The Lonesome Gods

dust jacket background of The Lonesome Gods is desert sunrise scene
Couple at lower right view sunrise

Louis L’Amour’s western adventure The Lonesome Gods is as irresistible as it is implausible.

When readers meet the novel’s hero, Johannes Verne is six years old. His dying father is taking him to California to his only other living relative.

Johannes remembers overhearing his parents say his grandfather hates him. Before he gets to California, he learns that his grandfather hates him enough to leave him to die alone in the desert.

Fortunately, good people take to Johannes instinctively. He’s nurtured by people who have common sense, extensive contacts, wide reading, and loyalty.

At 20, Johannes is a mid-twentieth century silver screen western hero plunked down in 1840s California.

L’Amour lets Johannes narrate the episodes in which he appears and an omniscient narrator relate the others. This technique gives an unwarranted aura of objectivity to implausible people and events.

There’s more than a whiff of Horatio Alger about The Lonesome Gods. Johannes’ friends impress on him the value of education, the importance of knowing how to do business regardless of one’s job, the need to have a goal for what he wants to become as well as for what he wants to do.

L’Amour’s story is forgettable; the advice in it worth remembering.

The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books. 1983. 450 p.
1983 bestseller #10. My grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Just David is just dumb

Eleanor H. Porter produced Just David, a male version of “the glad girl,”  three years after Pollyanna.

The similarities are striking; the differences work to Just David‘s detriment.

violinist-1191808-639x431


Just David by Eleanor H. Porter

1916 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook #440. My Grade: C.


As the story opens, David, a 10-year-old prodigy, is living in the remote woods with his father.

Realizing he’s seriously ill, the father starts down the mountain with his son, their violins, and a few belongings.

Two days later, the father dies in a Hinsdale barn in which they’ve sheltered.

The surly farmer and his wife take David in.

David transforms their village, has a nearly fatal illness, and recovers in time to arrange a marriage.

Sound familiar?

Whereas Pollyanna was notable for her unusual attitude, David is odd in nearly every way a boy can be:

  • He knows French and Latin but not his own last name.
  • He knows the names of all the local plants, but has no idea what money is.
  • He’s spent days in the woods, but never seen any dead animal.
  • He understands the necessity of training for a musical career, but not the necessity of having wood for a fire.

The other characters are as implausible as David.

You’ll be glad not to have to read this novel.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Credit: Violinist, a double exposure photograph by Dora Mitsonia

 

Pollyanna grows older but no more mature

Eleanor H. Porter’s “Glad Girl,” Pollyanna, captivated readers, who clamored for more about the plucky orphan.

Porter obliged with Pollyanna Grows Up.


 Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter

Page, 1914. 306 pp. Project Gutenberg ebook #6100. 1915 bestseller #4. My grade: B-. 


Worried that her niece will be spoiled by being treated as a “cure” for depressed people, while she and her husband go abroad Aunt Polly lets Pollyanna spend a year in Boston with a rich, miserable widow.

Under Pollyanna’s influence, Mrs. Carew adopts a crippled orphan with the same name as her lost nephew, Jamie, and befriends a shop girl, Sadie.

After the year in Boston, Pollyanna goes to live with with her Aunt Polly and her husband in Europe.

When Aunt Polly’s husband dies, she and Pollyanna return to Beldingsville, where they have a house but no income.

Pollyanna decides to take in boarders, beginning with Mrs. Carew and her entourage. Pollyanna introduces them to her Beldingsville friends, resulting in a web of romantic entanglements.

The plot of Pollyanna Grows Up is even more clumsy and contrived than that of its predecessor.

What’s more, the self-assurance that made the child Pollyanna invulnerable to insult makes the adult Pollyanna appear stupidly insensitive to emotional tone.

All but die-hard Porter fans will find, I fear, that Pollyanna hasn’t so much grown up as grown old.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Michael O’Halloran: inspiration for the unthinking

Gene Stratton-Porter’s Michael O’Halloran is what is often called an “inspirational” novel, which in this case, as in many others, means ridiculous.

Orders Mickey's dying mother left for him.
Directions Mickey’s dying mother left for him.

Michael O’Halloran, 10, is an orphan who lives alone, supporting himself selling newspapers and advising the editor on what to put on the front page.


Michael O’Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter

©1915, 1916. 1915 bestseller #3. Project Gutenbergebook #9489. My grade C-.


