Monday, March 23, 2015

Little House in the Big Woods

The title: Little House in the Big Woods
The author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Publication: HarperTrophy, 1932
Got it from: Hannelore's, 2015

For some time now, after having read Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life, I have been meaning to re-read the Little House series.  This winter I happened to spy the boxed set in the window of a local used book store, and managed to score the mint-condition set for a great price.  Naturally I am starting with the first one.  

I was quite young when I read this series over twenty years ago.  I never liked Little House quite as much as other classics.  Maybe it was because books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women seemed closer to my own East Coast childhood.  The prairies were foreign to me, as was the backbreaking labour depicted in Wilder’s books.

Re-reading Little House in the Big Woods in my thirties, I am surprised how much I remembered and how much my initial impressions of the book still hold.  The scenes I loved the most, like the sugar snow and the dance at Grandpa’s, were still my favourites.  I used to get easily bored by the descriptions of how chores were done but now I read them with a historian’s interest.  On the other hand, I never noticed how much hunting there was when I was a child.  As an adult animal lover, I cringed even as I understood how it was needed for survival.  

When I was young, I also read Laura’s narrative as a literal account of her life.  After reading McClure’s book, I now know that it is more a distillation of several years and events to arrive at something like the essence of Laura’s life.  And that’s okay.  It is a window into a lost world post-Civil War when the white folks were starting to settle the west.  

I suspect that few Americans now live so self-sufficiently, and for children the Little House books must seem like a foreign country.  I am sure many are bewildered by how hard-working Laura and her sisters are, and how strictly they are raised.  There are learning moments in the way Laura enjoys the simple pleasures (an orange at Christmas!), revels in the natural world and learns not to be wasteful.  There’s a comforting simplicity to all of the Little House books which makes them enduring classics.

3 corn husk dolls out of 4.

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