Monday, February 04, 2008
By the Shores of Silver Lake
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. 1939. By the Shores of Silver Lake.
Laura was washing the dishes one morning when old Jack, lying in the sunshine on the doorstep, growled to tell her that someone was coming. She looked out, and saw a buggy crossing the gravelly ford of Plum Creek. "Ma," she said, "it's a strange woman coming."
There is a somewhat large gap between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. We last saw Laura at age 8 or possibly 9. In the beginning of By the Shores of Silver Lake, she is thirteen. And the book's action begins after some melancholy life-altering drama: four of the family had had scarlet fever: Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Ma. (Grace appears with no introduction.) This scarlet fever has left Mary blind.
This "strange woman" is a friend and relation. She is Laura's Aunt Docia. She is there to present Pa with a job offer. Her husband works for the railroad, and she thinks Pa should work for them too. He accepts. But it is decided that he should go alone. Mary isn't ready to travel yet. And the family can go most of the way by train. But it is at this point that we are forced to say goodbye to one of the most beloved fictional dogs of all time, Jack. Jack dies on the eve of Pa going West again.
The novel takes the Ingalls family into South Dakota around DeSmet where the rest of the series is set.
It's not that I don't like this novel. Although I don't. Not really. It's just that in comparison to the other novels (especially On the Banks of Plum Creek and The Long Winter) this one doesn't quite do it for me. I'll be honest. I know Jack was old. I know dogs can't live forever. And I know this is historical fiction based on a true story. Still, my childish self can't quite forgive this book for the death of the dog.
By the Shores of Silver Lake is one of five Newbery Honors that Laura Ingalls Wilder received for her historical fiction "Little House" series. (For those that are curious: 1938 for On the Banks of Plum Creek; 1940 for By the Shores of Silver Lake; 1941 for The Long Winter; 1942 for Little Town on the Prairie; 1944 for These Happy Golden Years).