Mickey finds another orphan, a crippled girl he names Lily, and assumes sole responsibility for her care.

Meanwhile, lawyer Douglas Bruce’s colleague Mr. Minter has taken a slum kid into his office, so Bruce takes Mickey into his.

Bruce’s fiancée, Leslie Winton, attempts to save the Minter’s marriage by getting Mrs. Minter into the swamp to listen to bird songs and repent of her failure as a mother.

Mrs. Minter repents, but it’s some time before her husband learns enough bird songs to get over their sons’ murder of their sister.

At the behest of his future father-in-law, Bruce is investigating city government corruption.

Employees in Mr. Winton’s department deny wrong-doing.

Thanks to Mickey, Winton has time to replace the money he “borrowed” before Bruce finds out, so the taint of corruption never ascends to Winton himself.

Then Mickey wraps up the novel by curing Lily’s crippled back.

Now doesn’t that inspire you?

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Engaging Guttersnipe Entertains In the Bishop’s Carriage 

Model of closed horse-drawn carriage
The  bishop’s carriage might have looked like this scale model.

My fear that Miriam Michelson’s In the Bishop’s Carriage was going to be soppy, religious novel was dispelled on page one when Nancy Olde nips into the womens’ room with a watch Tom Drogan has just lifted and, after tidying her hair, walks out wearing a stranger’s red coat with a chinchilla collar.

To avoid a cop, Nancy nips into a waiting carriage, naps, and awakes to find the carriage’s other occupant is a bishop. Nancy talks herself out of the danger and into the heart of the childless bishop.

Nancy returns to Tom and does some pleasant thieving until a burglary goes wrong.

While Tom spends most of his time in solitary confinement at Sing Sing. Nancy turns her powers of observation and talent for mimicry into work in vaudeville.

When Tom breaks out, Nancy refuses to join him again.

Then Nancy is caught with a purse full of stolen money that she didn’t steal.

Michelson lets Nancy narrate the story first to Tom, then to a childhood friend from Cruelty. Through oblique references, readers can piece together a picture of Nancy’s childhood.

Through everything, Nancy bubbles with fun. Nancy enjoys life and readers will enjoy it with her by proxy.

In the Bishop’s Carriage
By Miriam Michelson
1904 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg EBook #481
My grade: C+

Photo credit:  Carriage  uploaded by jakubson

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

 

Familiar plot, little value in The Green Years

A. J. Cronin’s The Green Years is formula fiction with an inspirational ending.

After his parents die, Robert Shannon is taken in by his mother’s family, strangers to him. Some of them are very strange indeed. The family is poor, and “Papa’s” miserly ways make their lives even more miserable than they need to be.

Robert’s desire to be liked makes him an easy target for liars and cheats. He usually ends up poorer, no wiser, and more introverted and depressed than before.

His teacher encourages him to try for a scholarship, but when diphtheria keeps him from the third day of testing, Robert’s scholarship hopes are ruined.

He ends up working as a boilermaker, shunning friends and family who supported his dreams. They remain faithful to him, however, and provide the book with a happy ending.

Cronin’s characters are nothing more than two-dimensional sketches. Robert grows older, but doesn’t seem to grow up. He shows every sign of developing into self-centered, depressed adult.

The Green Years is one more nail in the coffin of the the poor-but-brilliant orphan storyline.

Let’s bury it once and for all.

The Green Years
By A. J. Cronin
Little, Brown, 1944
210 pages
1944 bestseller #6
My grade: C +

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Little Shepherd Wins the War, Loses Readers

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is an improbable tale of an orphan boy genetically predisposed to become a paragon of virtue.

As the novel opens, the family with whom Chad lived has died. Chad and his dog, Jack, take off across the mountains.

They land in Kingdom Come, Kentucky, where Jack wins a dog fight and Chad wins lifelong enemies.

He also wins Melissa, whose family takes Chad in.

By accident, Chad meets Major Calvin Buford who discovers that Chad is his grandson and gives him a home. Chad wants to be friends with the Major’s neighbors, the Deans, especially Margaret Dean, but they think he’s a bastard.

When Civil War looms, Chad chooses the blue uniform. The Major and his Bluegrass friends turn their backs on Chad.

In the war, Chad wins the respect of the Dean men and love of Margaret Dean, but loses all the other people he holds dear.

