22 January 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 34

You may or may not have noticed that the last readalong post was kind of . . . for the lack of a better word . . . half-assed. =P I'm sorry about that and will try to get back up to my usual standards with this one.

Next day Laura was sure that Ma would not let her go to play in the creek. It was still roaring, but more softly. In the dugout, she could hear it calling her. So to Laura quietly slipped outdoors without saying anything to Ma.

The water was not so high now. It had gone down from the steps and Laura could see it foaming against the footbridge. Part of the plank was above the water.

All winter the creek had been covered with ice; it had been motionless and still, never making a sound. Now it was laughing swiftly and making a joyful noise. Where it struck the edge of the plank, it foamed up in white bubbles and laughed to itself . . .

Oh, Laura . . . In another type of children's tale, this episode would have ended very differently! LOL! As things stand, I don't know how this is going to play out and can't wait for the ending. =) 

Chapters 9 to 17

At the risk of coming across as the Grinch, I have to ask . . . Is anyone else kind of sick of Christmas by now? (LOL!) As far as I'm concerned, nothing else in the Little House series will ever beat Mr. Edwards' "meeting" Santa Claus. But I admit that I love the way Mary and Laura get to grow up a little more thanks to the myth. They must be the most perfect example in literature of why it's a good thing "to lie" to children about good old Father Christmas.

"The older you are, the more you know about Santa Claus," [Ma] said. "You are so big now, you know he can't be just one man, don't you? You know he is everywhere on Christmas Eve. He is in the Big Woods, and in Indian Territory, and far away in York State, and here. He comes down all the chimneys at the same time. You know that, don't you?"

. . . "I guess he is like angels," Mary said, slowly. And Laura could see that just as well as Mary could.

The real beauty of the Santa Claus "play," when it is done right, is that it weaves the joy and innocence of getting special presents for having been good into a wider tapestry of kindness and charity towards others--and not just at Christmas. And as the play progresses, it has more demanding roles for its youngest "actors." After Ma confirms that Santa Claus is made of magic, she tells the girls that this year they are not to wish for presents for themselves, but to wish for horses for their Pa.

Now, the first time I read that part, I found it kind of manipulative. And I think my sassy younger self would have argued, "If Santa Claus is like angels, then why can't he bring horses and presents?" But after reading what actually goes down that Christmas morning--and reflecting on the whole matter some more--I realised that Ma isn't trying to wriggle out of not getting gifts for the girls. She is directing them in the next act of the play, one that she knows they are finally ready for. So when the horses do arrive in time for Christmas morning, they are not merely a generous gift from a magical outsider to one member of the family, but something everyone wanted and wished for because they knew it was for the whole family's good and they all loved each other.

I know that Laura grows up by the end of the series, and if anything will convince me to keep reading to the last book, it is the promise that she will get to deal with the Santa Claus myth as an adult.

But while she remains seven, her development involves something far riskier. For young Laura is determined to test herself against nature. And she loves the water, whether it's coming down in torrents or flooding the creek. It is Plum Creek itself which gets to be her nemesis.

No one knew where she was. No one would hear her if she screamed for help. The water roared loud and tugged at her, stronger and stronger. Laura kicked, but the water was stronger than her legs. She got both arms across the plank and pulled, but the water pulled harder. It pulled the back of her head down and it jerked as if it would jerk her in two. It was cold. The coldness soaked into her.

This was not like wolves or cattle. The creek was not alive. It was only strong and terrible and never stopping. It would pull her down and roll her away, rolling and tossing her like a willow branch. It would not care.

I can totally relate, by the way. I adored playing the rain when I was child and took every opportunity to get in the water, whether it was the baby bathtub I rapidly grew too big for, a neighbour's koi pond, or the Pacific Ocean. Sneaking out aside, I don't think Laura is doing anything wrong. In fact, I think that this is as necessary a part of her growing up as her new role in the family's Santa Claus play.

Based on Ma's reaction--so different from anything I got from my own mother--she seems to think so, too. When she says that she can't punish or even scold Laura, it's not just because she knows Laura will do it again, but because she understands that children can't be forced or bullied into being good. Children have to choose it freely. And well, sneaking out to get in a flooded creek isn't even a "bad" thing in itself. We might even say it's a very good thing.

These nine chapters are not just "Girl vs. Wild" (not that there would be anything wrong with that); they are about the Ingalls' new house, which is markedly different from their humble little house on the prairie. 

[Pa's] face was one big shining of joy, and lumber was piled high in the wagon box behind him. He sang out, "Here's your new house, Caroline!"

"But Charles!" Ma gasped . . . "The wheat's hardly up yet!"

"That's all right," Pa told her. "They let me have the lumber, and we'll pay for it when we sell the wheat.

