Monday, March 28, 2011

Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest

Finished Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson, originally published in 1904. Set in the wilds of South America, it is the story of a Venezuelan man, Abel, who flees his home after participating in an unsuccessful revolution and takes to the forest for refuge. He lives among the Indians there and cultivates a slacker existance until one day he happens upon a forest where none of his Indian companions dares to go. He is teased and led on adventures there by the warbling of an unseen sprite. This sprite is Rima the Bird Girl.

Raised in this wilderness, Rima is one with the forest and all it's creatures. She hates the Indians who hunt and kill the animals of her forest family. The Indians in turn fear her, calling her the Daughter of the Didi. Abel is fascinated by Rima and eventually falls in love with her. Just as his life regains meaning and promise all hope is dashed and he descends into a fearsome tumult of destruction and revenge. Afterwords, his guilt and grief turn him savage. His existence becomes so base that I cringed at his desperate state.

This is a very strange book. I don't want to say more in terms of the plot for fear of spoiling it for anyone. Hudson was a naturalist, born in Argentina and later settling in England. The book was made into comic books as well as film. It appeared on the summer reading list for my high school. Intrigued by the title, I tried to read it back then, but found it uninteresting. It seemed an easy read this time, but again, a very strange book. I'll let you form your own opinions of Hudson's use of the name Abel.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The New Chronicles of Rebecca

Finished The New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Published in 1907, it's her sequel to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Rebecca's adventures continue in Riverboro, Maine. This book spans from age thirteen to eighteen. Rebecca gets into scrapes of course, but she also uses her generous spirit to improve the lives of many people around her. Like Jo March, Laura Ingalls, Betsy Ray and Anne Shirley, Rebecca Rowena Randall dreams of becoming a writer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Calico Bush

Finished Calico Bush by Rachel Field. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1932. It's the story of Margaurite, a girl who travels from France with her grandmother and uncle to start a new life in the American colonies. Unfortunately her uncle dies on the ship as they travel to the colonies and her grandmother dies soon after their arrival. Margaurite is alone in a strange new world. She is placed with a family as a bound-out girl. The family will house, feed and clothe her until she is 19. During that time she must work for them to help with household duties and childcare. The family she is bound-out to decides to move from Marblehead, MA to the wild and largely unpopulated coast of Maine. When they arrive they find that their house has been burned and that Indians in the area remain hostile towards settlers.

During her time with her host family Margaurite is treated fairly by the adults and younger children, although the mother, Dolly, is critical of her as a foreigner and a Catholic. The oldest son teases her often and criticizes the French for siding with the Indians against settlers. Margaurite bears many slights of this kind. She engages in numerous feats of bravery to protect the children and animals of her new family. It is not until the end of the story that she is fully appreciated for these acts.

This is the third book that I have read from this period which describes a female child being severely burned and then dying. What was it that prompted writers to include this in stories of the time?

Calico Bush is another name for Mountain Laurel. Field won the Newbery Medal in 1930 for Hitty: Her First Hundred Years.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Captains Courageous

Finished Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. Spoiled 15 year old Harvey Cheney falls overboard from the luxury liner he and his mother are traveling to Europe on. Luckily he is spotted and pulled inside the dorey of a Portuguese fisherman named Manuel. Manuel takes him back to the schooner he works on. When Harvey has regained himself he demands to be taken to New York where his wealthy father will pay handsomely for his safe return. The Captain of the ship, Disko Troop, explains to him that that is impossible in the middle of their cod fishing voyage. Harvey behaves very badly and Troop socks him in the nose. From then on he realizes that he cannot get away with being a selfish trouble-making lay-about anymore.

Harvey is befriended by Troop's son Dan who is about the same age. Dan teaches Harvey all about life on the boat, how they fish, salt and store what they catch and what to do in the off hours. Harvey works along with Dan and feels a sense of purpose for the first time in his life. He begins to feel like a member of the community on the boat and works very hard.

This is a terrific coming of age book, laced with many good tales of the sea told by other characters. An excellent adventure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Fields

Finished The Fields, the second novel in Conrad Richter's The Awakening Land Trilogy. It continues the story of Sayward Luckett, now married to lawyer Portius Wheeler. This book picks up right where The Trees left off. Sayward clears more of the forest around her improvement, converting it to farmland. Other members of the settlement try to master the land and the wildlife upon it in all the wrong ways. Sayward and Portius have many children and open a meeting house and a school on their land. As a family saga, this story is compelling. As a chronicle of the settling of the Ohio territory it's a bit heartbreaking.