John Fox Jr. can write great description, but he flunks character development and plot creation. Most of the novel is a recital of Civil War battles.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is as dumb as the summary sounds and even more boring.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
By John Fox. Jr.
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903
404 pages
1903-bestseller #10
My Grade: C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

T. Tembarom Engagingly Quirky “Orphan” Novel

Orphaned at 10, T. Tembarom goes to work selling newspapers. Cheerful and practical, the lad makes do with whatever comes his way, even discarding his name for a less embarrassing one.

Through hard work and good sense, Tembarom eventually gets a foot in the newsroom door. He hopes to become a news reporter.

While pounding the pavement, Tembarom finds a man with a wad of money but no idea who he is. Tembarom gives his amnesiac friend, whom he calls Mr. Strangeways, his own boarding house bed.

When Tembarom inherits an English estate, the Brooklyn girl whom Tembarom hoped to marry refuses to  even to write him until he’s lived a year under his legal name in his new role in England. From England herself, the Brooklyn realist knows she wouldn’t be socially acceptable as Mrs. Temple Temple Barholm.

The Brits are embarrassed by Tembarom’s Yankee slang and off-the-rack clothes. Gradually, however, his kindness and ability to see things from the other person’s viewpoint win them over. He even wins the friendship of the marriageable daughters whom he has no interest in marrying.

Frances Hodgson Burnett does such a good job of foreshadowing the surprise ending that it’s no surprise. It is, however, a pleasure. Burnett’s characters are so engagingly quirky that the lack of substance in this offbeat, rags-to-riches novel don’t matter.

T. Tembarom
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1913 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg ebook #2514
My grade B

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pollyanna Shows Kids Power of Positive Thinking

Pollyanna is Norman Vincent Peale for children.

Orphaned at 11, Pollyanna Whittier comes to stay with her spinster aunt in Vermont. Aunt Polly never approved of her sister’s marriage to a penniless preacher, but she feels it is her duty to give her niece a home.

Friendly and outgoing, Pollyanna was taught by her father to look for something to be glad about in every bad situation. Before long, she’s taught dozens of people in Beldingsville to “play the glad game.”

Pollyanna assumes her aunt is kind and generous, leaving Aunt Polly little choice but to live up to her expectations.

Aunt Polly lets Pollyanna bring home a stray kitten and stray mutt, but draws the line at adopting orphan Jimmy Bean.

When bachelor John Pendleton wants to adopt her, Pollyanna gets the idea he was once Aunt Polly’s suitor. She’s wrong. Pendleton was in love with Pollyanna’s mother.

Aunt Polly’s suitor was Dr. Thomas Chilton. When Pollyanna is struck by a car, need you guess what doctor comes to the rescue?

Of course, the plot and characters are totally implausible, but Pollyanna herself is totally engaging.

And the cliché that you can be happy by looking for happiness has enough truth in it to make Pollyanna worth rereading.

Pollyanna
by Eleanor H. Porter
310 pages
1913 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg e-book #1450
My grade:  C+
 

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Mine with the Iron Door Isn’t Played Out Yet

“Love ain’t no big deposit that a feller is allus hopin’ to find but mostly never does. Love is just a medium high-grade ore that you got to dig for.”

Harold Bell Wright’s The Mine with the Iron Door is an easy-reading western with a faint whiff of ideas clinging to it.

The story ‘s center is Marta Hillgrove and her “fathers,” Bob Hill and Thad Grove. She was a toddler when the prospectors rescued her from people who were clearly not her family. Unable to locate her real family, the men settled in the hills near Tuscon to raise her.

Seventeen years later, a handsome young stranger arrives. Hugh quickly wins Marta’s heart and buckles down to digging for gold enough to marry Marta and get out of the country before he is recaptured and sent back to jail.gp_mineopendoor

A secondary plot about Natachee, an educated Indian with a grudge against whites, temporarily overshadows the romance. Then Marta is abducted; Natachee joins Hugh in getting her back.

The orphaned toddler is a familiar romance plot; Wright himself used it elsewhere.

Marta and Hugh are also standard issue. You’ll have forgotten about them a few hours after you’ve closed the book covers.

The memorable bits of the book are in the minor characters. Natachee in particular is unforgettable in his resentment of the education that renders Indians unfit for either the Indian or the white world.

The Mine with the Iron Door
by Harold Bell Wright
D.Appleton and Company, 1923
339 pages
1923 bestseller # 7

Photo front piece of The Mine with the Iron Door. The illustrator is not identified.

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni