Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review: Pollyanna's Western Adventure

Title: Pollyanna’s Western Adventure

Author: Harriet Lummis Smith

Date: 1929, 1940

Publisher: L.C. Page (1929), Grosset & Dunlap (1940)

ISBN: none

Length: 297 pages

Quote: “‘I’m glad I came,’ cried Pollyanna, ‘for a million reasons.’”

Eleanor H. Porter wrote only two books about Pollyanna, the incredibly annoying orphan who was glad her leg was broken. Publishers, however, saw potential for a series, and after Porter had written off her child heroine with Pollyanna Grows Up, Harriet Lummis Smith and Elizabeth Borton went on to give grown-up Pollyanna eight more adventures, all tame and chaste enough for family story hours. In this one Pollyanna, her husband, three children, dog, cook, and a college girl hired to be the children’s tutor, venture into the Rocky Mountains.

Pollyanna is dutifully scared of the wilderness, as befitted a Boston woman of her age, but in this book her “glad game” isn’t made unbearably annoying. She has much to be glad about; the tutor has the only really frightening adventure the family have all year. Pollyanna does get a good healthy scare when a rough-looking man comes looking for her husband and doesn’t speak to her—then turns out to be a Sunday School teacher, whose oldfashioned manners are what keep him from sitting down in the parlor with someone else’s wife. She also spends most of a night sitting very quietly in a kitchen chair, watching a pair of skunks romp through the kitchen, and isn’t she glad she hasn’t scared them into their defensive reaction.

There are moments when even Pollyanna is tempted to groan, however, at the danger that the tutor will throw away “her fortunes” on a mere cowboy who seems less “standardized” than the nice dependable rich boy Pollyanna and her husband consider more suitable. The disaster of a rich girl marrying a poor guy will of course be averted...without Pollyanna’s having to express her “negative thoughts,” the price of just a little unlikely turn-of-the-century melodrama. How the tutor will be saved from herself is about the only suspense in this book, and will not be spoiled here.

For the boys in the audience, there’s another pleasant improbability in the plot. In 1929 it was just barely possible that a paraplegic could be lifted out of loneliness and depression by being made the first young person in the neighborhood to own a radio, which might then have been enough of an attraction—in a very remote and poor community—to make the poor chap popular. After Pollyanna gloats to friends in Boston that she’s got him playing the “glad game,” a real deus ex machina ending can be tacked onto the book. It could have happened. It happened in one or two percent of similar cases in real life.

Less pleasant, and altogether too probable, are Smith’s little reminders that many of Pollyanna’s generation really were “old” at forty. Pollyanna is only in her early thirties but she’s already starting to find that heavy meals keep her awake, that a horseback ride that doesn’t leave her husband or the tutor stiff leaves her stiff, and that a second helping of ham makes her terribly thirsty. Another ten years of cheerful ignorance about diet and exercise, and she’ll be diabetic, which somehow seems appropriate. It was happening to better people in real life, in 1929.

Those who enjoy a good snarky laugh at today’s children’s bestsellers, like the Baby-Sitters Club and Harry Potter, should only discover the really preposterous bestsellers of bygone days. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys seldom make me laugh out loud, and the Bobbsey Twins make me queasy more often than they make me laugh...but Pollyanna is as unconsciously hilarious as Joseph Altsheler’s teen warriors. For true devotees of the snark, this one’s worth collectors’ prices.

However, it was popular enough with girls who were mature enough to take care of their books that I can offer it for only $10 per copy + $5 per package, payable to either address at the bottom of the screen.