"No matter what the Church did, he was done with it."
Apparently I'm Not the Only One Who Wonders

52 Authors: Week 22 - Laura Ingalls Wilder

I received two beautiful hardback copies of Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie for Christmas, 1967. I would have been just short of my eighth birthday. I loved these books, with their beautiful illustrations. Over the next three years, I read the rest of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series: seven books about her own childhood in ‘pioneer country’ in the mid-19th century, and one, Farmer Boy, about her husband, Almanzo as he grew up on a prosperous farm in New York State. The books begin when Laura is about seven and they end with her marriage, at the age of about eighteen, to Almanzo Wilder – and, many would say, to his beautiful ‘matched pair’ of horses, Prince and Lady. The whole set shaped my imaginative world as a child. I created a dolls’ village, made of shoe boxes, modelled after the ‘Little Town’ of Little Town on the Prairie. Above all, providentially, it was Little House in the Big Woods which taught me to pray. Like many childhood readers, I emulated the heroines of my favorite books. Now Laura says before she goes to bed each night:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray thee Lord my soul to take.

I had never come across a prayer before, and any fool could see that this was not merely a prayer but a poem: it rhymes! So I imitated Laura: I said this prayer at night before I went to sleep. Not every night, certainly, but still often enough to call it a habit of my childhood, and a little piece of providence.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series follows Laura as she grows up, and likewise the books become progressively more difficult and attuned to an audience of older and older children. As the series begins, she is in the ‘Big Woods’ of Wisconsin. In the beginning of the second book, the family travel in a covered wagon to – where? I am not really sure. They live on a Prairie in a log cabin made by Pa. Or several of them, because they are forced to move on by the government after settling in land that had been designated as Indian territory. Fear of Indians, their nakedness and their scalp hunting propensities, is an important theme of the books. Laura is sometimes rebuked by Ma for looking like a little Indian, because she wants to go about bare foot and without her bonnet. It is in Little House on the Prairie that Indians come to the cabin when Pa is away and demand food from Ma; the family also witness a mass exodus by an Indian tribe, riding on horseback past their wooden domicile. One of the fascinating things about the books is that the family seem to make so many of their possessions. Ma sews their clothes while Pa fashions their houses. In the third book, which is perhaps my favorite, On the Banks of Plum Creek, the family are living in a mud ‘dug-out’ alongside a river. By now the family is Ma, Pa, Mary, the eldest, Laura, and baby Carrie. Pa is often absent, because their crops are eaten by grasshoppers, and he must go West to find work. There is a repeated drama of counting the days for Pa to return, through ice, sleet, and snow, to the dugout.

By the Shores of Silver Lake begins with what was, for my generation, perhaps the saddest scene in literature: the death of faithful Jack, the bull dog who has followed the wagon for hundreds of miles, and protected the womenfolk whenever Pa is away. At the beginning of By the Shores of Silver Lake, faithful Jack, who always turns around three times before he goes to sleep at night, dies of old age, but it happens when all the family are down with scarlet fever, and Laura has been too sick to care for him or even to notice that he is sick himself. Laura had forgotten to clean Jack’s bedding for weeks before he died and she bitterly rebukes herself with this when one day his body is found cold and dead. Jack’s death was, for me, much sadder and more heart-rending than the death of Beth in Little Women. If my generation disbelieved in hell and believed in animal immortality, Laura Ingalls Wilder must take some responsibility. Jack’s death taught even rational members of my generation that there is such a place as ‘The Happy Hunting Ground’ and it is not empty. After this sad beginning, the family take a train West and I cannot remember a single other thing that happens in the book. Very little happens in The Long Winter, because the family, bereft of Jack but now including baby Grace, spend most of the book holed up in their ‘town house’ trying not to freeze or starve to death through five months of brutal snow storms. It’s very memorable, especially the scenes where Pa tries, and sometimes fails, to play his omnipresent fiddle against the howling of the wind. In Little Town on the Prairie Laura has become a young lady of fifteen, and there are many scenes of fun and incipient romance: I loved this one for the ‘school’ scenes, and also for the detailed descriptions of Laura’s clothes. In These Happy Golden Years Laura becomes a school mistress and is courted and won by Almanzo, Prince and Lady.

