Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Laddie is considered the most autobiographical of Gene Stratton-Porter's novels, though she is certainly reflected as the "Bird Woman" in Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. She was the youngest of twelve children, just like Little Sister, who here narrates her own story and that of her family, especially her older brother Laddie. Faith and family values are at the heart of this story, and I love the fact that it is not particularly a "Christian" book, but biblical truths are woven all through it.
“All these outward things are not essential; they are pleasing, I grant, but they have nothing to do with the one big, elemental fact that a Godless life is not even half a life...I know God is big enough and merciful enough to accept even death-bed repentance, but what is that to compare with laying out your course and running it a lifetime without swerving?” (115)
“I knew it was a good time, and I could ask anything I chose, so I sat on his knee and said: 'Father, when you pray for anything that it's all perfectly right for you to have, does God come down from heaven and do it Himself, or does He send a man like Laddie to do it for him?'
Father hugged me tight, smiling the happiest.
'Why, you have the whole thing right there in a nutshell, Little Sister,' he said. 'You see it's like this: the Book tells us most distinctly that “God is love.” Now it was love that sent Laddie to bind himself for a long, tedious job, to give Leon his horse, wasn't it?'
'Of course! I said. 'He wouldn't have been likely to do it if he hated him. It was love, of course!'
'Then it was God,' said father, 'because “God is love.” They are one and the same thing.'” (345-346)
“I guess the biggest thing the matter with Pryors was that they didn't know how to go about loving each other right; maybe it was because they didn't love God, so they couldn't know exactly what proper love was; because God is love, like father said.” (394)
Little Sister is a part of a close-knit family even though many of her siblings are already grown and married. I especially appreciated the value of motherhood that was clearly presented in passages such as these:
“'Yet they tell me that you are the mother of twelve children,' he said, as if he marvelled at something.
'Yes!' cried mother, and the word broke right through a bubbling laugh. 'Am I not fortunate above most women? We had the grief to lose two little daughters at the ages of eight and nine, all the others I have, and I rejoice in them.'” (282)
“'Had I life to live over, I see now where I could do more; but neighbor, believe me, my highest aspiration is to be a clean, thrifty housekeeper, a bountiful cook, a faithful wife, a sympathetic mother. That is life work for any woman, and to be a good woman is the greatest thing on earth.'” (289)
The author's love of nature is evident the Limberlost books, but the roots of it are especially clear in passages such as these:
“It would take a whole book to describe the butterflies[Gene Stratton-Porter did write a book on moths: Moths of the Limberlost]; once in a while you scared up a big, wonderful moth, large as a sparrow; and the orchard was alive with doves, thrushes, catbirds, bluebirds, vireos, and orioles. When you climbed the fence, or a tree, and kept quiet, and heard the music and studied the pictures, it made you feel as if you had to put it into words.” (61)
“I was just wishing it was summer so I could steal out to the cemetery, and have a good visit with the butterflies and always swarmed around Georgiana Jane Witcomb's grave at the corner of the church. I never knew Georgiana Jane, but her people must have been very fond of her, for her grave was scarlet with geraniums, and pink with roses from earliest spring until frost, and the bright colours attracted swarms of butterflies. I had learned that if I stuck a few blossoms in my hair, rubbed some sweet smelling ones over my hands, and knelt and kept so quiet that I fitted into the landscape, the butterflies would think me a flower too, and alight on my hair, dress, and my hands, even. God never made anything more beautiful than those butterflies, with their wings of brightly painted velvet down, their bright eyes, their curious antennae, and their queer tickly feet.” (229)
This love of nature contributes to her reluctance to go to school, so the young philosopher offers some suggestions for improvement:
“Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes, and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickorynuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure. You could spell everything in sight and this would teach you the words that are really used in the world.” (267)
I see shades of Charlotte Mason in that last quotation, though I don't know if Gene Stratton-Porter ever read Charlotte Mason. This is one ideal that I'm afraid I can't fully embrace - between allergies, bugs (ticks, ewww!), and heat our outdoor educational experiences are somewhat stifled. But I do hope to do a few more outside activities and take advantage of the trails at some of the great nature preserves in our area.
Idealism aside, however, Laddie is simply a great example of historical fiction from the early 20th century! It has mystery, romance, wisdom, engaging characters, and even a few bad guys. I heartily recommend it for your next historical fiction selection.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
"He had no mysticism about turtles although he had gone in turtle boats for many years. He was sorry for them all, even the great trunk backs that were as long as the skiff and weighed a ton. Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too and my feat and hands are like theirs." (37)
"When once, through my treachery, it had been necessary to [the marlin] to make a choice, the old man thought. His choice had been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries. My choice was to go there to find him beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world. Now we are joined together and have been since noon. And no one to help either one of us." (50)
"...he thought much and he kept on thinking about sin. You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love hi, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?
'You think too much, old man,' he said aloud.
But you enjoyed killing the dentuso [a shark who had attacked the dead marlin strapped to the boat], he thought. He lives on the live fish as you do. He is not a scavenger nor just a moving appetite as some sharks are. He is beautiful and noble and knows no fear of anything.
'I killed him in self-defense,' the old man said aloud. 'And I killed him well.'
Besides, he thought, everything kills everything else in some way. Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive. The boy keeps me alive, he thought. I must not deceive myself too much." (105-106)
Thursday, June 3, 2010
We thought he story itself to be a little slow-moving to begin with - my children did not start begging me to read just one more chapter until we were about halfway through. But once the characters and the plot are established it moves along well. Celeste is a field mouse who has taken up residence under the floorboards of a Southern plantation. She has the unusual skill of weaving baskets from dried grasses, and she uses her baskets to gather crumbs and other tidbits from the dining room. After a dangerous encounter with the cat, Celeste clambers upstairs and takes refuge in a boot. That boot belongs to Joseph, a boy who is assisting John James Audubon in painting the birds of Louisiana during the summer and fall of 1821. A frightened Celeste is eventually won over by Joseph's kindness (and peanuts) and becomes his little friend. She in turn befriends several birds who are captured as specimens for Audubon's drawings. Celeste learns that friendship has its risks - both in acts of kindness and in saying goodbye - but its value is priceless.
An epilogue explains the historical events and persons who form the framework for the story, and I was pleased with the historical accuracy of the people and places. Of course, history from a mouse's perspective always has a bit of poetic license, but if mice and birds could communicate with each other and deliberately plan their lives, this is likely how it could have happened.
Some of the descriptions of hunting and Audubon's typical practice of killing, posing, and mounting the birds that he paints (a fate from which Celeste saves her bird friends) could be a little traumatic for young children, so parents might want to read ahead to see if some sections should be paraphrased for sensitive ears. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't more interplay between Celeste's basket weaving and the artistic endeavors of Audubon and Joseph, but the author seems to have chosen a more realistic portrayal of the human interactions with animals, while only the animals do unusual things like talking to one another and reasoning. Overall, however, it was a creative story with a little bit of history and adventure and a satisfying, if slightly bittersweet ending. At any rate, it earned the approval of my daughter, age 6, who saw the image as I was writing this post and exclaimed, "Can we order it again? I love it!"