Friday 19 July 2013

#CBR5 Books 75-83. "The Little House series, books 1-9" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Total page count: 2680 pages

Ratings: Little House in the Big Woods - 4 stars
Little House on the Prairie - 4 stars
Farmer Boy - 2 stars
On the Banks of Plum Creek - 4 stars
By the Shores of Silver Lake - 4 stars
The Long Winter - 4 stars
Little Town on the Prairie - 4 stars
Those Happy Golden Years - 4 stars
The First Four Years - 2.5 stars

So during the second week of my summer vacation, I got a really nasty cold and sore throat. What better reading material while sick than Laura Ingalls Wilder's comforting stories about her childhood in 19th Century Frontier America? I was of the impression that I'd several of these as a girl, as it turned out, I had only ever read Little House in the Big Woods. I have, however, seen most of the TV shows, as that was always in constant re-runs in the afternoon on Norwegian telly.

Ingalls Wilder's Little House books are a fictionalised account of her early life, up to and including her first four years of marriage to Almanzo Wilder. While most of the things she writes about is based on true events, quite a bit of the chronology of the locations the Ingalls family lived and the things that happened to them has been switched around in the books, mainly so the stories would flow better. Laura also doesn't write about everything that happened to the family. She very significantly never mentions her younger brother, who died while very young, or the period when the family lived in Burr Oak, where her sister Grace was born.

The books follow the fictional Laura's life from she is five and living in Wisconsin in "the Big Woods". The family later move to Kansas and build a house on the prairie, but are forced to move when it's clear that their land is on an area granted to the local Native Americans. They move on to Minnesota, and live in a dugout "on the banks of Plum creek" and some years later, after a bout of scarlet fever that leaves Laura's older sister, Mary, blind, the family move to South Dakota to stake a claim on a homestead, which eventually becomes the Ingalls family's permanent home. It's in De Smet, South Dakota that Laura earns her teaching certificate. She becomes a teacher at the age of fifteen to help pay for Mary's tuition to blind college. She also makes many friends, and meets Almanzo Wilder, the man that she goes on to marry.

Almanzo's childhood is written about in Farmer Boy, and it seems while I have infinite patience and find it soothing and wonderful to read about the Ingalls girl and their wonderful Pa and Ma, I found Almanzo's childhood fairly tedious and boring to read about. Ingalls spends a lot of time writing about the nature of chores, and food preparation and the ins and outs of managing on a farm in the mid to late 19th Century. Quite a lot of that got a bit repetitive in Farmer Boy, and Almanzo as a child just bored me. All he wanted to do was not go to school, and have a horse. Luckily, the character is much more awesome when he grows up, risking his life to ride through blizzards to save starving townspeople, and patiently wooing Laura over several years. I don't know why I found his book so much more tedious, I'm probably just very sexist.

The First Four Years was found in manuscript form after Rose Wilder Lane, the Wilders' daughter, passed away. It's a much shorter, and rougher book than the other eight, and was clearly published because the other books were so insanely popular. In it, the reader gets to share the incredible struggle Laura and Almanzo (suddenly called Manly throughout) went through during their first four years of marriage. It's really quite a depressing read. I don't want to spoil anything, but things go from bad, to worse, to pretty bloody disastrous. I can see why it wasn't published until much later.

Having read the entire series in about a week (I read three in one day when I had trouble sleeping), I am so very sorry that I didn't get to read these books as a girl. Ingalls Wilder does a wonderful job of depicting what must have been a really rather difficult life as something charming and adventurous. The family were uprooted so many times, and suffered so many hardships, yet the tone of the books are hopeful, cheery and just the right amount of educational. Ingalls Wilder adapts her writing style to fit the age of the Laura she's writing about. A five-year-old would have no great trouble reading Little House in the Big Woods, and as Laura ages, the writing style of the books becomes more complex and advanced, with Laura and her sisters in later books looking back on their childhood and reflecting and musing on all they've been through. They're still wonderful books to read as an adult, but I suspect they would have been magical when I was a child, and I would have treasured them alongside my Anne of Green Gables books.

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