Because the ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder’ books are so realistic and so carefully aimed not just at ‘children’ but at children in a specific age range, one seems less likely to read them again as adults. I have discovered that they have a ‘continuing adult’ fan club, but I myself find that a little odd, as I do, for instance, grown women who collect dolls or doll furniture. I mean less likely than, for instance, fantasy books with allegorical aims. It’s like dipping back into one’s childhood to read them again. I might have never looked at them again if, passing through London twenty five years ago, I had not found a biography of Laura in a friend’s guest room. I read it before I left in the morning. It told me two things I had not known. One is that it was commonly supposed that Laura’s only daughter, Rose, practically co-authored the books. Second, Laura ‘cleaned up’ and idealized the families travels: rather than heading out of Wisconsin and make a bee line for Dakota, where the ‘Little Town’ is, they meandered back and forth. And she left out some things: along with Jack, the other victim of the scarlet fever ‘by the banks of Plum Creek’ was a baby brother Charles. For a ‘Little House’ literalist it was interesting to learn, not that Laura ‘invented’ the story – because she did not, but that she condensed and clarified it rather a lot. During the harsh winter of 2014, I felt an impulse to re-read The Long Winter and bought a box set. I’ve re-read The Long Winter twice now – again in 2015! The box set contained one volume which was unknown to my childhood: The First Four Years, Laura’s failed attempt to write about the very hard first years of her marriage, in which she lost a baby son, Charles (named like her Pa and her lost brother). Overall I’ve come to realize that Laura’s life was much harsher than the image a child takes away from the novels. It not that she deliberately makes anything ‘rosier’ than she remembers: it’s that the books are the opposite of a ‘Misery Memoir’ and she gives the ‘truth’ of what she herself experienced as a happy childhood, whether it was ‘objectively’ a good childhood or not. After re-reading The Long Winter in 2014 I felt the urge to consume another Laura biography. This one rehabilitates Laura’s claim to have written the books with her name on them (even suggesting that Laura had more literary influence on her daughter Rose than vice versa). But in its own way it seems to ‘demythologize’ the ‘Laura legend.’ So for instance it begins with pages of statistics about the apparently large log industry in Wisconsin in the 1860s and 1870s. The point is to show that the picture Laura paints of being a child in ‘the big woods’ is legendary or mythological. This put my back up: the ‘truth’ of the books is that it felt to a five year old girl like their little house was isolated in the woods, with only bears and deer for companions. Laura is describing what her subjective ‘world’ was actually like to her, as a child; she is describing how she perceived her childhood world, not describing the ‘objective’ world of the statistician. Only a theologian would put it like this, but I’ve learned a fair amount about how ‘objective history’ relates to the gospel lives of Jesus from thinking about how the ‘real’ Laura of the biographers relates to the ‘Laura’ of the biographical book series. So I did not leave the books behind in my childhood after all.

The scarlet fever which strikes the family at Plum Creek takes away Laura’s sister Mary’s sight. Mary, the good, docile, well-behaved blonde older sister is a pivot of the books from the very start. The contrast between the brown-haired, strong-willed Laura and her more ‘lady like’ older sister is one of the things which ‘makes’ the books – giving them a creative tension. An episode which every reader will remember from Little House in the Big Woods is when Laura slaps Mary and, in response, Pa whips Laura. The scene was probably struck from the TV series (which I never saw). It is the only time in the books that we see Pa or Ma strike the children, though it is likely that they were disciplined more than once - Laura did not only make the books ‘rosier’ when she encapsulated her life story in this symbolic narrative! Laura’s being disciplined – no, one should be blunt and say whipped – by her beloved Pa for losing her cool and slapping is symbolic of the conflict between Laura’s relatively unruly, barely controlled emotions, and Mary’s more self-contained or ‘stoical’ front. After Mary goes blind, Laura becomes her ‘eyes,’ describing every scene to her. So the conflict abates, as Laura becomes ‘the strong one’: but the contrast is still there. Later, Laura’s school teaching, sewing, and sundry odd-jobbing in the ‘Little Town’ helps to pay for Mary to go away to a College for the Blind. There is a beautiful scene where Ma and Mary sew a blue cashmere-silk dress for Mary to take to College. The night before Mary leaves for College, she and Laura go out for a walk.

