14 December 2012


"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 into Mordor onto the prairies. There must be a testing . . . maybe even a symbolic death and rebirth . . . a rite of passage, if you will.

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 Scattershot!

Image Sources: a) Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, b) Ingalls log cabin replica, c) Breaking Dawn, Part 2 cottage


Shaz said...

In realy life, the Ingalls did see their Little House in the Big Woods again. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story. :-)

I love that "Indians do" line from Ma. Usually she's depicted as painfully proper and patient, but every once in awhile, we get a glimpse of her sassy side.

So glad you're doing more posts on this book. I LOVE talking about them!!!

Here's my response post: http://www.thesaltedpeanut.com/2012/12/read-along-little-house-on-prairie.html

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I'm glad the real-life Ingalls did see their house again. =) But you're right that it takes away from the emotional impact of the story to write that detail in.

You know, there are times when Ma says something that's so sassy, as you put it, that I wonder that she and Pa don't launch into an argument then and there. Although she is gamely "soldiering along" (as another great American children's author would say), now and again there are those hints that she's not crazy about being there. At least by working so hard to build a proper house for her, Pa meets her halfway . . . or almost halfway. We'll see. I just got to the part where he finished the fireplace, and I'm getting ahead of the discussion here.

Thanks so much for linking up again, Shaz! I hope to get my comment up on your post within the hour. =)

Shaz said...

Someone else might be joining the fun! Which book will we be reading next?

Enbrethiliel said...


New readers are always welcome! =D

Since we're reading the Little House books in the order Harper Collins arranges them in, Farmer Boy will be next. =) And I must beg your forgiveness for being so slow to get my posts up. I really do want to write an average of two posts a week, but I've been really busy at work lately.

Shaz said...

Tell me about it! We're all trying to cram two or three weeks' worth of work into one so we can take time off over the holidays. :-)

Don't fret about the frequency of posts. There are enough deadlines in life. This is supposed to be FUN, not work!

Enbrethiliel said...


I was just remarking to a colleague that we do so much work to be able to take one week off than we would if we actually showed up to the office on those days. =P But it will all be worth it next week!!!

Sheila said...

1. Almost there. You have no idea. We have actually discussed leaving the US because of the political situation, though it appears to be impossible because migrating from one country to another is ridiculously hard if you don't have a job offer at the other end, and who does?

2. Holidays. I would do every holiday in the exact traditional way. I've already observed Thanksgiving in Rome, which was difficult due to a lack of turkey, pumpkin, or cranberries.

3. Fully.

Enbrethiliel said...


1. Wow. You're right that I had no idea. As you know from my private blog, I also wanted very much to emigrate to another country several years ago. And I did try looking for a job there, but I couldn't blame all the employers who turned me down for not wanting to take a risk on someone millions of miles away, when they had perfectly decent job candidates already in their own cities.

2. An American woman I know goes out of her way to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on the table every November. Since her Filipino friends can't take a Thursday off, however, she compromises by having it on a Saturday. In her place, I don't know if I'd be able to make that small adjustment. Not being able to do Bisita Iglesia or a proper Simbang Gabi while I was living in New Zealand put a huge damper on both Holy Week and Advent for me.

3. Indeed. =)

Sheila said...

You would have liked my parish growing up -- we did Simbang Gabi every year! I think there were more Filipino parishioners than white ones, and that's not counting the Vietnamese, Tongans, or Mexicans. We celebrated a LOT of holidays. :D

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I love the replica of the cabin. I want to peek inside it.

Dom and I keep saying that if Cardinal Sean were to be elected pope, we're totally moving to Rome. But to move where you may never see family and friends again... I can't imagine. I mean I did move very far away from family and friends but at least I can go back to Texas occasionally. Not as often as I'd like now that we have 5 kids, but it is possible.

For me the hardest part about having moved so far away is definitely the food that I miss. That would be even harder in Italy, I suppose but it would feel like so much of an adventure I'm not sure how much I'd notice at least at first.

I'm not really a dog person but I love Jack for Laura's sake.

Enbrethiliel said...


Melanie, I like that your answer to the first question puts a totally positive spin on it! If Cardinal Tagle were elected Pope, I would actually be happy to stay where I am, but now you're making me wonder what else would inspire me to make such a dramatic move!

And it would probably be a reason similar to Ma's. If I married someone whose business took him to another country, of course I'd go with him and try to make an adventure out of it. But moving so far away from my support network would still be a terrifying prospect, so in that scenario, I'd hope the honeymoon stage lasts extra long, to cushion the blow!