Okay, so I have been up a couple nights running with a nervous dog, and I’m running my PCs through the probable finale of ilithid-hive infiltration tomorrow, so no blog post today. Instead, Strong Bad takes on shapeshifting: Lappy 486 – Sbemails 192 – shapeshifter – Homestar Runner
The other really notable thing about Plum Creek is this: whereas Big Woods and Farmer Boy certainly had Do Not Fuck With Nature as a message, the books from Plum Creek onward took it to the next step. Nature Can, and Will, Fuck With You, and generally in some goddamn terrifying and unexpected ways.
Not that Charles doesn’t spend half this book tempting fate. Like every third line of his dialogue is about how they’ll be so rich when they get the wheat crop in, they’ll have candy and horses and glass windows and oh, he’ll just buy this lumber on credit, funny how the guy who owned the land before them didn’t have a bigger crop isn’t that weird? Pity the guy only speaks Norwegian so he can’t explain his reasoning but it’s probably just an odd personal choice he made, hey, did I mention how rich we’re going to be?
CHARLES. CHARLIE. CHUCKLES. I realize that horror movies did not yet exist, and you can’t learn from the kids who think how gee-whizz strange it is that Camp Crystal Lake has been deserted, but READ EVEN ONE GREEK MYTH I BEG YOU.
There’s other bits here that could be either deliberate foreshadowing or just very resonant atmosphere, like a lot of description of the water and the plants talking to themselves–very pretty, but also gives the sense that humans are intruding on a place that has its own thing going on–or the first guy they meet, whose eyes are “so pale they looked like a mistake,” thank you On the Banks of Silent Hill. They’re finally around enough cows to stampede, which of course they do, and said cows get described as this disarticulate mass of “rolling eyes and tossing horns” like a Gibbering Cowther, and aforesaid cows make the roof cave in while the family is still living the Hobbit Life in a sod house.
And Laura nearly drowns twice.
The first time isn’t super near, to be honest–she starts to go to a swimming hole she’s not supposed to go near, and is saved by a badger that shows up and terrifies her, and honestly you could do worse than Guardian Badger Angels in terms of both tenacity and scariness.
The second time, though! It rains hard, the creek rises, Laura decides to mess around with it in a dumb kid kinda way and basically avoids drowning by hanging on to a log with her fingernails. Ma doesn’t even punish her because she’s been so freaked out, as well she might be–there’s a whole paragraph about how the creek didn’t care if she drowned and nobody could make it care. “Laura knew now that there were some things stronger than anybody,” and if that isn’t a good thesis of these later books, I don’t know of a better one.
(That moment when you’re a kid and realize that, actually, adults can’t fix everything? Fucking terrifying. Like, I keep circling back to cosmic horror in these posts, and I think there’s not enough written about everyday cosmic horror as coming-of-age story.)
Around and on top of this, there are really incredibly beautiful descriptions, though. The new house is gorgeous, the cows are great and the family gets lovely horses for Christmas. There’s an entire plum orgy in the first spring and flowers and golden wheat and plenty of fish. If you’re young and don’t have a grasp of foreboding, you might not see what’s coming.
WHICH IS A GODDAMN LOCUST HORDE.
Let me break this down:
- The chapter where the grasshoppers arrive is downright apocalyptic. The light changes because there’s a cloud blotting out the sun, and then the cloud descends and grasshoppers begin eating everything in sight, like, holy Tyrannid invasion, Batman.
- There should never be enough insects in one place that you can hear them chew. A couple of summer LARPs had audibly-chewing masses of caterpillars, and it was enough to make me go Full Saruman on the subject of Nature in general.
- Also they cover the ground! The whole ground! GAH!
- “There was nothing anybody could do about it,” oh hello again man’s helplessness in the face of an uncaring and gross-insect-filled cosmos.
- After all that, they spit on Mary and Laura’s best dresses, too. I realize that insects lack sapience and cannot be malicious but fuck it: grasshoppers are complete dicks.
- Even their reproduction is disgusting! Grey egg sacs like “fat worms” in little dirt pustules, ew ew ew ew. WHY EVEN ARE THESE THINGS?
- (That said, I would play a Stardew Valley variant where the later years were complicated by locust hordes or blizzards or whatnot.)