They went walking past the stable and up the low hill beyond. The sun was sinking to rest, like a king, Laura thought, drawing the gorgeous curtains of his great bed around him. But Mary was not pleased by such fancies. So Laura said, ‘The sun is sinking, Mary, into white downy clouds that spread to the edge of the world. All the tops of them are crimson, and streaming down from the top of the sky are great gorgeous curtains of rose and gold with pearly edges. They are a great canopy over the whole prairie. The little streaks of sky between them are clear, pure green.’ Mary stood still. ‘I’ll miss our walks,’ she said, her voice trembling a little. ‘So will I.’ Laura swallowed and said, ‘but only think, you are going to college.’”

Little Town on the Prairie, pp. 110-111.

And then I stopped and read on, expecting the scene where Mary and Laura discuss their childhood rivalry and forgive one another. Of course I had misremembered and conflated several scenes. After a lot of searching, I found one of the passages I remember best in the books:

‘Sheep sorrel tastes like springtime.’ Laura said. ‘It really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura,’ Mary gently corrected her. Before she ate sheep sorrel she always asked, ‘Did you look carefully? You’re sure there isn’t a bug on it?’ ‘There never are any bugs,’ Laura protested. ‘These prairies are so clean. There never was such a clean place.’ ‘You look, just the same,’ said Mary. ‘I don’t want to eat the only bug in the whole of Dakota territory.’ They laughed together. Mary was so light-hearted now that she often made such little jokes. Her face was so serene in her sunbonnet, her blue eyes were so clear and her voice so gay that she did not seem to be walking in darkness.

Mary had always been good. Sometimes she had been so good that Laura could hardly bear it. But now she seemed different. Once Laura asked her about it.

‘You used to try all the time to be good,’ Laura said. ‘And you always were good. It made me so mad sometimes, I wanted to slap you. But now you are good without even trying.’

Mary stopped still. ‘Oh Laura, how awful! Do you ever want to slap me now?’

‘No, never,’ Laura answered honestly.

‘You honestly don’t? You aren’t just being gentle me because I’m blind?’

‘No! Really and honestly …. I wish I could be like you. But I guess I never can be,’ Laura sighed. ‘I don’t know how you can be so good.’

‘I’m not really, Mary told her. I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn’t want to be like me.’

‘I can see what you’re like inside,’ Laura contradicted. ‘It shows all the time. You’re always perfectly patient and never the least bit mean.’

‘I know why you wanted to slap me,’ Mary said. ‘It was because I was showing off. I wasn’t really wanting to be good. I was showing off to myself, what a good little girl I was, and being vain and proud and I deserved to be slapped for it.’

Laura was shocked. Then suddenly she felt that had known that, all the time. But, nevertheless, it was not true of Mary.

That is what I remember of the scene: the confession that all along, Mary had been, as Laura once puts it (of herself), like the cup which is clean on the outside and dirty within. Then Mary tells Laura that ‘We are all desperately wicked … But that doesn’t matter.’ How could it not matter? What matters, Mary explains, is 

‘Just being sure of the goodness of God.’ Laura stood still, and so did Mary, because she dared not step without Laura’s arm in hers guiding her. There Mary stood in the green and flowery miles of grass rippling in the wind, under the great blue sky and white clouds sailing, and she could not see. Everyone knows that God is good. But it seemed to Laura that Mary must be sure of it in some special way.

‘You are sure, aren’t you?’ Laura asked.

‘Yes, I am sure of it now all the time,’ Mary answered. ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters. I think that’s the loveliest Psalm of all. Why are we stopping here? I don’t smell the violets.’”

--Little Town on the Prairie, pp. 10-13.

