Sunday, January 8, 2012

Swift Rivers, by Cornelia Meigs

My goodness, this is the fourth book by Cornelia Meigs that I've reviewed for this blog. I'm glad to say that her writing definitely improves with time! This book actually takes place along the Mississippi and nowhere near the ocean, but I'm giving it a "sea voyage" tag anyway because I think it's close enough.

Chris Dahlberg lives in Minnesota, in farming country with his Uncle Nels. Both of his parents are dead and Nels has pledged to care for Chris, but Nels is a temperamental man who has grown to resent the young man more and more over time. Fortunately, Chris is well-liked in his small community and very beloved by his grandfather, Alexis Dahlberg.

Alexis was one of the region's first settlers and has marked the passage of time by a large walnut tree growing outside of his cabin. Unfortunately, as he has aged, Alexis has become weaker. Although he'd scarcely admit it or ask for help, he needs it. Chris can clearly see it, and after the winter's major work is completed, he defies his uncle to go stay with his grandfather for a few days to see that he is settling in well for the season ahead. He feels helpless to ensure his grandfather's security, and his own security becomes uncertain when he returns to Nels's home, only to find that the gate has been barred to him for his act of defiance. In the midst of a snowstorm, Chris is forced to turn around and is fortunately able to take shelter with kind neighbors.

This exclusion from Nels's home, however, turns out to be a great blessing to Chris, because he is now free of obligation to the man and is able to truly take his future into his own hands. He met a man the previous fall who had told him of the great fortune to be made in timber in Saint Louis, and since land closer to the city had become deforested, Minnesota would be in a good position to profit if they could fell trees and raft them down the Mississippi. Alexis agrees that this could be a great venture for his grandson to undertake, and to show his confidence, he himself fells the great walnut tree on his property. As soon as spring thaw begins and the river swells, Chris begins his journey.

The remainder of the story reminded me in many ways of a Grimm fairy tale- Chris is a kind and trustworthy young man who is rewarded for his honesty and candor. When he greets strangers with assistance and kindness, he later encounters them and finds that they are in a position to be of great help to him. He does encounter trials and dishonest men during his long journey, but also makes a number of lifelong friends of good character and skill. All works out in the end, including his issues with Nels. Not a bad little book at all, and more easily accessible due to a 1994 reprint (which I've done some investigation into, but that's a tangent post for another day, when I've gotten more resolution!).

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