June 16, 2008

Little Houses

It's been all thunderstorms lately, probably one every other day or so. That's an estimate, of course; it may feel like more than it's actually been. But the point is: rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. And as previously mentioned, there are few things I find nicer than reading an old book in a warm place while it's storming outside.

This past week I've read through almost all of the Little House on the Prairie Books. All the ones we own, anyway: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, These Happy Golden Years, and Farmer Boy. I don't think we've ever had copies of either Little Town on the Prairie or The First Four Years, but I have borrowed them from the library, far in the past.

I love these books.

There are a couple things that really work with these books, aside from the very obvious nostalgia factor. One thing is definitely Garth Williams's illustrations, which are charming and evocative and otherwise wonderful. I have always loved the illustrations in these books. They appear fairly frequently, often interwoven with the text (they appear less frequently in the later books).

The narration is also delightful. The books are written for children, so it's simple and direct. That doesn't stop it from having a certain poetry to it, especially when it comes to descriptions of the prairies on which the Ingallses lived over the years. It's just charming, and I know I keep coming back to that word. But that's what these books are: charming.

They're also very galling. Especially after having read them all over a short period of time, I feel quite convicted -- about how lazy I am, and how much stuff I need, and how little I appreciate things like not starving to death every winter and not having to slaughter my own animals for food. That Pa Ingalls runs around building houses and barns and digging wells with his bare hands, and Ma Ingalls cooks and bakes her own everything, and their children are so disciplined, and they're all so poor and so happy . . . you know. Consider Christmas in Little House on the Prairie:
Something was shining bright in the top of Laura's stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.

Mary had one exactly like it.

These new tin cups were their very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of. Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed, but Mary stood still and looked with shining eyes at her own tin up.

[ . . . ]Laura and Mary never would have looked in their stockings again. The cups and the cakes and the candy were almost too much. They were too happy to speak. But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty.

Then they put their arms down inside them, to make sure.

And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

Yes, dear readers, think of having a whole penny for your very own. Oh dear. And the whole series is full of this sort of thing.

I like them anyway, though. I mean, it is a very sweet Christmas. I just feel abominably selfish after reading that sort of thing.

I was also reading up on Laura Ingalls Wilder (yes, on wikipedia, that fount of at least some wisdom). Apparently there is some controversy as to the authorship of the novels: namely over the question of how much was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and how much was written and/or revised by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. I don't think it matters particularly much, personally, but it did make for interesting reading.

Now I'm kinda itching to read the rest of them . . . along with the first chapter of On the Shores of Silver Lake, which has been ripped out of my copy by agents unknown. Anyone feel like typing it up?

Edit: Someone did! Thanks, Rebecca :) You can visit her Laura Ingalls Wilder website here.

2 comments:

Ann Darnton said...

I have to admit to never having read these books, which for someone who specialises in Children's Lit is disgraceful and I shall rectify the omission this summer. The more so if they have illustrations by Garth Williams, whose line drawings for 'Charlotte's Web' are simply wonderful.

Christine said...

Disgraceful indeed! :) I'm sure you'll more than enjoy them.