So okay, Pa goes off to get work elsewhere, leaving Ma and the girls behind to wait out first a heatwave and then endless gloomy rain *and* a neighbor with…
…okay. So Anna Nelson is not per se bratty, she’s like two, it happens. But Mrs. Nelson? Don’t let your kid destroy other people’s belongings! It’s called “parenting,” woman, and the fact that you and Caroline leave it up to eight-year-olds to parent without being allowed to set any kind of boundaries…
…which, uch. Ana Mardoll has covered this in more depth, but the whole ideal of being completely and infinitely unselfish to the point where you have to give Random Neighbor Demonspawn your personal toys and then be happy about it? Awful bullshit. Zero things *excuse* becoming a libertarian, LAURA, but I can sort of *understand* it as a reaction to this fuckery.
Reading the Anna-and-Charlotte bit as an adult, I also perceive a whole new dynamic. Namely: Mr. Nelson is richer than Pa and Pa is probably in considerable debt to him. How much of Ma’s prating about unselfishness and how the Nelsons are good neighbors is standard Good 1800s Female Christianity Nonsense, and how much of it is reluctance to stand up to someone whose husband holds *her* husband’s IOUs? I don’t know, but I *do* know that Mrs. Nelson is an asshole for not saying “of course we’re not taking your doll, don’t be silly.”
Anyhow, Laura gets Charlotte back after Anna basically dismembers her and leaves her in a frozen puddle, all Sid-from-Toy-Story, and then Pa gets back, and then the grasshoppers…leave. But they even leave in a completely creepy way, just walking over everything INCLUDING CARRIE OH MY GOD.
Carrie becomes sickly later, and the Long Winter gets much of the blame, but TBH I don’t know how enthusiastic I’d be about life if one of my formative experiences was being walked on by a frillion bugs. There is not enough “ew” in the word “EW.”
Is Nature done fucking around with the Ingallses? Spoiler, it never is, but also not even in this book. No, now we get blizzards where Mary and Laura have to get all the wood inside so they don’t burn the furniture and freeze to death (as kids apparently did) and then blizzards when there are voices in the wind, oh hello there Ithaqua, and then blizzards where Pa is theoretically “in town” and Ma puts a lamp against the window and tries to play it off like it’s just so pretty against the snow so her kids don’t know she’s trying to keep her husband from wandering off into the blizzard and dying.
And Charles, at the end is STILL TALKING about how awesome next year’s crop will be now that the grasshoppers are gone.
Mr. Ingalls, you’re a good guy and you play the fiddle well, but I’m gonna need you to hush. Like, now. Before you create a volcano.
This series, man. Big Woods was the first, Prairie was the most racist and the one the TV show was named after, the love interest doesn’t show up until Long Winter, but On the Banks of Plum Creek is, for my money, where the books really get started. Why? Because this is the book that introduces the two main themes of the series (other than food): Nature as Incomprehensible Proto-Cosmic Horror and Beauty, and MOTHERFUCKING NELLIE OLESON.
Let’s talk the second first.
Whatever her flaws as a human, and there are plenty, Wilder really got a few things about being a kid and did not sugarcoat them. (See also: the bit where they go to church and Laura likes the preacher but the sermon is veeeery long and boring, Sunday School is extremely basic, and nobody can fucking sing.) With Nellie Oleson, she made one of the most hateable child characters ever and did not succumb to the trap that many other authors and frankly better humans fell into: making her an object of sympathy. At no time is it suggested that Nellie’s obnoxiousness is the result of Secret Pain, or that Laura should make overtures to her. She is not redeemed. They do not become friends.
This is awesome.
I get, from the perspective of an adult writing books and a semi-adequate liberal, why other authors fall into the angsty-backstory-for-the-bully trap: we are not supposed to believe that children are just awful, or to root for their complete mental and physical destruction.
That doesn’t work on your average kid.
I wrote earlier about Clarence and the hornets, and how this all seems awful to grownup readers, but as a child? There are few things more satisfying than seeing another child deservedly get it in the neck. It was a great day in school when the teacher was yelling at someone who wasn’t you or your friend.
Similarly, the point about how you should get to know your enemy and discover that everyone has their own problems and give peace a chance and all that is a deeply, deeply unsatisfying plot element when you’re a child. I find it a deeply unsatisfying one now in most cases, and also the stress on forgiveness as long as the other person Has Problems and the idea that the abused person should be the one extending the olive branch strikes me as wildly fucking toxic in general, but that’s way more thought than I gave the issue when I was eight. At eight, it breaks down very simply.
