"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 25
First of all, if you haven't already read Shaz's second post for our readalong, then please do: Little House in the Big Woods (Part Two). It's got a really cool video of a "wonderful machine" from the same time period as Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood.
Now I hope nobody minds too much on behalf of their schedules if I announce a slight change in the readalong timetable. When I finally opened my copy of Little House on the Prairie earlier this week, I was surprised to see that it was twice as long as Little House in the Big Woods--and you already know that I regretted giving that one only two discussion posts. So this second novel is going to have a whopping four. How about that? =)
Pa said there were too many people in the Big Woods now. Quite often Laura heard the ringing thud of an ax which was not Pa's ax, or the echo of a shot that did not come from his gun. The path that went by the little house had become a road. Almost every day Laura and Mary stopped their playing and stared in surprise at a wagon slowly creaking by on that road.
Wild animals would not stay in a country where there were so many people. Pa did not like to stay, either. He liked a country where the wild animals lived without being afraid. He liked to see little fawns and their mothers looking at him from the shadowy woods, and the fat, lazy bears eating berries in the wild-berry patches.
In the long winter evenings he talked to Ma about the Western country . . .
The first few chapters of Little House on a Prairie were seriously traumatic for me. I hadn't realised how attached I had become to the first little house in the Big Woods--and I was surprised at how much I resented Pa for moving his family out of it and basically guaranteeing that they'd never see it again.
And I thought I saw some resistance from Laura, too, in the subtext . . . but that could just be me projecting. =P
Chapters 1 to 7
The uprooting of the Ingalls family was horrible enough for me without the perils of Jack the brindle bulldog being added the mix. I almost threw the book across the room when the creek the family were crossing suddenly rose and they lost him. And you can imagine how (much more) furious I became at Pa.
So one chapter later, when Jack comes back, as if from the dead, and rejoins the family, I was over the green cheese moon. Suddenly the world was all right again, and it didn't matter that the Big Woods were gone and would never be a Little House series setting again. It was such a perfect double whammy of shock and relief that I wondered if I had been deliberately manipulated. That is, I wondered whether this episode were less a part of the Ingalls family's history than an editorial insert for the sake of the story. You see, one does not simply walk
Okay, now I know I'm just projecting. =) But if you felt the same way about leaving the Big Woods and then losing and finding Jack again, please let me know I'm not alone!
As soon as I got over my homesickness, I found myself thoroughly charmed by the construction of their new log house. But the relevant paragraphs with the sills and the notching and fitting of the logs is too long to quote, so I'll fast forward to the finished house.
According to the Web page on which I found the above photo (a link to which you can find at the bottom of this post), this faithful replica of the Ingalls family's home was built upon the original foundations in 1977. (I don't know whether it was reconstructed using nineteenth century methods.)
The rough log cabin that Charles and Caroline Ingalls build together is a stark contrast to another small house that I've had reason to think about lately.
If you read my Twelve Things about The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2, then you recognise Edward and Bella Cullen's home--and remember my problem with it. There's nothing about this post-honeymoon freebie that reflects any of the hard, unglamourous work that goes into a relationship that is supposed to last until death. (In all fairness, the new Mr. and Mrs. Cullen are already dead. Our silly laws don't apply to them.)
Something else that struck me about the Ingalls' new home is the way it anchors them in a culture they seem to have left behind. Even before they start work on it, we see that Ma has been insisting on keeping certain customs: table manners, for instance, although they haven't even been eating their meals off a table. And did anyone else smile at the scene when Mr. Edwards stays to dinner and she brings out the light brown sugar she serves only when they have company? The word "continuity" is coming to mind, although I know there's a lot more going on than the spinning of a sequel. It's the spinning of a certain kind of civilisation where you wouldn't expect to find it.
. . . Pa said he would build a fireplace in the house as soon as he could . . .
After dinner . . . he hauled a tubful of water from the creek so that Ma could do the washing. "You could wash clothes in the creek," he told her. "Indian women do."
"If we wanted to live like Indians, you could make a hole in the roof to let the smoke out, and we'd have a fire on the floor inside the house," said Ma. "Indians do."
I am reminded of those British colonials in the most far-flung areas who continued to dress formally for dinner even if they dined alone: the custom may have made no sense in those contexts, but it was a vital link to a culture they still considered themselves to be part of.
There should be a better concluding paragraph to this post, but I've held off publishing it long enough, so I'm ending it like this.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 1 to 7?
1. How bad would things have to get for you to uproot yourself from where your family and friends have always lived and to move so far away that you will never have the chance to see them again?
2. And in that far-off land, what "pointless" way of doing things would you insist on keeping?
3. How absolutely awesome is Jack?
UPDATE: Read Shaz's answers to these questions (and a special literary rant, for good measure) at her blog The Salted Peanut!
Image Sources: a) Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, b) Ingalls log cabin replica, c) Breaking Dawn, Part 2 cottage