Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Let the Hurricane Roar by Rose Wilder Lane - Comments

As I mentioned a while back, I requested a copy of Rose Wilder Lane's Let the Hurricane Roar from a neighboring library. I wasn't sure what to expect after not being overly thrilled with Rose's story about the Beatons.

Let the Hurricane Roar tells the story of newlyweds Charles and Caroline who leave their home in the Big Woods and settle in a sod house on Plum Creek. Anyone familiar with the history of Laura Ingalls Wilder knows Charles and Caroline were Rose's maternal grandparents. But Rose does not give her main characters a last name, though she did give one to all the other characters.

There is Mr. and Mrs. Svenson who are Charles and Caroline's closest neighbors, and Loftus, to whom Charles owes a large debt after the grasshoppers come and destroy his wheat crop. Mr. and Mrs. Henderson own a store in town and Mrs. Decker is the wife of the saloon keeper. With the exception of the Svenson's, the other characters are mentioned only in brief moments, but they have last names, unlike Charles and Caroline and their son, Charles John who is born in the sod shanty.

Why is important? Maybe it's not, but in Holtz's book The Ghost in the Little House the author mentioned an incident between Rose and her mother that might have been part of the reason for the exclusion. Not that I can find the page right now--if I do, I'll add it here--but during one of Rose's stays at Rocky Ridge Farm, she was explaining her latest story to a group of friends who were also staying on the farm and Laura told her she got it all wrong because she knew it was the story of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Holtz mentions that perhaps Laura felt Rose should not use Ma and Pa as the basis for her story because Laura was writing her own stories where Ma and Pa were important characters and she felt protective of those memories.

By not giving Charles and Caroline a last name in Let the Hurricane Roar, Rose could have been protecting herself and her story, or maybe she even made a deal with her mother to not add the last names so there would be no direct connection. But, we might never know for sure.

Moving on, people who have studied the real lives of the Ingalls family will notice right away that there is a good deal of fiction in this novel. Charles and Caroline Ingalls did not leave the Big Woods by themselves, Mary and Laura were young girls when they left Wisconsin, and their son never made it out of infancy.

We know from Laura's books and other biographies of the Ingalls family that the grasshoppers did come and destroy every green thing on the prairie and that Charles was forced to find work to support his family. But other than that, the events in Let the Hurricane Roar don't seem very similiar to what I've read of the Ingalls family history.

Let the Hurricane Roar was much shorter than Free Land, but that wasn't the main reason I was able to polish it off within three days. This story held my attention from beginning to end. It didn't start off with a young, happy couple who were optimistic about the future and then turn into a tale of despair and hardship against insurmountable odds. Even with all the challenges Charles and Caroline faced, they approached each new page in their lives with a positive outlook. Sometimes it was hard to do--Caroline and Charles were both lonely when they were apart, Caroline was forced to make tough decisions when Charles was back East working, Charles's return home was delayed by an injury and Caroline and the baby had to survive the winter alone after the Svensons gave up and returned to Minnesota--but they were determined to make it work.

Let the Hurricane Roar could easily be compared to one of Laura's books--some of the content, the tone, and the song lyrics remind me of the Little House series. There is, of course, one exception to that rule--The First Four Years. This manuscript was not published in Laura's or Rose's lifetime. In this book, Laura tells us about her first four years of marriage to Almanzo, the birth of Rose, the loss of their home to fire, and the death of their son who hadn't even been given a name yet. It was a trying time for Laura and Almanzo and the tone of this book is very different from the other eight books she had written about her life.

Rose had sent this manuscript to Roger Lea McBride, who would eventually become her heir. It was McBride who took the manuscript to Harper & Row after Rose's death. A decision was reached to publish the manuscript as Laura had written it.

Yet, if one were to compare the tone of The First Four Years to Free Land they might see the same smiliarities I do when I compare Let the Hurricane Roar to the rest of Laura's books. But, since Rose did not touch Laura's manuscript of The First Four Years we might think the similarities are coincidence.

Where does that leave us? I'm sure there are more than the two options I am listing here, but these are the ones I will concentrate on. Rose could have taken eight of Laura's manuscripts, performed heavy editing on them--rewriting entire portions--and even coordinated getting the manuscripts to the publisher. She could deserve to be listed as co-author of these eight books because they wouldn't have sold without her. But what about The First Four Years? Rose never touched it and amazingly this manuscript and Rose's own Free Land are similiar in tone and style.

There is also a thought traveling through my mind, however, that perhaps the similiarties between Rose's Let the Hurricane Roar and the first eight books of the Little House series, and those found between Free Land and The First Four Years could be chalked up to something not as controversial. Rose grew up in Laura's house, where her mother shared many of the stories she had heard growing up. Perhaps, Rose's and Laura's writing styles were not so disimilar overall. If I did not see such a clear connection with the way Free Land and The First Four Years are written, then this theory would not hold water. But, I do see that connection, and Rose never touched the final manuscript her mother had written.

So, what's next? Well, Old Town Home is a collection of stories by Rose Wilder Lane. I need to read more of Rose's writing to see how the storyteller in her, interacts with the reader. I have multiple books with Laura Ingalls Wilder collections in them, so it will be interesting to see if my second theory has any merit.

I guess that means more reading for me and more blog posts for you. LOL!

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