Friday, December 14, 2018

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

If literary figures can help to shape character, the Ingalls family is high on my list of exceptional candidates. In By the Shores of Silver Lake Wilder tells a simple tale of perseverance, faith, and sacrificial love as she recounts another slice of her childhood in the 1870s. In this fifth book in the series, readers are taken from the banks of Plum Creek out to the sprawling Dakota Territory.

If you are familiar at all with the series, this is the book in which Mary becomes blind due to scarlet fever, which makes this one of the best books I've ever read for teaching empathy. Although everyone is sorry for Mary, no one ever treats her like a victim. Nor does she act like one. She is expected to participate in family chores as much as she is able. Although blind, she is still able to sew more careful stitches than Laura. She often holds the baby and tells it stories so that Ma can do her own chores. It is assumed that other family members will help Mary when needed, especially Laura who was instructed by Pa to "see out loud" for her by describing scenes around them.

As in previous books, Laura is no Elsie Dinsmore. She likes exploring the wild prairie more than learning lessons on lady-like behavior. She struggles with the family expectation that she will grow up to be a teacher. But she (like everyone else in the family) always submits her desires to what is best for all of them. She learns a hard life lesson early in the book when her beloved pet dies and Pa goes west ahead of them. Laura knew then that she was not a little girl anymore. Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up. Laura was not very big, but she was almost thirteen years old, and no one was there to depend on. Pa and Jack had gone, and Ma needed help to take care of Mary and the little girls, and somehow to get them all safely to the west on a train. (14)

Without a hint of preachiness, Wilder succeeds in writing a story in which people are cheerfully overcoming difficulties and loving each other unselfishly. (How refreshing to read a story with none of the self-absorbed angst of modern Christian fiction!) In each book Ma and Pa express their differences of opinion about life out West, but they make compromises out of love for each other. In this novel Pa would like to keep going out West, but does not because he knows Ma wants to settle down so the girls can go to school. Ma would rather spend the winter back East, but gives into Pa's wish to stay at Silver Lake. Though Pa is the head of the house, he doesn't do anything without thinking of Caroline's wishes and needs.

In addition to their love story, there is plenty of adventure with wolves, blizzards and claim jumpers. And the simple eloquence of Wilder's prose is lovely: The Sun sank. A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver. Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright. (67)

This edifying series is not just for kids!


1 comment:

Barbara H. said...

I love this series, especially how it shows the family acting out of consideration for each other. It seemed then that people trained their children for life's hardness - or maybe they didn't have to, maybe life was hard and you just had to deal with it, like it or not. By contrast today we try to remove anything hard from our children's lives, and I think they suffer for it.