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Where the Crawdads Sing and A Girl of the Limberlost
Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing is a runaway hit. People love the detail that Owens, as a naturalist, brings into her novel. Yes, parts of it are beautiful, but the characterization is amateurish, and as a mystery, it is uninspired.
And then there’s also the confusion about the setting of the novel. I’m from southeastern Virginia, and like many people from this area, we spend a lot of time in North Carolina. I found the travel to Asheville confusing, and I had the sense that the marsh, as described in the novel, better belongs in South Carolina. It seems that at least some readers agree with me.
Delia Owens is a naturalist, but if her story seems stretched a little thin, it might be because the plot is based on something that happened in Zambia. Yes, that’s right, in Africa. Does she think North Carolina is Africa? I strongly suggest you read this article, “The Hunted” from The New Yorker that tells this complicated story in detail.
Meanwhile, if you want to read a novel by a naturalist that is set in a real place and describes real natural features, you need look no further than Gene Stratton Porter’s 1908 novel A Girl of the Limberlost.
Two more novels, Freckles and Laddie, are companion novels to A Girl of the Limberlost. You can also download them here, from Gene Stratton Porter’s Project Gutenberg page.
A Girl of the Limberlost
How I Came to Read A Girl of the Limberlost
I love a good coming of age story, but I’ve always avoided The Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter, for two reasons:
1. I thought it was about plants and animals, which are things I’m not really into. So shoot me.
2. The descriptions of the book make the main character, Elnora, sound like a goody-two shoes, so I thought it would seem really cheesy and boring.
I finally read this book; in fact, I read it in just a couple of days, and I was very pleasantly surprised.
I happened to come to it at the end of a really difficult week. I was so exhausted I was starting to feel a bit ill, and when that happens, I usually read my way out of it. My body gets a rest, and the reading sort of reinvigorates my mind.
The Girl of the Limberlost turned out to be just the right book.
Why You Should Read A Girl of the Limberlost
It’s true at times that the main character, Elnora, is a little bit over the top as far as being portrayed as an almost perfect character. I don’t mind her, however, because her two main character traits are being resourceful and extremely ethical. The resourceful part of her character is evident almost from the beginning of the book, when she has to figure out a way to finance her education. The ethical part is almost unbelievable as it is portrayed in the latter half of the book, but what saved it for me is the idea that we are happiest when we have the strength of character to try to work out solutions that are in everyone’s best interest, even our “enemies”, when possible.
There is also a strong theme dealing with the importance of community: at times, several characters are helped along by their friends and neighbors when their families can’t sustain them. The older I get, the more I see the value of having such a network. Being accountable in all aspects of our lives keeps us from getting too out-of-control.
Yes, some of the characters are a bit melodramatic…I mean seriously, almost dying over a difficult love relationship?…but as I mentioned, mitigating factors carry the day.
As a Book for Adult Readers
As an adult reader, I found this book particularly engaging because of its portrayal of the adults in the story; there were entire chapters where Elnora was almost completely “off stage” while the adults worked out their problems. The adults’ problems were depicted as being complicated, and the results of their actions mixed. The key element is the idea that sometimes bad situations bring good results: most notably, the recognition that Elnora’s inconsistent mothering brought on by her extreme grief meant she had raised a strong, self reliant child.
What moved me is that the adults could have sorrows and struggles of their own. They could be sometimes be petulant and self centered, and they could sometimes be unfair. But that doesn’t mean they can’t also be decent parents and decent people.
I needed to learn that lesson this week.
If you are one of the three people left in the world who haven’t read Where The Crawdads Sing, here it is, although your library is sure to have it. If you want to read some other great books from North Carolina, and they have a lot, click here.
Also check out Ron Rash’s wonderful books if you want to read about the part of the state Asheville is in…Asheville isn’t coastal, not by a long shot!
Teenagers and adults both enjoy A Girl of the Limberlost, and Gene Stratton-Porter would be an excellent focus for an environmental education unit for younger students that combines science and social studies.
Information on visiting the Limberlost State Historic Site, including Gene Stratton-Porter’s home, is here.
Gene Stratton-Porter was an enterprising woman. In addition to her many other activities, she formed a production company in 1918 to have control of the filming of her books!
I watched a bit of the available films and posted them at the bottom…but I find them all pretty annoying and recommend the book instead.
The Limberlost is Real.
The Limberlost Swamp is supposed to be named for a man nicknamed “Limber Jim”. He drowned in the swamp, where “Limber was lost” or “Limberlost”. It’s also known as Loblolly Marsh. It may sound like something from the Candy Land game, but it is a Miami nation word for “stinking river.”
To me, the term “the Limberlost” makes this book sound almost like it might be a fantasy, but it is actually a real place in Indiana. The author of the novel, Gene Stratton Porter, had a home there, and she moved away when the Limberlost Swamp when it was drained to increase farmland. In recent years, however, conservationists have been able to bring back the swamp, so it’s possible to enjoy some of the sites depicted in the book if you go to Indiana to visit.
In the course of the story, Elnora has the opportunity to become a nature educator for the local public schools, and she and her mother discuss the best way to build the program and develop a course of study, which focuses on the key natural aspects for each month of the year. Gene Stratton Porter taught herself how to be a naturalist and science writer. As a trained and experienced curriculum educator, I certainly find her methods sound!
Note on cover photo:
The photo is of wetlands in Marshall County, IN while the Limberlost is located between Adams and Jay counties (IN). It was the best image The Lois Level could find to represent Stratton-Porter’s descriptions in the novel. Note that the Limberlost was drained during the author’s lifetime. A small part of the swamp has been redeveloped in recent years. The Limberlost as Porter saw it no longer exists.
Views of the Limberlost today, after restoration, from The Friends of the Limberlost.