Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1943)

I was thinking about heroes and villains while reading this for the umpteenth time.  The hero of  The Long Winter is clear - like all the books, Laura is the hero (although unlike the others, Almanzo and Pa get a point of view in some chapters).

Interestingly, the hero and antagonist in By the Shores of Silver Lake was Laura herself - perhaps what I should say is that the antagonist is inside Laura, her radidly approaching adulthood.

Mother Nature is the antagonist in The Long Winter.

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, the antagonist was once again Mother Nature, in the form of grasshoppers.  Although truth be told, it should have been Nellie Olsen, who makes a far more engaging and fun antagonist.  In Little House on the Prairie, I guess it's the Indians - or perhaps it's just "pioneer life" - Prairie also has disease and fire, fatal gas in the well, panthers and wolves.  Oh, and Jack has to be tied up - that's pretty f***ing bad.  Little House in the Big Woods really has no antagonist; it's not as well developed as the other books (most likely because it was her first book).  I read a review on Goodreads that says as Laura the character ages, the complexity of the stories also age; so a four year old Laura sees the world in a more innocent way than the 14 year old Laura of The Long Winter.

If there is one over arching theme of the Little House series, it must be "all's well that ends well."  Much happens to them that's bad - MUCH - but all is indeed well that ends well for the family of Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

The other theme - the little things do mean a lot, particularly if you have very little to begin with.  A piece of candy, a tin cup...  for those Ingalls girls, one single piece of candy was an amazingly big deal (the Wilder boys though, maybe not; they were rich).  Mr. Edwards slips Mary a $20 bill  - which is 2015 (at today's rate) is worth $465.12 today.  Not too shabby of a gift!  That would still be a big deal today - I wouldn't mind someone slipping me nearly $500 on the sly.    College costs werer about $300 in 1880 (that's $6976.74 today).

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/10/wilder-women

According to this article, Little House on the Prairie is one of the books Sarah Palin read as a child.  The only one, I'll bet.  Gross - how can Sarah Palin and I share a love?  I bet she just made it up because it was politically expedient.

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The Long Winter (Little House, #6)The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is one over arching theme of the little house books, it's "all's well that ends well."  They say many times, because many, many awful things happen to them.  Perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to them in the novels though was the long winter (they had some tough scrapes that Laura didn't write about; we don't read about Mary's illness and how terrifying that must have been; we only know about Laura's dead baby brother from her other writings for adults; we don't ever hear about Iowa either, and how they skipped town without paying their bills).  The long winter was one of those times when the Ingalls clan skated close to the edge of "all's well that ends well" and almost skated right off.  Wilder, in her old age, describes with terrifying detail the sound of the blizzards that kept coming again and again, the terror of the dark, the overwhelming feeling of loneliness and boredom.  Although she never comes right out and says it, the Ingalls were starving to death, and she perfectly captures their physical and mental state as the food runs out.  If any book in the series stands out as something beyond literature for children, it's this one.


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