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My Side of the Mountain (Mountain, #1)

So many mixed feelings about this book.

We had a sao chép of My Side of the Mountain (this edition with the movie-still cover) which I read multiple times as a child. Although it wasn’t an absolute favorite, it was a book that I lived. My neighborhood was firmly suburban, which made living off the land a little tricky, but we had a small wooded plot of land next to our house (“the woods”) in which I would periodically build “houses” by propping up large fallen branches against a tree trunk and interw

We had a sao chép of My Side of the Mountain (this edition with the movie-still cover) which I read multiple times as a child. Although it wasn’t an absolute favorite, it was a book that I lived. My neighborhood was firmly suburban, which made living off the land a little tricky, but we had a small wooded plot of land next to our house (“the woods”) in which I would periodically build “houses” by propping up large fallen branches against a tree trunk and interweaving twigs between them and stuffing the cracks with dry leaves. I also wove “baskets” from the stalks of some kind of plant (my baskets were very shallow, and were held together at the four corners with rubber bands). I filled these with acorns. Just like Sam Gribley I would sit outside my tree and grind acorns into flour between two stones, but after one attempt at eating them, I didn’t try again, although apparently there are ways to leach the bitterness out.

Although I accepted everything about the premise uncritically (why shouldn’t it be easy, and even pleasant to spend a winter living in a hollow tree in the mountains, if the author assures me it is?), I do remember feeling annoyed at the ending, which, young though I was, I perceived as sexist.

[In the very rushed last chapter, Sam is joined by his parents and seven siblings who’ve come to live on the mountain — the crowd he left home to escape. He takes his brothers falcon hunting, but not his sisters. Sam is surprised when he learns that his mother — a complete non-character, who is never given a line — insists on living in a house. “Your mother said she was going to give you a decent home,” Dad says, “and in her way of looking at it, that means a roof and doors.” Ah yes, stifling female domesticity. (hide spoiler)

Perhaps that’s part of why I stopped rereading the book at some point, maybe age 12 or so, whereas many other childhood favorites remained perennial rereads.

So I read it aloud to my son, who’s been complaining lately that girls are always better than boys in books — I thought this one would be nice and bracing for him. What a difference 30 years makes. I just could not suspend my disbelief that a boy could run away, live alone in the wilderness for over a year, and so many adults, including, eventually, his parents, would be completely okay with that. Everyone: a truck driver who gives him a lift (nothing worrisome about that in a children’s book from 1959, of course), a librarian who knows all about what Sam is doing, an English professor he meets hiking in the woods, just thinks “oh kids, will be kids” and no one dreams of alerting the authorities, and apparently no one feels the tiniest pang of concern for his safety, only admiration of his wood-lore. The forest rangers, who at one point are aware of his presence, are utterly incompetent or negligent, as despite having seen his camp-site/home, they never bother returning there, even when Sam’s “wild-boy” lifestyle becomes national news. Sam, meanwhile, never gives a thought to the worry he must be causing his parents — perhaps because, judging from the evidence of the text, they never were worried.

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Another issue is that Sam is something of a Mary-Sue when it comes to living off the land. Every sort of food that he knows is good to eat, he finds. Everything he attempts to build or do works. Capturing and training a wild falcon? No problem. He makes a home in a hollow tree, which he burns out to enlarge the space. At one point in the story, it sleeps three, two of them adult men, so I’m visualizing it as being at least 7 feet in diameter. This ancient tree which was already starting to rot, and whose demise he has hastened, naturally survives a massive ice storm in the winter in which all day long the air is filled with the explosive sounds of one tree after another crashes down under the weight of an ice layer several inches thick. At one point he mentions, casually, chopping down an oak tree so that he can use its hollowed out stump as a vat in which to soften a deer hide. Apparently chopping down a tree that big with a small hand axe (presumably) is one of those easy little jobs that only warrants half a sentence. He doesn’t die of hypothermia when caught out in a blizzard, because he was protected from the snow by a ledge – Whew!

But despite all this, enough of the book had embedded itself into my being in my formative years, that I still responded the story, and my son, who is as unlike Sam Gibley as any boy could possibly be, enjoyed it unreservedly, and didn’t even express outrage and disgust when Sam tries eating bugs at one point (he normally has very strong feelings on this subject).