The religiosity of the Little House books is individualistic. Mary knows what she knows because she knows her Bible by heart. The family go to church when they can, and are very glad when a preacher settles where they are, and there is ‘church.’ Their Christianity comes over as individualistic because there does not seem to be anyone or anything organizing it over and above those local preachers, some crazy (like the adoptive father of Laura’s friend Ida) and others Godly. When Laura and Almanzo decide to get hitched, they tell Ida’s adoptive father, their minister, and shortly thereafter, he marries them (without using the word ‘obey’, which both he and Laura dislike). They roll up and get married with Ida as their witness. I must admit this non-sacramental and uncollectivist Christianity is very appealing to me.

When I look back over the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, I remember many touching scenes. There is the dreadful business in On the Banks of Plum Creek when Ma gives away Laura’s doll, to a neighbor’s spoilt little girl, thinking Laura too old to care about such things. Perhaps one has to read that the first time when one’s doll is still ‘a person’ to one to feel the drama of the loss and recovery of the doll. All the scenes where Laura has to fight for respect as a sixteen year old school teacher will etch themselves in a child’s memory. Her battles against Nellie Olsen, who really is everything Mary accuses herself to be, are likewise moments of great drama. Perhaps the most striking symbol in all the novels is Ma’s china doll. The china doll goes with the family in the covered wagon from Wisconsin, through all their journeys in dugouts, claim shanties and wooden cabins and ‘town houses.’ However bare the surroundings, the china doll is there, standing for the triumph of culture over nature.

—Grumpy is a professor of theology in the Midwest.

Comments

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Can't wait to read this!

I can't believe that it's Grumpy writing about the children's books and not me.

AMDG

"Laura is describing what her subjective ‘world’ was actually like to her, as a child; she is describing how she perceived her childhood world, not describing the ‘objective’ world of the statistician."

Funny, but a couple of friends and I were talking about this exact same thing last night in relation to Ray Bradbury's excellent Dandelion Wine. People who complain about the "nostalgia" or "sentimentality" seem to completely miss the point.

a novel always presents a life world not the world as it looks through the lens of empirical science! If I wrote a novel about my Greenwich village childhood our store would be the center of the Village and it would just dominate Greenwich Avenue. Then some biographer could go and see that the shop was tiny! 'Little House in the Big Woods' is a good novel precisely because it captures the child's eye view!

I have to admit though, that I have wondered at the difference between the 'primitive' conditions Laura describes living in in the 1870s and how others in Europe and the east Coast of the USA were living at the same time. In a sense, it is not unimportant to realize that Laura is giving a child's eye view of her childhood, not the 'real world'. Even in the Wisconsin of her time there was a logging industry.

I had similar thoughts when reading Lonesome Dove recently. It's set in the 1870s or so, in the American West, and things are extremely primitive. It would have been a very different world from say Boston of the same period.

By the way Grumpy should have said that Pa went back East to find work!

". . . I’ve learned a fair amount about how ‘objective history’ relates to the gospel lives of Jesus from thinking about how the ‘real’ Laura of the biographers relates to the ‘Laura’ of the biographical book series. So I did not leave the books behind in my childhood after all. . . ." Cool insight.

That's two children's books that had a spiritual effect on you. I have to say that that never happened to me when I was a child, although I was going to church in Catholic schools so I was so immersed in the Church that noticing a prayer in a book would be like a fish noticing water in the water.

My parents' didn't really buy us books except that we were in a children's book-of-the-month club, and I don't remember them ever reading to us, although I think Mother read to me when I was quite small. However, I was blessed enough to have a second grade teacher who read the Little House books to the class--probably the first three. And then they built a library within walking distance from my house when I was about 8 and I read those books and practically everything else in the children's section.

Then, I read the Little House books aloud to my kids twice, and maybe 3 times. I remember that when I was reading them to my youngest, who was about 5, I found that my 12 year old son was lying on the floor behind the couch listening.

I loved that dugout house. I really, really wanted one, but my parents never got me stuff like that. ;-) I wanted to do so many of the things they did. I loved the description of how Ma made butter and had a special mold for it, and, of course, I wanted my father to butcher hogs so I could roast the pig's tail and inflate it's bladder like a balloon.

