Friday, January 13, 2012

Laddie: A True Blue Story, by Gene Stratton-Porter

"Have I got a Little Sister anywhere in this house?" inquired Laddie at the door, in his most coaxing voice.
"Yes sir," I answered, dropping the trousers I was making for Hezekiah, my pet bluejay, and running as fast as I could. There was no telling what minute May might take it into her head that she was a little sister and reach him first. Maybe he wanted me to do something, and I loved to wait on Laddie.
"Ask mother if you may go with me a while."
"Mother doesn't care where I am, if I come when the supper bell rings."
"All right!" said Laddie.
He led the way around the house, sat on the front step and took me between his knees.
"Oh, is it going to be a secret?" I cried.
Secrets with Laddie were the greatest joy in life. He was so big and so handsome. He was so much nicer than any one else in our family, or among our friends, that to share his secrets, run his errands, and love him blindly was the greatest happiness....
"The biggest secret yet," he said gravely.

Gene Stratton-Porter was born in Wabash County, Indiana, the twelfth child in her family. In many ways, this book is autobiographical, as the story is told through the eyes of the twelfth child, Little Sister, who loves her adult brother Laddie best of anyone in the family. Such was true of Gene's own older brother, Laddie, who died in a tragic accident when she was small. (Such tragedy was not carried into her literary representation of him.) :)
Laddie: A True Blue Story evokes both humor and deep thought, a trademark of this female author. Published in 1913, and the second novel of her lengthy writing career, Laddie contains a reaffirmation of some of the grandest themes of faith, family, and community.

The tale begins when Laddie asks Little Sister to take a note to a meeting place he has made in their woods. He tells her that it is for a fairy princess, and it is to let the princess know that he cannot keep his promised meeting with her. Little Sister goes, and finds that, no, it is not a fairy princess, but the daughter of their stuck-up English neighbors, the Pryors. And she gradually discovers and joins in Laddie's fight to win the heart of Pamela Pryor, "the Princess".
But Laddie isn't a romance. It is a 'fictional documentary', if you will, of Little Sister's own family; and each of the characters has his own plot that she is involved with. From helping Laddie break into the hearts of their neighbor family, to joining in the pranks of her sixteen-year-old brother, Leon; from watching sister Sally get engaged (and trying to tell the family herself) to praying a very special prayer for heartbroken Shelly, Little Sister's childish touch is felt everywhere.
She has her own problems as well, and just as she helps her family, they help her with her love for the outdoors and her dread of starting school under the instruction of an unimaginative schoolteacher. From the agony of hair curlers to the joy of sitting in her favorite catalpa tree, Little Sister covers everything with breathtaking detail.
Don't let the word 'quiet' put you off, though. There's plenty of real-life excitement, including the seeming mystery surrounding the Pryor family, the underground station that Leon and Little Sister find, and the time the Stantons take in a thief who runs off with Leon and all the church money.

A Short Critique:
Like all stories in the realm of literature, Laddie has a few faults, some of which are never remedied. There are a couple of occasions in which Little Sister takes matters into her own hands, and her parents never hear about it. Also, in Laddie's fight to break into the hearts of the Pryor family, Mahlon Pryor, the father, uses profanity several times in his meetings with Laddie and Little Sister. Little Sister is about ten or eleven, and still developing an understanding of God and how He works. Sometimes when He doesn't give her immediate results, she assumes that He didn't work; but on the flip side, when she recognizes His answers to prayer she is full of excitement at seeing His Hand.

I have never met so clearly expressed in a work of fiction the duties of the family towards each other, their church, and their community. Little Sister's father is exemplary in his leadership, forming the minds of his children to think broadly, and to be well equipped both academically and spiritually. Little Sister's mother never went to school, and he tutored his family in the evenings as an unobtrusive way to give her the education she never received. He also is unapologetic in his faith, and when Mr. Pryor has the audacity to visit their house and make derogatory comments towards Christianity, Father Stanton tells him that he is not welcome unless he refrains from such opinions under their roof. He is also very understanding with his children's questions and weaknesses, showing a loving discipline, and giving clear explanations to them , such as in the following excerpt:

I knew it was a good time, and I could ask anything I chose, so I sat on his knee and said: "Father, when you pray for anything that it's all perfectly right for you to have, does God come down from heaven and do it Himself, or does He send a man like Laddie to do it for him?"
Father hugged me tight, smiling the happiest.
"Why, you have the whole thing right there in a nutshell, Little Sister," he said. "You see it's like this: the Book tells us most distinctly that 'God is love." Now it was love that sent Laddie to bind himself for a long, tedious job, to give Leon his horse, wasn't it?"
"Of course!" I said. "He wouldn't have been likely to do it if he hated him. It was love, of course!"
"Then it was God," said father, "because 'God is love.' They are one and the same thing." 

Mr. Stanton even realizes that Little Sister is not made to fit in with the factory belt-style education that existed even then, and pulls her out of school to allow her to study her lessons out of doors, in the environment that she learns best in.

But he doesn't stop with his family. From the time he started breaking the ground when he and Mrs. Stanton moved to Indiana, he studied agriculture and stewardship to make his land not only productive, but also aesthetic. He knows that with a little careful planning and hard work, he can make his land a beautiful place that is a blessing to the community, and a good testimony to strangers passing through. And in his position as county commissioner, he encourages others to do so as well.

I'll cover the concept of Gene's love for nature in further reviews of such books as Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost, but I'll just make a quick observation to close: in her books, she has a balanced and appreciative view of nature that worships the Creator above the creature, something we see rarely in conservationists today.

In spite of the fact that she never graduated high school, she shows a clear (though not perfect) look into timeless issues of family relationships, good stewardship, and sacrificial love for friends and neighbors.

Read Laddie: A True Blue Story for a refreshing (and sometimes suspenseful) look into the workings of the Stanton family. It's sure to become a family classic.

Lady Bibliophile

*A favorable review is for the book mentioned only, not necessarily a complete endorsement of all works by the author mentioned.

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