Is this person a dick to me? Yes.
Do I care why? No.
Do I care if they grow and change? Also no.
Do I want to see them infested with leeches, and then later walk smugly away from a Christmas party, having gotten way better winter accessories than they have? OH HELL YES.
And oh hell does Nellie deserve it. She goes from just being snobby and gloating to throwing tantrums (and physical assault) when she doesn’t get her way on the playground–and how much, as someone who has dealt with her share of WELL MAYBE I’LL JUST QUIT THEN Martyr Moose assholes, do I love when she threatens not to play and runs off and every other little girl is just like, okay, don’t let the good Lord hit you? SO MUCH–to the TOTALLY A TRAP party.
Who invites all the girls in school over and then says they can’t play with her things, just her younger brother’s? NELLIE FUCKING OLESON, apparently. (Until she gets miffed at not being the center of attention and starts showing off dolls that people are Double Secret Not Allowed to Touch so she can freak out about people maybe touching them, oh my God I know far too many grown-ass adults like this girl.)
Sidebar: Wow do I identify with Laura in the “I could be meaner than her than she is to us, if Ma and Pa would let me,” in the same way that I love Esme Weatherwax’s “If I had been as bad as you, I would have been a whole lot worse.” I don’t have many ethics, but I have some and they’re mostly centered around not being That Person, so there was a certain kind of World of Cardboard frustration when my social circle included a bunch of emotionally-manipulative, throwing-tantrum, wounded-kitten-act twits and I was like “…I could run fucking circles around you except I’d have to be like you and ugh NOT WORTH IT.“
So okay. Ma throws a reciprocal party for Mary and Laura. Nellie shows up and is just THE WORST, to Ma’s actual face and everything–like, what even is the good of living in an era where you could slap other people’s children if you don’t give Nellie a black eye for that “I don’t wear my best dress to the country,” bit, Caroline?*–and Laura deploys marine life to EXCELLENT EFFECT and gets in zero trouble over it. Ma also explains vanity cakes in a way that absolutely seems like shade, and she’d made them before Nellie and her Attitude were in attendance, so did she deduce certain things from Laura and Mary or what?
That, except for the fur muff Christmas tree plot, is it for Nellie, FOR NOW, because the second part of the book kicks in, and there’s enough of that to make this post a two-parter.
In perhaps an excessive bit of English majoring, I did notice that Nellie has about the same color palette as Mary, and is likewise more stereotypically feminine than Laura…and this book is roughly the one in which the Laura-Mary rivalry ends. There are a few quarrels over who’s the boss (Angela, obvs), but there’s a part on the first day of school where Mary says “Anyway, there’s two of us,” and that mostly seems to be that.
There’s also a part at the swimming hole where Pa and Laura are out in the deep water, and they can’t stay because “they must go back to the bank and play with Mary.” On the one hand, as the Kid Who Did Not Like Deep Water, I appreciated Mary’s viewpoint there, but on the other? This is why, try as you might to treat them equally, close-in-age siblings are going to haaaaaaaate each other sometimes when they’re young. You can understand accommodations and that it’s worth not doing the thing you want to do forever because you like the other person when you’re older. At eight? Your sister is literally The Reason You Cannot Have Nice Things, UUUUUUUGH.
Eventually they grow up and make each other cocktails, if it helps. Or my sister and I did, anyhow.
*Obviously I don’t support hitting actual children in any era.
It’s been a week, including second vaccine–yaaay!–so here are some random thoughts for, hopefully, your entertainment. Many have appeared on my Twitter feed in some form.
- I know people who genuinely like going into offices and talking with co-workers, and I wish them happiness with their own kind, YKIOK and all that. But I assume strangers who celebrate “office culture” and “the inspirational possibilities of water-cooler talk” and “team bonding activities” are somewhere on the continuum between Micromanager and Serial Killer.
- Yes, that is a single continuum. I have read John Douglas, and “Manipulation. Domination. Control.” describes a lot of motivation from middle management to the C-suite perfectly fine. (My current managers are lovely, but I also looked for a job that would specifically be remote-only and not have employer-tracking software, which has the pleasant side effect of screening out many Crawlspace Carl instantiations.)
- “He’s got radioactive blood” is not actually an answer to “Is he strong?” in my current understanding of causality.