Well, I have to go rent a car now, but I'll write more than you want to read later.

AMDG

Beautiful piece. Thank you.

Took me back to when my daughter was young and in love with both the books and the TV show. The TV show came first because I didn’t even know about the books. The show was really very well done, as I remember, and it's almost impossible to imagine it being done today. One episode about the children being caught up and lost in a snowstorm still sticks in my mind. And they were fascinating, as Grumpy points out about the books, in showing the family making their possessions -- Ma sewing their clothes and Pa building their houses.

I was telling Maclin about the descriptions of the food making - like Janet says, with the special butter maker with the rose leaf on it - and he could not see that descriptions of food prep and dress making could be interesting :)

Janet you know, at the time I was at PS41 in NYC, and my parents were not church goers. There was not *no* Christianity in my home - at least one one occasion when we were bad our father made us write out the ten commandments hundreds of times. He made me learn Psalm 23, and another Psalm which I hated so much I could not memorize it - about hanging up the harps by the waters of Babylon. I kept on and on being punished because I would not memorize that Psalm. But I could not. That was about the full extent of our contact with Scripture. The one other thing was in about 3rd Grade I was looking for readers in a closet at PS41 and I pulled out a strange coloured one, maybe orange, not like the ones we used. I didn't know, but I'd pulled out a reader for Jewish kids. There were stories about a girl who wanted there to be more girls in the Bible, and her parents told her about Deborah. And there was a story which ended 'I lift up my eyes to the hills whence cometh my help'. So I came in contact with the Bible in these random ways. I had no way of knowing that Judaism and Christianity were different. I also saw Catholic school kids going to school in their uniforms. To me Catholics were kids who went to school in school uniforms.

I went to England just a few months before I started boarding school. I stayed with my grandparents and I went to the village school in England. I was just after my 10th birthday. They all stood up and said a prayer at the beginning of the school day - all British schools would have done that in 1970. I would pretend to be saying it at first because I didn't know the words. By the end of my months there I knew the words. Then I went to my boarding school. I was really surprised because they said the same prayer and I knew it. I had no way of knowing it was quite common. It was the Lord's Prayer.

I do think having no school prayer cuts kids off from a basic chance to learn *something* about Christianity.

Well I am doing Stuart Little/Charlotte's Web eventually and there won't be anything about a spiritual influence there.

The only mention I can remember of Catholicism before the age of 14 or 15: a new girl came to our school, and one of the other girls said "She's Catholic. They don't go to church. They go to Mass instead." I'm sure that wasn't my only encounter with the word, but it's the first one I remember.

As has often been remarked, public schools in those days (up until the early '60s or so) were essentially Protestant schools, especially in a place where there were few or no Catholics.

I think the Catholic girl disappeared fairly soon. I don't know if it was a poor family that moved around a lot (many of my schoolmates were quite poor) or if her parents managed to get her into a Catholic school. There was probably one in a town about 20 miles away.

"...he could not see that descriptions of food prep and dress making could be interesting."

I do make an effort to enter the mind of the Other, but it doesn't always work. Food prep--at a stretch, maybe. Especially if hunting counted as part of the prep. Dress making, never.

Pa comes across a bear carrying a pig, shoots them booth and takes them home to eat?

I just wrote part of a long comment, hit some key or other, and lost the comment. Hopefully, I'll get back later.

AMDG

I read maybe two of those books as a boy. As an adult, I have read all of them several times--mostly out loud to my children, but not only that.

The parts about the dresses I still find hard to read word-for-word. It's usually better to just let my eyes go blurry and skip along 'til something interesting happens, such as Pa cleaning his gun.

I have come to admire greatly the high degree of narrative control. It's partly what Grumpy says: when Laura is eight, we see things as an eight-year-old would see them; when she's fifteen, as a fifteen-year-old would see them. (Reread the scene in *Plum Creek* when Pa scolds them for rolling down the straw stack!) It's also that almost nothing happens that Laura doesn't see with her own eyes--if something happens off-camera, so to speak, the reader learns of it only because someone tells Laura, or speaks of it in her presence. As narratives, these books are really well crafted.

