Thursday, April 4, 2013
Jack the Brindle Bulldog
Jack is one of the first characters we meet in Laura's "Little House" books, and rightly so, for he was Laura's first friend. Although he is a dog, he is one of the most beloved characters in Laura's books. We first encounter Jack on page three of Little House in the Big Woods, lying guard by the door to protect the family from wolves.
In the stories, Jack followed the family from the Big Woods into Indian Territory. He nearly drowned in a swollen creek, causing the family several days of sadness before he found his way back to them.
Jack took his role as protector very seriously, which sometimes was more of a hindrance than a help, particularly in Indian Territory. Pa had to keep Jack tied up to prevent him from biting the Indians who sometimes visited the Ingalls home and causing trouble for the settlers. He proved his worth, however, when he saved the family's lives.
When the family contracted fever 'n' ague (malaria) on the Kansas prairie, they were all too sick to go for help. It is likely they would have died before anyone realized their predicament. However, Jack saved their lives by running to meet Dr. Tann as he rode down the trail past the house, begging him to come in.
While the stories told about Jack in Little House on the Prairie are true, in real life, Jack's adventures with the Ingalls family ended as they returned to the Big Woods. Jack liked to spend his time with the ponies, Pet and Patty, and when Pa traded them for horses, Jack wanted to stay with them, so Pa let him go.
After returning to the Big Woods, the family got another dog, this time a black and white spotted puppy which they named Wolf. Wolf was probably left behind when the family left the Big Woods the second time, for the family did not have a dog when they lived on Plum Creek. There was no need for a dog there, because it was settled country. Because the children loved Jack so, Laura continued to include him in her stories in On the Banks of Plum Creek.
When she began writing By the Shores of Silver Lake, however, Laura decided that Jack must no longer continue to be part of the story. She used this opportunity to help make the transition from the child Laura of the previous books to the young lady Laura she has now become.
In addition to showing how the Little House books were crafted, this first part of the book also draws an in-depth portrait of Wilder's childhood and adolescence. The childhood that Hill's research reveals provides good insight into the Ingalls family, particularly to those who are not familiar with "Pioneer Girl." As Hill herself notes, perhaps the most disconcerting piece of information is the fact that Jack the bulldog did not die peacefully shortly before the family set out for Silver Lake. Instead, he was actually given away by Pa during a horse trade (10). Tidbits like this make for interesting reading while also offering some perspective into what elements Wilder felt appropriate for a child audience and necessary to a good story. Hill brings in correspondence between Wilder and daughter Rose Wilder Lane that discusses different editorial choices and shows that Wilder had a clear vision of how her story should be told and what it should ultimately convey.
The fact that Wilder made choices at all when telling her life story is one of the major issues that scholars have with her work. Are the books fiction or autobiography?