- Fifteen years after I last played Mage: the Ascension, I still loathe the Hollow Ones and everyone who came up with them. “What if Holden Caufield but SECRETLY THE MOST ENLIGHTENED BEINGS IN THIS GAME?” I just…no. (Also not really secretly, because that game’s subtext was no more sub than that guy from 50 Shades.) (*Also* also I hate Magic and Science/Tech Are Innately Opposed as a concept.) (The Euthanatos were cool, though, and the Nephandi were impressively creepy Geigery motherfuckers.)
- New sexual orientations discussed in my social circle: Disaster Bisexual (this one is not original to us), Tragically Attracted to Basic Cis White Dudes (Preppy/Military Manifestation), Demisexual With Too Many Hot Friends.
- Okay but people presenting not trusting/liking your neighbors as a horrible consequence of political division or dubiousness about unmasking or whatever are always *extremely weird* to me. I’ve spent basically 14 years in New England, my mother’s family goes back three generations there, and we did not get where we are today by trusting people. Boston has its version of the city life thing where your neighbor stands a decent chance of getting kill orders from a Labrador, and northern New England…like, please read even one (1) Stephen King book. “Creepy psychic child” is probably your best-case scenario.
- On that subject, a friend of mine was like “maybe even if a dog *is* telling you to kill people, don’t believe them,” and to be honest it depends on the person and the dog. If one of those bouncy malamute puppies in YouTube videos suggested I shank someone, I’d at least give it due consideration.
- If a 9,000-year-old demon *disguised* as a dog told me to do it, no way.
- It’s a demon! Telling people to kill other people is Extremely Basic Chaotic Evil Shit! Murder is your go-to move, Stan, and I’m not gonna assume you’re right about this!
- But if an actual black lab, an entity known mostly for being the personification of enthusiastic doof and shameless pestering for table scraps, informed me that actually the following people needed to be taken out…I’d figure that there was something going on. I’m not saying I’d do it, but I’d at least make inquiries.
- (I 100% believe that the resident dog would tell me to kill someone when she meant I should give them chicken drumsticks and/or chocolate cake, given the context in which we often use the term around her.)
As advertised: More Aleister Crowley! Giving the people…well, giving the people *something*.
Disclaimer: If you’re into Thelema/OTO stuff in general, that’s awesome! I mock Crowley himself, but he or his sources or those who followed him produced some insights, and it’s not like all the founders of all my own spiritual traditions were paragons of reason and emotional stability.
Frankly, any Western pagan or occultist these days needs to come to terms with the fact that most actual history of our practice boils down to “Brits With Issues want to have varyingly kinky sex, put a spin on a bunch of appropriated stuff, may have stumbled onto some mystical truths or helpful ceremonies in the process, well done.” I sort of distrust anyone who denies that: they’re likely to go on about the “Burning Times” and whatnot as well.
Recap: Boy is raised by Evil Amish. Boy inherits money, goes to University, gets seriously into sex and drugs, has mystical buttsex experience, is a total asshole to fellow mountain climbers and really should have faced a negligent homicide charge at least. Man becomes involved in Occult Societies and Associated Drama, writes a lot of theory, claims to have made contact with multiple gods/demons, wanders around Europe and the Middle East taking drugs and fucking dudes but as a professional “occult bodyguard.” Man returns to the UK and produces Occult Actual Theatrical Drama, people wig, dude embraces the wigging in the same completely outsized and egocentric spirit with which he does everything including probably making tea.
(“BEHOLD for I have prepared a cup of DARK AND BITTER FLUID for you to CONSUME.”
“…this is PG Tips, Al.”
“THE P IS FOR PENUMBRAL.”)
We pick up (skipping lightly over a period where Crowley wrote some stuff and hooked up with someone who Wiki, with admirable shade, calls “his next scarlet woman”) with Crowley doing the thing I probably hate him for most: coining the modern usage of “magick.”
If you haven’t spent much time in fantasy or pagan circles, then I’m not sure how to describe the craze for extra consonants and bad spelling (K and Y are to Okkulte Myyyyyyystyry what Z and X were to Xtreme Znowboarding Lifeztylez in 1996) that has ensued over the last century or so. “Magick,” is endemic, of fucking course, and so is “magyck,” and I’m reasonably sure I’ve seen “majyck” in at least two places. “Wytch/Wyccane.” More pseudo-Olde-English than a Nantucket knicknack shop–excuse me, Shoppe. I don’t per se know that I can lay the blame for stringy-haired second-string vendors at Lilith Fair using “womon” or “womyn” or “wombyn” at Crowley’s feet, but I’m gonna do it anyhow, because: “magick.”
“Blah blah distinguish it from stage magic–” PEOPLE CAN READ FOR CONTEXT, EDWARD ALEXANDER, YOU PRETENTIOUS DRUG-ADDLED EDWARDIAN DIPSHIT.
…and now I need to refill my drink.
Crowley then continued his trend of kinda cuckooing his way into existing occult societies by publishing the “Book of Lies” (Contrarian Titles to Make a Point *probably* weren’t overdone in 1912, to be fair) which “accidentally” contained content similar to secrets of the existing Ordo Templi Orientis. (Which was German, because “Orient” or “Eastern” in Europe back then was roughly equivalent to “New Lemon-Fresh Scent.”) The OTO’s founder and head, Theodor Reuss, was like “…the fuck, dude?” and Crowley wrote back all oh no it was just a coincidence really, which somehow got Reuss to forgive everything, decide that Crowley was his BFF, and initiate him.
And by “initiate” I mean “make him head of the British OTO which we create togeeeether”–which was called the “Mysteria Mystica Maxima” because of course–and give him the title of “X° Supreme Rex and Sovereign Grand Master General of Ireland, Iona, and all the Britons.” Crowley’s magical name in the OTO was Baphomet, BECAUSE OF COURSE.
I’m of two minds about the whole “revealing secrets of my order” thing.
On the one hand: there are a lot of “OMG HE REVEALED THE MYSTICAL SECRETS” bits in Occult Order Draaama that really amount to, look, there are only so many ways occult shit works, especially when you’re both using a version of occult shit that is inspired by/blatantly ripped off from/a cocktail of Freemasonry, Jewish mysticism, Theosophy (with its own ripped-off-from-Indian-and-Native-American aspects) and Weird European Egypt Fappery. You’re gonna get rites for the four cardinal directions and channeling and probably a lot of Latin, your standard death-and-rebirth initiation system, Facing the Shadow, etc., and that’s…just how it goes really. Most “stealing ideas” scandals, whether in magic (fuck off extraneous k) or publishing, boil down to “your ideas are not actually that original.”
On the other hand: Crowley Was Fucking Crowley.
Either way, the process from “hey stop publishing my work, asshat,” to “hey buddy do you want to run operations in the UK” was really fast. Extremely persuasive letter? Extremely persuasive sex? (Reuss/the OTO *was* already into sex magic before Crowley.) (Which is like being into a band before it was cool, yes.) Reuss was just the most trusting person ever? Crowley’s first move was the 1912 mystical equivalent of negging? Possibly both of them were spies for British Intelligence? A cursory look at the Internet reveals no definitive explanation.
If you’ve been reading these blog posts, I invite you to guess at the results of making “Baphomet” the Sovereign Grand Master Double Secret PowerThirst Brigadier General of the UK OTO.
(While you guess: if some adult model/OnlyFans channel doesn’t go by the name PowerThirst, we have failed as a species.)
Everyone who had “rewrote everything to be more Thelema-y and also added anal” may have a cupcake for Being Right. Existing OTO members didn’t seem to mind the anal but were all “…look I signed up for the OTO, not Weird Al’s House of Mystikal Insyghts,” which is frankly a refreshing change for pre-WWI Europe, like, way to have actual priorities OTO folks!
That said, if you’ve heard the name OTO in other contexts, you probably already know those guys didn’t win.
Despite being Master of All Britons (now *there’s* an H-game), Crowley then fucked off internationally again: first to Moscow, for BDSM and violins, and then to an apartment in Paris with that guy he’d gone all Dweller-in-the-Abyss with out in Algeria before. They lived together for like a year, did “The Paris Working” which Wiki, SHOCKINGLY, says involved “strong drug use” and “acts of sex magic,” because we couldn’t have figured that shit out on our own.
And then they broke up, dramatically enough that Crowley cursed the guy, although in all fairness it didn’t exactly seem like Crowley needed a whole lot of motivation for that.
(“You TAINTED the SACRED FLUID.”
“I like milk and two sugars, Al.””MAY THE POWERS OF THE ABYSS CLAIM YOUR SOUL.”)
Still, a relationship that survived “hey let’s wander around in the desert while I shave your head and BTW kinda maybe try to kill you” disintegrated after a year max in Paris. This suggests either something about the rituals they were doing, something about the wisdom of living with one’s SO, or both.
If you’d like to find out more about it, and read an excerpt, go here:
Life has gotten away from me of late, but in a good way. Stuff that has been preoccupying me:
Playing Octopath Traveler. This is a fun Switch game that harkens back to the Squaresoft days, but with better portraits and more cool mechanics, like investigating or chatting up townspeople, skills designed for battle support, etc. So far nothing has been an evil extradimensional tree, which is sad, but I hold out hope.
Ordering, and thus planting, way too many vegetables and a couple of varieties of berry, plus some marigolds and sunflowers from my coven and bok choy and hyssop from another friend. So far, things are…probably surviving? I hope? It’s randomly cold tonight, and while I did cover the sprouty bits, I have no idea what I’m doing, let’s be honest. I would never survive in the wild.
Getting my first round of the Moderna vaccine! As usual with shots, I’m struck by how much they don’t hurt compared to childhood memory. As usual, I suspect that eight-year-old Izzy was something of a drama queen.
Having my laptop decide it very much wishes to be excluded from the discourse, thus forcing me to switch between my BIL’s Chromebook, my mom’s iPad, and my phone, which cannot handle Google Meet or Zoom without overheating. Sorry, tabletop friends! I ordered a new one, splurged so I could play forthcoming games with hot yet/and morally dubious guys, and am very happy with it so far despite not yet having ordered any of said games. It’s large and black and the keys glow in ever-shifting colors, and frankly the more my computer looks like an alien artifact the better as far as I’m concerned.
Rereading Wodehouse and Richmal Crompton’s Just William books. There’s a specific sort of before-bed reading I like–light, funny, nothing poignant or darkly humorous, no cringe comedy–and these are two of the authors who consistently manage it.
Reading Ursula Vernon’s Paladin’s Strength and The Hollow Places, and two of the novellas in King’s If It Bleeds–the titular one and the one about the cell phone. (The other two were too dark/sad for me right now.) All totally recommended.
Prepping for the release of The Nightborn, my second novel in the Sentinels series. I write like I run D&D campaigns, so this is the book where characters who spent CP on stuff like Sense Motive and Streetwise and Courtly Graces get to actually use them, though there’s also a lot of people getting stabbed. (Did you think I could write a novel where nobody gets stabbed? Me neither.) It also contains an intelligent sword who isn’t involved with anybody, for a change, and a medic who’s a squid guy.
Planning to start a cult with one of my friends, on the grounds that the cis white dudes who do that these days are just fucking phoning it in (q.v. NXIVM) and someone has to approach the endeavor with craftsmanship. We’ve decided that we’re for sure going with different colors/materials of ceremonial robes, and working out an eschatology involving Dimensions and at least one rock group.
Being surrounded by wild turkeys. They seem pretty chill, but it’s startling to wake up to the sound of gobbling.
Next week: speaking of cults, I continue my look at Aleister Crowley, and my related drinking.
I forgot that I hadn’t covered Farmer Boy, which focuses on Laura’s future husband Almanzo back in New York state, and is one of the most purely fun books around, although it starts out DARK. How dark? “Trudging literally more than a mile through snow so you can get to school and maybe watch your teacher get beaten to death by a bunch of homicidal teenagers” dark. (Why are the teenagers homicidal? Never explained. My guess is that living in upstate New York in the 1800s has a lot to do with it: that place is bleak as fuck even now that there are highways and cable.)
(Sorry, upstate New Yorkers. Not your fault that you live in Snowpocalypse World.)
To get a touch Too Real here, it was weird to read this in the 1980s/early 1990s, where kids randomly killing their teacher was a bizarre thing that I and those I knew, at least, had never really heard of…and then re-reading it now and thinking, well, at least they don’t have guns.
So yeah: five pages in and BAM student-teacher violence. This is a touch misleading, because what happens is the teacher boards with the Wilders, borrows Mr. Wilder’s blacksnake whip, and goes Full Indiana Jones, minus graverobbing, on the teenagers in question. This happens within the first three chapters so that we can devote the rest of our time to horses and pie.
This is one of the most mellow books of the whole series. Interpersonally, Laura may have been more reluctant to portray Drama in her husband’s family, plus Almanzo had more non-infant siblings and his brother was four years older.
(Laura and Mary are two years apart. My sister and I are the same age, and it was the fucking Godfather Trilogy when we were growing up: due to gender roles until very recently, and certainly in the 1800s, Almanzo and close-in-age sibling Alice wouldn’t have been compared to each other as much.)
A big difference is in the circumstances, though. Upstate New York may be a bleak and icy wasteland for a lot of the year, but settlers had occupied it a lot earlier than Wisconsin. Also, Mr. Wilder was rich: dozens of cows and horses, a big house and barn, and, and I do not exaggerate here, ALL THE FOOD. The whole Little House series is food porn (or lack-of-food survival porn in The Long Winter) but Farmer Boy is the Prospectors of Ass Canyon III to the other books’ soft-focus Cinemax. Between the Wilders’ prosperity and the gender stuff that means FB’s main character does a bunch of hard physical labor without running into any “ladies don’t eat” expectations, hoooooooly shit.
I still want to try fried apples ‘n’ onions. And vinegar pie. And popcorn with milk.
Moving away from the food, the difference also comes through in the descriptions of Nature. In Laura books it’s either gorgeous and enchanting or downright horrific: there are domestic bits, many of them in Big Woods, but the general idea is that everything beyond a certain ring of householding is incomprehensibly beautiful, alien and malicious, or both. Nature here is neither fairyland or Cthulhu, but works on a much more human scale: lots of lovely descriptions, mostly of farming, and a bit comparing the weeds to an enemy army and calling Almanzo a “good little soldier.” There’s definite hostility, but not the OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK quality you get in a lot of the others.
It’s also a much less directly racist book than most of the others (Big Woods seems mostly okay except for a dubious song, and I can’t offhand think of racist bits in Plum Creek or one of Little Town/Happy Golden Years, whichever one doesn’t have the horrifying minstrel show scene). Not completely non-racist, Mr. Wilder makes a speech that comes off suuuuuper Manifest Destiny, but still, it’s a nice change.
Farmer Boy introduces the Horses: They’re Fucking Awesome theme that will also run through most of the books (Long Winter is an outlier in a lot of ways), and verges on Boy And His Horse story for much of the second half. Almanzo, who’s not allowed to mess around with colts on the grounds that he’s nine, falls completely in love with one called Starlight (who is not Rainbow Brite’s horse in disguise, tragically) and spends a fair amount of time PINING.
Unlike many of the books that come afterwards, maybe because it’s autobiographical, this one doesn’t have the main character do something stupid for Drama. Almanzo doesn’t keep trying to interact with Starlight until Disaster Occurs, he doesn’t secretly get to know him and develop some kind of weird soul-bond and SHOW EVERYONE. He…pines, and hints, and comes close to breaking the rules a time or two and gets in trouble, and then fights his cousin Frank (who exists to be gormless) to keep him from messing with the colts, and then at the end of the book Mr. Wilder says he’s grown-up enough to start training Starlight, and yay!
It really does feel like a nice, organic coming-of-age process, and I prefer it to the outsized doofiness in other novels.
This whole book, by the way, features Almanzo’s oldest sister Eliza Jane at her best, which…is not saying much. She’s much better here than as an adult later on, but she still spends most of it being some type of pill or other, and then she saves Almanzo from trouble but it’s trouble that she at least contributed to, so I don’t know that it counts.
Again: still better than in any other book, which demonstrates the kind of Being a Petty Bitch that I have to admire Laura Ingalls Wilder for, despite her other views.
I’m in the midst of proof editing for Blood and Ember, the conclusion of the Sentinels trilogy, so here are some things I’ve enjoyed reading lately:
Smol Robots: Progressive, funny, and generally adorable. Mushroombot is one of my favorites.
Rollerskater: Urban fantasy web fiction! I’ve read the first two sections and found them very trippy and engaging. It also gets points for being fantasy with college students as primary characters, which is the sort of thing I don’t see much for some reason.
This Twitter thread, in which Ursula Vernon meets a little snake that is Trying Very Hard.
Next week: hopefully, I have some Thoughts about On the Banks of Plum Creek.
My reason not to be productive this week: fucking TVTropes. That is to say, my D&D group referenced the “Reason You Suck Speech,” thanks to an excellent one our gnome gave to a leader of the libertarian centipede Elder Evil cult, and then I went to read about those, and…things escalated.
In particular, things escalated to the Fate/whatever version of the Nasuverse: to wit, a franchise whose major deal is summoning different versions of historical/legendary/fictional characters to fight each other and save the world and probably sleep with. (The original two had adult-style dating sim elements going on. Yes, I want to play them.)
I dig this sort of thing. Not so much for the Nature of Fiction meditations or whatever, that’s a bit too Consensus Reality (which I hate) for my tastes, but excuses to bring characters from multiple different works or realities together are great. Back in my MUSHing days, I was on a game that used this premise as a result of Mystic Portals, I really liked the Sandman and Swamp Thing arcs where the other members of the DC Universe eyed goings on all “…the actual *hell*?” and I’m a fan of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, even the doofy movie version.
That said…okay, this was also the week when the Snyder Cut came out. And first of all, if you’re out in the dating world, I’d recommend adding Snyder to Rand, Card, Tarantino, Fight Club and Catcher In the Rye as fandoms that are instant disqualifiers unless you get some good up-front explanation. These works aren’t all bad (okay, Rand’s are) but people who are really into them, particularly when those people are cis white dudes? Almost always are.
But also, Snyder’s take on superheroes is extremely joyless and gets worse when the heroes in question interact. Not unlike some of the more infight-y Marvel arcs/MCU movies, like Civil War, the main motivation (other than Everything Is Grimdark and You Suck For Wanting It Otherwise) seems to be the sort of “who would win if X fought Y” debate you got in Stand by Me, or on rec.games.frp.dnd when I was young and the Earth had yet to cool. YKIOK and all, I guess, but when YK is dominating the trajectory of an entire franchise, I think the rest of us get to be a little grumpy about that.
I’m not some kind of violence-averse hippie: I would put my books up against any romance novelist’s work on the market when it comes to the number of people who end up messily dead. Stephen King is one of my favorite non-romance writers. I even like a number of fight scenes in movies–albeit many of the current ones seem designed to mostly show off people’s skills at CGI and are excessively long for my middle-aged self, and I prefer stuff like “Dr. No” where it’s quick and brutal–but those fight scenes have to have context and meaning, or at least dialogue.
For example: Lord of the Rings, the movies. The Charge of the Rohirrim is all about a sort of triumphant hopelessness, it comes at a significant point in the narrative, it reunites people, and it changes the plot. Sam’s fight against Shelob is pure horrific desperation and love for Frodo. The fucking Warg attack on the way to Helm’s Deep is just padding and an excuse to have Aragorn almost kiss his horse. Take it out and either add the Scouring of the Shire or let us go to the damn bathroom half an hour earlier.
(If they’d stopped for Legolas/Aragorn action, OTOH, I’d have been fine with it. Sex doesn’t have to have meaning but fights do.)
With the Civil War stuff, and the Batman v. Superman movie, we’re obviously not talking about padding here per se, since the fighting is the entire basis of the films…but still, the plot feels mostly like an excuse to have the fights. The characters get warped accordingly. (To be fair, I know the Civil War stuff is sort of a comic thing, but it’s one of my main issues with Marvelverse’s take on mutants/superheroes: they get used as a metaphor for civil rights, and I can see how that works, but then the writing forgets that gay people AFAIK cannot blow up the Sun when they’re in a bad mood, so the “government can never interfere/keep tabs on/etc people who are actually incredibly dangerous” plot points come out, and make zero sense.) Similarly, in Avengers, the Tony/Steve mutual snark is great, the fight with Hulk makes sense, but the Cap/Thor fight either didn’t need to happen or it didn’t need to be nearly as long as it was, except Ooh Who Would Win If.
At that point, just have the Thor: Ragnarok gladiator fight, which was fun. Because I may be willing to endure twenty minutes of basically sportsball, but I get surly about being expected to take it seriously.
I don’t care who wins in the Massive Crossover universes–at least, not for competition reasons, because the answer (just like with the endless Elminster v. Raistlin debates of my excessively online childhood) is always “it depends.” It depends in-universe on the situation, and it depends out of universe on who’s writing and what story they want to tell. Pretending anything else…well, YKIOK, again, but I’m not paying twenty bucks for it.
The interesting bits come in the dialogue, in what interaction with Universe A tells Character B about themselves and vice-versa, in putting a character into a situation that’s outside their previous context but has just enough in common to be applicable or resonant. They’re in the quiet moments, the conversations about how Rupert Giles and Mike Hanlon handle the responsibility of drawing people into a battle against supernatural evil.
…shit, I may be kind of a hippie.