One of the things I find most fascinating is just how unbelievably competent these people were. Look at all the stuff Ma can do! Look at all the stuff Pa can do! It's amazing how skillful and hard-working they are. Most modern people are inept slackers in comparison with them. (To be sure, they were probably among the best homesteaders--after all, they didn't quit or die. But even so.)

Grumpy, I was so pleased to see you single out one of my favorite passages too, namely, the one when Mary and Laura discuss human depravity and divine grace.

Thanks!

MG, yes, the description of the crafts is just very fascinating, even to an utterly 'un-crafty' person like me.

I agree,the way she always shows the scene through Laura's eyes is brilliant. It's what makes the books so empathetic.

My mother was a fashion designer. It's not the same as a seam stress, but still, to design the 'original' of each 'line' she would stand working on a model for days with pins here and there and bits of cloth tucked back and forth. That's part of the interest of the dress making bits for me. You have to realize I can barely thread a needle. Late in life, my mother was shocked to discover that I take all my mending and alteration to the dry cleaner for them to do it. There were always the workers on the sewing floor to do it for me when I was a child! After I came to America I tried to sew on a button or take up a hem or something by myself, at home, and my mother had to coax me to get the needle through the thread over the phone, transatlantic. 'Try bringing the needle toward the thread', she said down the phone line. So one does not have to be much of a seamstress to appreciate those passages in the Little House books! I wish I did understand better some things they were doing, like how the little girls are making those quilts. Other things I think I did grasp a little better than most, from having seen a lot of sewing done.

MG: It's also that almost nothing happens that Laura doesn't see with her own eyes--if something happens off-camera, so to speak, the reader learns of it only because someone tells Laura, or speaks of it in her presence. As narratives, these books are really well crafted.

Another book that's written that way is the old testament. Its probably the most important influence on Laura's literary skills, given that the big old family Bible is one of the few books that is always there.

Do you remember when it's very hot and a Sunday and Laura can't bear the thought of the land of milk and honey - wading in all that milk and honey?

Yes, Janet, the pig and the bear would definitely have been interesting.

I sewed on a button a year or two ago. I looked up how to do it on the internet.

I remember watching my maternal grandmother churn butter, and actually it was interesting, although I can imagine it would not have been very interesting to read about. She let me help, or more likely "help". And I'm thinking she had one of those molds with a design on it. At any rate I know I've seen one, though I may be mixing up my memories. Also "help"ed my grandfather milk a few times. I remember that very distinctively--the way it felt and the sound it made. They had had a dairy farm, and sold it before I was born, but still kept a cow in a shed near the house, though they lived in "town"--a very tiny town, really more a village. This would have been in the 1950s.

I've never understood the view that because these are books from a girl's perspective, they are specifically "books for girls".

My paternal grandmother used to make butter by putting the cream in a mason jar with a marble and shaking it until the butter came. She must have had amazing arm muscles.

AMDG

What I was trying to say earlier when the computer stole my comment was this.

The Long Winter is very hard to read. They had 7 months of almost unremitting blizzards and they were dreadfully short of fuel and food. You feel like you are living through this with them.

The main impact of the book for me, though, was that it really illustrates the difference between rugged individualism and Christian community. The people in the town basically all lived on one street and while some were in danger of losing their lives, others had what they needed. If, for instance, the hotel owner had let a couple of families stay with him, they could have used the same amount of fuel to keep more people warm, but no, everyone stayed at home, and I suppose it's possible that some of them froze to death. Pa had to ride out to their farm and bring back loads of grass in the brief intervals between the blizzards. Then they spent all their time twisting the grass into sticks to burn.

AMDG

Yes, she must have, Janet.

Paul, when I describe a book as being for girls (or women), I just mean that girls are likely to enjoy it more than boys. It has more to do with the subject and treatment than whether the point of view is male or female. I haven't read the Little House books but from what people are saying about them I don't think I would have liked them all that much if I'd read them as a boy.

