serves in World War I. It is an interesting look at the hobby of raising and training pigeons in the city, but also travels into the jungles of the Himalayas and the battlefields of France.
The young master of the story, based on the author himself, trains his birds on a city rooftop before journeying in the jungle with his pigeon and Ghond, a wise old hunter. Gay-Neck has a few close calls with birds of prey throughout the book, and his narrow escapes are thrillingly told. The humans too have a few exciting encounters with jungle predators, including a rogue elephant and a murderous water buffalo. During their travels the trio also meet and spend time with Buddhist lamas.
When war looms the boy trains his pigeon for carrier service. Old Ghond himself takes Gay-Neck to Britain and the bird flies some very important missions between the trenches and British headquarters. Injured and traumatized, Gay-Neck becomes too fearful to fly. Both he and Ghond return to the lamasery to be cured of their war experiences through meditation and prayer.
An unusual mixture of adventure, natural science, and religion, Gay-Neck is an absorbing read for animal-lovers and especially bird-lovers. The details of pigeon care and training especially are quite fascinating, and the reflections on spirituality and inner peace give the book an unexpected depth.