On the Banks of Plum Creek

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


On the Banks of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1937

After talking about the style of the series as a whole, I don't have a ton to say about the third book about Laura in the Little House Series.  I did want to post about it because I had a strong memory from reading it as a child.  I remember the terrifying bugs.  I completely forgot that they lived in a dugout; read "hobbit-hole with less nice furniture".  Also, it's a departure from the first two as the Ingalls move closer to other settlers.  Ma is adamant that her daughters attend school, and so they settle on the outskirts of a town in Minnesota.

There are dangerous moments in the previous Little House books, but it felt like Laura skirts death more often in this one.  I was somewhat surprised by the frequency of potential catastrophe. Near-drowning, almost trampled by cows, prairie fire, days-long blizzards, and an ox almost falling through the roof are among the dangers encountered by Laura and her family.

About that last one: as I said, for the first section of this book, they live in a hobbit-hole of a house, dug into the side of the creek bank. Eventually they build a 'proper American' house, mostly on credit based on their expected harvest. Unfortunately for them, next comes the part of this book that I remembered strongly: Locusts!

(Grashopppers, technically)

Without being too melodramatic, Wilder portrays both the atavistic horror of the plague of bugs, and the subtler horror of the loss of the Ingalls' food and income. Seriously creepy and totally matter-of-fact.  Probably because the facts are creepy.

The other main thread of this book is the influence of the nearby town. The girls go to school, to church, and make friends and enemies.

At one point, Nellie Olson, the "rich girl", makes fun of the Ingalls girls for being poor and plain, and on the occasion of being invited to a party at the Ingalls house, says "Of course I didn't wear my best dress to just a country party."

Laura later tricks her into wading into the muddy part of the creek by claiming that a crayfish in the water is dangerous, and Nellie gets leeches on her feet. The adults don't realize that Laura did it on purpose, and tell Nellie not to cry over a couple of leeches. Laura is quite satisfied in her revenge, and never gets caught.  Ha!  I enjoy that the only moral here is that some rich kids are jerks.

The most moving part of this book is near the end, Pa is gone and Ma and the girls are snowed in for several days in a terrible blizzard.  Each chapter is a day, and you can follow Ma struggling to distract the girls and keep hope that Pa is alright and that they'll be okay until the snow stops, etc.

I have enjoyed retouching on the Little House books, but I'm not in a hurry to read the rest.  According to the preview in the back of this one, they all catch scarlet fever in the next book.  What fun!  I know I read these as a child.  Why the hell did I romanticize pioneer life at the same time?

3 Stars - A Good Book

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