I know I'm the only one reading this story for the first time, but I feel like asking anyway . . . Did anyone else get really scared when Pa said that he paid for everything with credit??? This can't just be me being modern. I'm afraid that Pa is counting his chickens before they've hatched and that the basket of eggs is about to come crashing down. Even Ma is uncertain about some of Pa's big investments. (I really hope they don't fight about this later.) If I had taken a shot of whiskey for every time I read the word "boughten" in a passage about the house, I would be in an alohol-induced coma right now.

While it was really hard for me to enjoy the chapters about the construction of their home and the day they move in, I found some comfort in the very last scene, when the rain comes down but can't get in. We may not be able to control the rain, but we can build roofs over our heads and stay dry. We don't have to take risks and to pit ourselves against nature all the time.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 9 to 17?

1) In our relatively pampered age, how can we teach children to appreciate and to respect the "terrible" side of nature?
2) What games that children enjoy today are also good at encouraging maturity?
3) Seriously, isn't anyone else freaking out about the house?

Image Source: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Sheila said...

1. I'm pretty sure all it requires is the effort to do so. Go camping. Go hiking. Go sailing. Do them with your kids. Have your kids do them without you. (Oh! Off topic, but you might LOVE Swallows and Amazons. Have you read it? It's about some very independent kids off sailing by themselves.) And of course, there's the wider environment, not just "nature" itself, which kids can learn to navigate. Kids can walk to the store on their own, ride public transportation, cook, start internet businesses, etc., at much younger ages than many adults would be comfortable with. And they WANT to do it, too.

2. Hm. See above.

3. YES, so much. I remember reading this as a kid and thinking, "But Daddy says never spend money you don't have!" Did people just not realize the dangers back then? Or is Pa just ... a little heedless? This reading is the first time I've ever seen any flaws in Pa, but that heedlessness is a big one. After having lost so much, how DARE he take that risk with his family to think of?

Enbrethiliel said...


I haven't read Swallows and Amazons, but it sounds right up my alley! Thanks for the recommendation. =) By the way, have you heard of the Australian girl who sailed around the world solo a couple of years ago? She was only sixteen! When I read the story, I thought, "That girl will be able to do anything when she grows up."

And while we're on the subject of connections, when I was writing this, I thought of White Water Summer, a kind of "coming of age" film (but not really) that I saw again and reviewed recently. One of the characters is a wilderness survival guide whose specialty is taking boys camping "to make men out of them." Pretty much every challenge of the trip is "staged," and therefore "unnatural," but they're still probably the toughest things the city and suburb boys who sign up have ever done in their lives. And although they don't necessarily "become men" by going through the process, they have measured themselves against something that is real. And that is scandalously rare these days.

Even more recently, I read another post from The Last Psychiatrist which said that there are only two areas where a modern man can't "fake it": a fight and sex. I was quite surprised that nature didn't make the list as a third item--but I guess that only goes to show how divorced from it so many of us moderns are.

This is also the first time when I've worried that Pa didn't have a good hold on things. It seems a bit out of character, too. =S (Or is it???) I wonder if this is partly due to Laura's widening perspective. One year ago, on the prairie, Pa might have taken some risks that she'd never question because she was still at an age when everything your father does is wonderful and correct. Now that she is starting to be "naughty," it makes sense that she'd be a bit more critical, if not openly.

Come to think of it, though, there are small signs of Pa's heedlessness on the prairie. He terrifies Ma into tears, for instance, when he goes down the well after Mr. Scott. Laura doesn't mind too much, though. I think she's more affected by Ma's emotion than Pa's putting himself in danger.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I think Pa's recklessness is actually at the core of his character, part and parcel of the wanderlust that landed the family out on the prairie in Indian Territory in the first place. That was a huge risk to and a gamble he lost when they had to leave the house and crops to move on.

One of the most interesting dynamics in the series to me is the huge contrast between Charles' and Caroline's temperaments. Ma is such a very civilized person, she craves the comforts of a settled life and Pa is such an adventurer. She is rather risk adverse, but she trusts Charles. Clearly the riskiest thing she ever did in her life was to throw in her lot with this charming rogue.

Although they aren't nearly as good from a literary standpoint, Maria Wilkes' novels about Caroline as a girl are interesting in the way they set up their relationship, how Charles sweeps her off her feet with his fiddle playing and twinkling blue eyes.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Oh and I second the recommendation of the Swallows and Amazons series. I discovered them about five years ago and oh they are so good.

Enbrethiliel said...


I agree that Charles and Caroline's relationship is very interesting. Laura touches very lightly on the conflicts between their relationships in the first few books (which makes sense, given her age in the stories and the ages of her target readers); but I wonder if she will reveal more of the dynamic as she (and the readers) get older. Especially given what happens in the first chapter of By the Shores of Silver Lake . . .