Click on the linked title for my review of The Trees–book one of The Awakening Land by Conrad Richter.
I cannot recall when I HAD to finish a series! These three books flew by and I enjoyed every listening minute. We started in The Trees with the first settlers entering the Northwest Territory–specifically that part of Ohio where West Virginia (back then still Virginia), Pennsylvania and Ohio border each other. This is a few hours from my house–I’ve been through the area.
“A strange, uneasy feeling ran over him. If he had been wrong about his mother in this, might he by any chance have been wrong in other things about her also? Could it be even faintly possible that the children of pioneers like himself, born under more benign conditions than their parents, hated them because they themselves were weaker, resented it when their parents expected them to be strong, and so invented all kinds of intricate reasoning to prove that their parents were tyrannical and cruel, their beliefs false and obsolete, and their accomplishments trifling? Never had his mother said that. But once long ago he had heard her mention, not in as many words, that the people were too weak to follow God today, that in the Bible God made strong demands on them for perfection, so the younger generation watered God down, made Him impotent and got up all kinds of reasons why they didn’t have to follow Him but could go along their own way.”
(The Town by Conrad Richter)
In The Trees Worth Luckett takes his family and what they can carry away from their former home in Pennsylvania and enters the great forest at the start of the Northwest Territory. Eventually, this becomes the state of Ohio. Now, in book two, The Fields, his daughter Sayward and her family carve out a settlement with school, a church and farms. It is hard to write about this without spoilers! What is going on around them is the formation of the Union. While people do still think of themselves as citizens of their state first, and the country second, soon they have a township, a county and that greatest of great money-draws, a county seat to claim.
As we watch Sayward and her husband (no spoilers) help grow the hamlet of Moon Shine Church [not to be confused with the moon shine produced in the back hills and hollers across the river in “Kentuck”) we see Tatesville be born and provide a comparison of life goals for those still living the “woodsie” life.
In book three, The Town, Moon Shine Church becomes “Americus” and people start to become “townies” while “woodsies” are all but a thing of the past. Sayward, in spite of her husband, clings to her cabin and her woodsie ways. She values the tradition and hard work of her land–and that land is truly HERS. Times are changing. Brick houses, stores, maids, fancy clothing, advanced schooling–all change the way people live. In Sayward’s eye they become too soft.
These books show an essential battle that rages still–not between the forces of change and those opposed to it, but the battle of what it means to be an American. Are we the rugged individualists who went out with an ox and an ax and settled the forest? Or are we a soft bunch who eschew work in favor of convenience and ease. The more things change, the more they stay the same! We even get a sampling of the “woke” of about 1840, spouting much of the same idiotic “share the wealth” nonsense as they do today. The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun. Remember, those stepping on Plymouth Rock back in 1620 were religious fanatics and real estate developers! Nothing changes.
This trilogy needs to see the light of day. There was surprisingly little that cancel culture would object to beyond an ill-chosen, but contemporary to the story, word for burning tree stumps and some dialect for a Native American (given it was a white man writing it). On the whole I’d say 98% would be acceptable today. Sayward was a model of an independent, broad-minded, hard working women who did what had to be done. Perhaps the story wasn’t depressing enough for school assignments today?
My verdict for the whole trilogy
Have you read this trilogy? Or even one of the books? Let me know your thoughts in a comment or link to your own review post.