What I can’t figure out is if Jean Craighead George knew that certain aspect of the story are unrealistic, and if she was conscious that it lacks the emotional depth that would make Sam’s siblings and mother something other than cardboard cut-outs. I never read the two sequels, which were published in my twenties, but glancing through the reviews here, they seem to have a different tone, so maybe if she didn’t realize it at the time, she came to later.

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As I’m writing this, my son is watching the movie, from 1969, which he was thrilled to find at our library the other day. Listening to snatches of it as I type, I’m surprised that the movie-makers didn’t make more changes, but one that they did make is awful. My favorite character

So many mixed feelings about this book.We had a sao chép of My Side of the Mountain (this edition with the movie-still cover) which I read multiple times as a child. Although it wasn’t an absolute favorite, it was a book that I lived. My neighborhood was firmly suburban, which made living off the land a little tricky, but we had a small wooded plot of land next to our house (“the woods”) in which I would periodically build “houses” by propping up large fallen branches against a tree trunk and interweaving twigs between them and stuffing the cracks with dry leaves. I also wove “baskets” from the stalks of some kind of plant (my baskets were very shallow, and were held together at the four corners with rubber bands). I filled these with acorns. Just like Sam Gribley I would sit outside my tree and grind acorns into flour between two stones, but after one attempt at eating them, I didn’t try again, although apparently there are ways to leach the bitterness out.Although I accepted everything about the premise uncritically (why shouldn’t it be easy, and even pleasant to spend a winter living in a hollow tree in the mountains, if the author assures me it is?), I do remember feeling annoyed at the ending, which, young though I was, I perceived as sexist. (view spoiler) Perhaps that’s part of why I stopped rereading the book at some point, maybe age 12 or so, whereas many other childhood favorites remained perennial rereads.So I read it aloud to my son, who’s been complaining lately that girls are always better than boys in books — I thought this one would be nice and bracing for him. What a difference 30 years makes. I just could not suspend my disbelief that a boy could run away, live alone in the wilderness for over a year, and so many adults, including, eventually, his parents, would be completely okay with that. Everyone: a truck driver who gives him a lift (nothing worrisome about that in a children’s book from 1959, of course), a librarian who knows all about what Sam is doing, an English professor he meets hiking in the woods, just thinks “oh kids, will be kids” and no one dreams of alerting the authorities, and apparently no one feels the tiniest pang of concern for his safety, only admiration of his wood-lore. The forest rangers, who at one point are aware of his presence, are utterly incompetent or negligent, as despite having seen his camp-site/home, they never bother returning there, even when Sam’s “wild-boy” lifestyle becomes national news. Sam, meanwhile, never gives a thought to the worry he must be causing his parents — perhaps because, judging from the evidence of the text, they never were worried.Another issue is that Sam is something of a Mary-Sue when it comes to living off the land. Every sort of food that he knows is good to eat, he finds. Everything he attempts to build or do works. Capturing and training a wild falcon? No problem. He makes a home in a hollow tree, which he burns out to enlarge the space. At one point in the story, it sleeps three, two of them adult men, so I’m visualizing it as being at least 7 feet in diameter. This ancient tree which was already starting to rot, and whose demise he has hastened, naturally survives a massive ice storm in the winter in which all day long the air is filled with the explosive sounds of one tree after another crashes down under the weight of an ice layer several inches thick. At one point he mentions, casually, chopping down an oak tree so that he can use its hollowed out stump as a vat in which to soften a deer hide. Apparently chopping down a tree that big with a small hand axe (presumably) is one of those easy little jobs that only warrants half a sentence. He doesn’t die of hypothermia when caught out in a blizzard, because he was protected from the snow by a ledge – Whew!But despite all this, enough of the book had embedded itself into my being in my formative years, that I still responded the story, and my son, who is as unlike Sam Gibley as any boy could possibly be, enjoyed it unreservedly, and didn’t even express outrage and disgust when Sam tries eating bugs at one point (he normally has very strong feelings on this subject).What I can’t figure out is if Jean Craighead George knew that certain aspect of the story are unrealistic, and if she was conscious that it lacks the emotional depth that would make Sam’s siblings and mother something other than cardboard cut-outs. I never read the two sequels, which were published in my twenties, but glancing through the reviews here, they seem to have a different tone, so maybe if she didn’t realize it at the time, she came to later.As I’m writing this, my son is watching the movie, from 1969, which he was thrilled to find at our library the other day. Listening to snatches of it as I type, I’m surprised that the movie-makers didn’t make more changes, but one that they did make is awful. My favorite character (view spoiler) dies! Eek! How could they do that!

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