"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 37
We're done! We're done! We're done at last!!! Aren't you glad??? =D Reading the first four Little House books was a lot of fun, but I'm ready to move on now. At the same time, I'd like to drag this last post out for as long as possible . . . =P
All the days were peaceful after that July day when the grasshoppers flew away.
Rain fell and grass grew again over all the land that they had eaten bare and left brown and ugly. Ragweeds grew faster, and careless weeds, and the big, spreading tumbleweeds like bushes.
Willows and cottonwoods and plum thickets put out leaves again. There would be no fruit, for blossom-time was past. There would be no wheat. But wild hay was growing coarse in low places by the creek. Potatoes lived, and there were fish in the fish trap.
The grasshoppers are gone and everything is back to normal. What could possibly go wrong now?
Just when I was thinking that it would make sense for fire to follow locusts (not that there's any biblical basis for that), Mr. Nelson came riding in to save their home and help Ma make another moral. Note that it's never ex machina when it's a neighbour. ;-)
The main issue I've had with On the Banks of Plum Creek is its lack of domestic detail. Apparently, I'm far more literal than I think, because unless I was told explicitly what the Ingalls family were eating, I wondered whether they were eating at all. =P A few lines to describe the contents of the kitchen cabinets would have gone a long way for me.
But I think the lack of detail also hurts the pacing of the novel. The first two Christmases are eighteen chapters apart, while the second and third Christmases (Did you see that third one coming? I hadn't!) are only nine chapters apart. And five of those nine chapters are about five consecutive days. Those five days get a very detailed treatment, but apparently, nothing notable happened during the eleven months leading up to them save the grasshopper migration, the prairie fire, the turnip harvest, and a sudden blizzard.
It is quirks like this which remind me that the Little House stories aren't "just stories"--although that is how I am reading them for now--but an autobiographical account. Don't we all have at least one year from childhood in which only a smattering of interesting events took place? It would be one of the "valley" years, Chinese metaphor would say, providing balance in between the "mountain" years and their momentous events.
But let's talk about that first blizzard, which the three Ingalls girls have to face all on their own because Pa and Ma are in town. I love that it begins with what Horror connoisseurs recognise as a very well told Cautionary Tale . . .
". . . I'd better get the wood up before we go to town," said Pa. "I don't like the sound of that wind, and they tell me that Minnesota blizzards come up fast and sudden. I heard of some folks that went to town and a blizzard came up so quickly they couldn't get back. Their children at home burned all the furniture, but they froze stark stiff before the blizzard cleared up enough so the folks could get home."
This story reminds me of the first thing that really endeared Pa to me: his talent at freaking his children out. Do you remember that scene in Little House in the Big Woods in which he scares Laura so much that she is able to drag the older, bigger Mary over the woodpile (or something) just to get away from him--much to his delight, of course? (I'm chuckling quietly just thinking about it.) It is a duty of fatherhood to mess with children's minds a little, and Pa does it brilliantly.
We might even argue that his telling them why it is too dangerous to leave them alone for too long is what makes it all right for him to leave them alone at all. They know the worst case scenario--perfectly communicated through a dramatic, chilling story--and so are ready to meet it. Which brings me to one of my favourite parts of the novel . . .
. . . [Mary and Laura] did not know what to do. The cloud was coming swiftly, and they must both bring in wood before the storm got there. They could not open the door when their arms were full of wood. They could not leave the door open and let the cold come in.
"I tan open the door," said Carrie.
"You can't," Mary said.
"I tan, too!" said Carrie, and she reached up both hands and turned the doorknob. She could do it! Carrie was big enough to open the door.
Hurray for Carrie! =D Who else has been waiting for the youngest Ingalls girl (so far) to show some personality? All the girls are growing up and becoming wiser and more capable, so when this chapter ends with the prediction that they will soon be old enough to make their own decisions, it is a very happy ending indeed. =)
I also enjoyed the chapter "The Day of Games" because I love finding out about games that children played in the past. They're fun to play in the present as well--but I usually have to take that on faith because hardly anyone has ever wanted to play with me. =P My favourite game from this book is the one in which they make thimble-circles on the frosty window panes, because, you know, I had one of these . . .
Just as I was thinking these nine chapters would be slim pickings because they tell of a "valley" year, I realised that I could write a whole post on "The Day of Games" alone! Ma is a great teacher and "developer" of games! She probably always was, but this is the first time we've really seen it.
And now we come to the end--not just the end of On the Banks of Plum Creek but also the end of the Little House readalong. Although I felt ready to move on from these books weeks ago, now I also feel a little sad. I don't want to leave the Ingalls family just yet. I've learned a lot from them, and now understand why one homeschooling family I know of has "Little House" days several times during the year. (It was the oldest daughter's idea.) Come to think of it, saying goodbye would be a lot easier if I could look forward to my own "Little House" days with a daughter. =P You know?
What are your thoughts on Chapters 33 to 41?
1. How important should weather be in a story--even a story not set in Minnesota? =P
2. What was the last good example of a Children's Cautionary Tale that you have heard?
3. Have you ever been inspired to bring a Little House moment to life?
Image Sources: a) On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, b) Magna Doodle