Thunder and the Big Woods

We’ve just come through a hot spell, which finally resolved itself late last night with one of the bigger thunderstorms I’ve witnessed in a long while. It was much more exciting than the previous night’s tornado warning (since, with that, nothing happened). I had already been in bed and mostly asleep when first the rain started, and then the thunder and lightning, and boy it was big.

I ordinarily love thunder and lightning. For me, there are fewer pleasures more simple than sitting in a warm place, watching a storm. Rain is my friend. But last night, I was frightened by the storm. I peeked outside for a while and then when the lightning started coming every three seconds or so, I had to close the drapes and turn on the lights. I didn’t think I’d be getting back to sleep for a while, so I looked for something to read. Something familiar, preferably, and comforting.

I ended up choosing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, which I haven’t read in ages and ages but has been, along with the rest of the series, a longstanding favourite. I read the whole thing again last night. It didn’t take very long, since I read faster than I did when I was seven. I still loved it, though.

Part of why these books have been favourites are the illustrations, which are drawn by Garth Williams and prominently featured. I’m not near the scanner tonight, but I did manage to find two examples online (click to embiggen):

Dance Scene from Little House int he Big woods

Charley from Little House in the Big Woods

Are they not sumptuous? Garth Williams illustrated the entire series when they were reissued in 1953, and his sketches are vivid and charming. I’ve always loved them. (I’m pretty sure that he did Charlotte’s Web, as well).

This time around I also noticed things that maybe I hadn’t before, like how much of the narrative deals with food. Well, with food and/or bears, which I guess were just about the prime concerns of Wisconsin pioneers in the 1860s. And how, despite being set in that time, the only mention of the Civil War is this:

Uncle George was home from the army. He wore his blue army coat with the brass buttons and he had bold, merry blue eyes. He was big and broad and he walked with a swagger.

Laura looked at him all the time she was eating her hasty pudding, because she had heard Pa say to Ma that he was wild.

“George is wild, since he came back from the war,” Pa had said, shaking his head as if he were sorry, but it couldn’t be helped. Uncle George had run away to be a drummer boy in the army, when he was fourteen years old.

That’s it! Except for later when Uncle George blows his bugle. I guess I never missed it as a child — well, it never would have occurred to me — but it surprised me on this reading once I pegged the time frame. It makes sense, though, since Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1857 and thus could be expected to have only the very dimmest memories of war-things, if any at all.

… And then I finished the book and went back to sleep. Little House in the Big Woods is still utterly charming. In fact, I think I might read the series through again … and not wait for more rainy nights to do so.

3 thoughts on “Thunder and the Big Woods

  1. Wow, those pictures really brought back memories! Thank you… I so enjoyed the whole Little House series…! Have you read My Antonia by Willa Cather? I think of this novel as the adult answer to Little House…


  2. I still cherish my collection of Little House books and pick one up once in awhile to browse or read. Sometimes I just look at the Garth Williams illustrations. Speaking of the food mentioned in the book, I have a Little House Cookbook. I don't have it in front of me, so can't tell you when it was published, but I got it in the 80s and I think it was new or newish then. Have you heard of it? I think it is fascinating.


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