Has anyone read any of the Ernest Thompson Seton books? I *really* liked those.

No, but they look interesting.

Paul, I think it's just hard to get boys to read books that they perceive as girl-y. Girls will read anything. For instance, all the girls I knew loved the Hardy Boys, but no boys would read Nancy Drew.

AMDG

I suppose I was lucky that nobody told me it was "girly". Reading them with no social context, I no more thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder as a girly author than I did Rosemary Sutcliff.

I wasn't having a go at anything anyone has said here, but I have heard them described as "books for girls", and found it baffling. I enjoyed them tremendously when I was a boy (I don't remember anything about dressmaking though – I might have skimmed that bit).

I have a series that is a kind of Catholic LIW. I'm thinking about writing a post about that author.

AMDG

I read the Nancy Drew books and enjoyed them greatly, although I liked the Hardy Boys better. It's true that boys will avoid anything girly, but I didn't think of ND that way. Certainly the fact that the protagonist was female didn't bother me at all. But from what everyone is saying about the Wilder books, I don't think I would have been very keen on them.

I don't remember my friends reading anything at all except comic books.

I think I enjoyed the Hardy Boys better, too, once I got a hold of them, but by then I was getting too old for those books.

I guess my friends read ND because I borrowed them. I realize now that I probably read more than other people, though, and I had time for comics,too.

AMDG

I read the Hardy Boys and enjoyed them. I dont think I ever read Nancy Drew

Re Rugged Individualism vs. Christian Community

The business about Almanzo and Cap Garland going to get the grain during the 'Long Winter' is a bit rum.

What happens is this. The townsfolk are on their uppers. They are close to salvation. They are running out of any kind of flour with which to make bread.

Pa goes into the house shared by Almanzo and his older brother. He has noticed that the outside of the house is wider than the inside. In fact, in the wall of the house, Almanzo is storing his 'seed grain' for the next year. But one can eat that. Pa forces Almanzo to sell him half a sack of it. He can barely carry it across the street because he's so tired and hungry.

At this point, Almanzo could have given or sold all of his 'seed grain' to the other people in the 'Little Town'. But he wants it to plant his crop in the spring. He will do anything to preserve that 'seed grain'.

He and Cap Garland discover that a homesteader way out in the boonies, a long way from town, has a large store of this 'seed grain'. They go out with two horses and a sled and persuade the homesteader to sell and bring back enough sacks of that grain to keep the townsfolk from starving. Their journey is quite terrifying, and utterly exhausting. Each time one of the horses falls into a snow drift the horse must be dug out of it. It is nearly dark when they return from a twelve hour journey.

The author of the more recent biography which I read shows how hard Laura worked to put this journey to get the 'seed corn' for the townsfolk at the centre of the book. For her, Almanzo is the always the hero who saved the townsfolk by getting them that grain.

But you can see why it's all kind of odd to me, a 20th century town mouse. He could have sold his own 'seed grain' to the townsfolk.

they are not close to salvation. They are close to starvation!

I agree with Paul in theory but I cannot imagine any of my three brothers reading the Laura books.

To "eat one's seed corn" is traditionally a metaphor for consuming one's substance, to cope with a crisis by insuring disaster later on. But I see what you mean about it being odd that Almanzo would have bought somebody else's seed rather than sell his own. I do wonder if there was some other factor--the guy in the country had much more, or something?

I wonder about the rugged individualism vs. community factor, too. Would people in a medieval village have behaved differently?

I've tried to interest my daughters in them, but they don't want to read "Wild West stories".

It was the hotel owner that paid for the grain that Almanzo went to get, and then he was going to charge the townspeople for the grain--more, I think, than it was worth. This is one of the things I'm talking about.

If Almanzo had given the townsfolk his seed, and he would have had to give it, he wouldn't have been able to buy more in the spring. It's interesting that his family was very prosperous, but I seem to remember that he never did do very well.

AMDG

One of the reason was farm machinery. The farmers always had hard times, but when they got loans for the new machinery, they lost control of their farms to the banks.

AMDG

It's illuminating to read Little House and Grapes of Wrath back to back.

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