Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title:  The Long Winter
Author:  Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pages:  335
Genre:  Fiction, YA
Source:  My bookshelf!
What you'll love:  Almanzo helps save the town!
What will bug you:  The jerk in town trying to sell wheat for a huge profit.

225I have a strong suspicion that I never read this one as a kid.  Why?  I'm not sure, but it was fantastic.  I feel the need to mention that ordinarily am very careful about spoilers, but since this series is really a "classic", I'm just going for it - you've been warned!

The short version of this story is that in September, an old Indian came to town and warned the townspeople that a long and terrible winter was about to begin.  From there, Laura and her family moved from their claim shanty into town, and they experienced blizzards from October to May!  Trains could not get through to the town, so the railroad was shut down, causing the townspeople to nearly starve for lack of supplies.  Almanzo wilder and his friend Cap ride horses and sleds out on the prairie - risking being caught in a blizzard and the 40-below temperatures - in search for a store of wheat rumored to be in a claim shanty.  Although the people make it though, the winter was long and severe.

I can't believe there was a winter like this!  I looked it up on Wikipedia and found some interesting facts.  First, almost all the events in The Long Winter actually happened.  (Laura Ingalls Wilder, although writing from events and people from her life, often compressed things or changed events slightly in the spirit of an interesting story.)  The winter she described did go down in history as a really horrible one.  Trains were shut down, and the townspeople were nearing starvation when the trains finally began running again.  Apparently, the only fictionalized parts of the story are: there was no old Indian warning - seemed too coincidental to me anyway!  There were not really blizzards every few days (according to the site, that would make over 35 blizzards in the season, which is a bit much), although there were an unusual number of blizzards.  Finally, Almanzo and Cap found wheat at a claim shanty 12 miles away, not 20.  Ooh - fun fact?  The books make Almanzo out to be 6 years older than Laura, when in actuality he was 10 years older.
Minnesota - March, 1881.

As I've mentioned before in this series, I'm a big fan of blizzards!  This was a lot of fun for me to read, although I don't think I'd like to live through the winter Laura and her family experienced.  That was a few blizzards too many!  She did a great job capturing the feeling people were having - frightened and bordering desperate, but unwilling to give up hope.  

I love how Almanzo saves the town!  I was getting a little irritated with him - sitting in his house with Royal, eating pancakes and bacon, sitting on a huge stock of wheat.  I'm glad he realized that there were people on the verge of starvation.  He gave Pa some wheat (free of charge and he invited him to have pancakes, which really makes up for the fact that the wheat was hidden), and then goes on a mission to get wheat for the whole town.  Of course I understand why he did not want to get rid of what he had - he would be facing starvation himself the following year if he had nothing to plant and nothing to harvest.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to when Almanzo tries to call on Laura in the next book (which I may not have really read as a kid?  I can't remember!).  If I were him, I'd lead off with "Hey there.  Remember me?  I risked my life to save your family last year.  Wanna dance?"  Or something like that.
There's not much in this series that bugs me.  How can there be?  I was pretty angry at the storekeeper who was trying to sell the wheat to the town for a hiked up price.  Almanzo and Cap risked their lives to get it and didn't even charge the storekeeper for the transportation.  What kind of jerk are you to jack up the price and try to make a profit off of your starving neighbors.  It made me think of George Costanza from Seinfeld... "You know, we're living in a society!!!!!!"  Although he ended up doing the right thing, it did not paint his character well.
Another wonderful read!

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