Sunday, January 10, 2016

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder


Little House in the Big Woods
Laura Ingalls Wilder
published 1932

Two words: Pure Joy.  If you have children, read this to them.  If your children are adults now, or you do not have children, read this to your inner child.  I did not read the whole Little House series until adulthood, but that does not matter.  I have reread it several times since, and there is always room in my heart to find more to love each time. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder obviously wrote this first book, Little House in the Big Woods, with the conscience of a young child.  She recalled her semi-fictional childhood (at four and five-years old) when she lived in the woods near Pepin, Wisconsin, in the early 1870s.  Some of the events may not be accurate.  Nonetheless, I believe it all.  Some people like to believe in Santa Claus; I like to believe in the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  

Last summer I read the nine-book series and wrote about it in one post, focusing on maturity and the race to adulthood.  But this year, while reading with The Little House Read Along, I am going to focus on each book individually.  I took notes on what mattered most to me.  These are some of my favorite parts:

Laura's older sister Mary owned a real rag doll named Nettie, but Laura's doll was a corncob doll named Susan.
Sometimes Mary let Laura hold Nettie, but she did it only when Susan couldn't see.
Laura and Mary learned many lessons from the stories their Pa told them about his and his father's childhood.  One story was about "Grandpa and the Panther."  When Laura asked Pa how a panther screamed, Pa demonstrated.
Then he screamed so that Laura and Mary shivered with terror.
Ma jumped in her chair, and said, "Mercy, Charles!"
Pa told them the story about "The Voice in the Woods" when he was given the responsibility as a young boy to bring home the family's cows, but instead played and lost track of time.  It was dark when he realized he did not know where the cows were, and he was frightened by a screech owl in the woods. His father gave him a spanking for getting distracted.  Then he ended his story like this:
"There's a good reason for what I tell you to do," he said, "and if you'll do as you're told, no harm will come to you."
At Christmas time, Laura confessed that it was "so hard to be good all the time, every day, for a whole year."

Laura admitted that she hated wearing clothes.  She liked to look at the pictures in the Bible, and she remarked that Adam looked so comfortable because he did not have to be careful to keep his clothes clean, because he had no clothes on.  Laura asked,
"Did Adam have good clothes to wear on Sundays?"
"No," Ma said.  "Poor Adam, all he had to wear was skins."
Laura did not pity Adam.  She wished she had nothing to wear but skins. 
Another great story was "The Story of Grandpa's Sled and the Pig."  Pa tells how on Sunday his own father and his brothers could do nothing but sit still on Sundays, after church.  But one Sunday, when their father fell asleep, the boys went outside to use their new sled in the snow. Unfortunately, on the way down the hill, they hit a hog, and there was nothing they could do about it.  Father woke up and saw them just as they sped passed the front door, with a squealing hog at the front of the sled.  They later got spankings for disobeying.

Ma giving "Sukey" a slap

The episode of Sukey and the bear demonstrated how important it is, especially for children, to obey authority immediately.  One night Laura went with Ma to milk Sukey, their cow, but in the darkness, they thought they saw Sukey out in the barnyard.  Ma reached out and slapped Sukey to return to the barn, and immediately realized it was not Sukey, but a bear.  She instantly ordered Laura to the house, and Laura did not ask why.  She went.  Ma caught her up and ran to the house.  Safe inside, Ma praised Laura for obeying quickly, without asking questions.

Laura dancing with her uncle

My favorite part in the story is the dance at Grandma's house.  I wish I were there.  It was the most joyous, exhilarating family gathering.  How much fun!  (Yeah, I need to get out more.)
Next, there were several episodes in which Laura felt sorry for herself.  Mary had golden blonde curls, while Laura had dull brown hair.  Laura noticed that the storekeeper paid particular attention to Mary's appearance, not Laura's, and I imagine this may have happened quite a lot in her life, which made Laura feel insecure and jealous.  Once, she slapped Mary in anger, over the hair color issue.

"Everything was all right again."

Pa witnessed this outburst and immediately "whipped" Laura for it.  Then later, he took her to himself and showed her love and forgiveness, and set her straight about the hair color.
At last, when it was getting dark, Pa said again, "Come here, Laura."  His voice was kind, and when Laura came he took her on his knee and hugged her close.  She sat in the crook of his arm, her head against his shoulder and his long brown whiskers partly covering her eyes, and everything was all right again.
Making cheese

Pa and Ma complimented each other very well.  Ma was so humble.  While making cheese, and using every bit of the ingredients, Pa said,
"Nobody'd starve to death when you were around, Caroline."
Well, no," Ma said.  "No, Charles, not if you were there to provide for us."
Near the end of the story, Pa used a threshing machine to harvest the wheat in fall.  And he proclaimed,
It's a great age we're living in.
I can just feel the prospects of the era.

Finally, it is the end, and Laura was in bed, listening to Pa play his fiddle and sing "Auld Lang Syne." She asked what it meant, and Pa said, "They are the days of a long time ago."   Everything is perfect and safe to Laura.  She thought to herself,
"This is now."
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now.  They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago. 

12 comments:

  1. Loved your attention for detail. I love this series too.

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  2. I'm reminded that the illustrations are so great! A friend and I were just talking last night about how important they are to the books. It's hard to imagine reading them without the Garth Williams drawings, but fortunately, I don't have to.

    Yes, the dance is great! Wish I was there.

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    1. I do love the illustrations, too.

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  3. There's totally nothing wrong with believing the narrative of Wilder's stories. I mean, I doubt that any of them can be taken literally but I'm sure there was no better way of describing her life events than the way she did so. It's the story of her life, whether some of the facts are changed or not.

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    1. Imagine writing your story during adulthood, and having to recall all of those events as they happened when you were five and six and so on. It would be difficult.

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  4. I do love these books dearly. I also choose to believe in them, whether they're exactly what happened or what she felt and remembered happening -- either way, they are magnificent.

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  5. What's not to love indeed *sigh :-)

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  6. Awww...you captured this book so well in your review! I didn't even mention the slapping/whipping incident, and should have! I did so appreciate Pa's taking her on his lap later! He was apparently a very kind and caring parent! You know, I always realize that each of us remembers the same events differently, filtered through our own unique perspective, so for me, each memoir/autobiography is that person's recollections, for there is rarely EVER a totally objective record of events! :) Thanks for participating in #LittleHouseRAL!

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. Very interesting point: we all are reading these books through our own personal lenses and are able to provide a unique experience of the same story.

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