"I see soft, slow clouds oozing across the blue, me big black chickens hanging up there, and a great feather softly sliding down. I see mighty trees, swinging vines, bright flowers, and always masses of the wild roses, with the wild rose face of me Ladybird looking through. I see the swale rocking, smell the sweetness of the blooming things, and the damp, mucky odors of the swamp; and hear me birds sing, me squirrels bark, the rattlers hiss, and the step of Wessner or Black Jack coming; and whether it's the things that I loved or the things that I feared, it's all part of the day."
Gene Stratton-Porter was many things in her 61 year life. She was an author, an amateur naturalist, a photographer, and an activist. Her love of nature and it's many beauties permeated all of her work. Though her first love was writing books on the study of nature, it was her romantic novels that both funded those projects and made her famous, both then and now.
Raised from infancy in an orphanage in Chicago, young Freckles is ignorant of both his name and his heritage. After he runs away from the harsh family that "adopted" him, he seeks work with Mr. McLean, a wealthy timber man who, despite Freckles' youth and missing hand, decides to give the young man a shot. He assigns him to guard the valuable trees in the Limberlost, a large and dangerous swamp in Indiana.
But the Limberlost is not without its beauties, and Freckles soon loses himself in its charms. He makes many friends from the many birds in the area to the Bird Woman who documents them to the beautiful and gay Swamp Angel. As time passes, evil continuously threatens both Freckles and the Limberlost itself. It will take all of Freckles' strength, courage, and nobility to defeat those who seek his ruin and win the heart of the Angel he has come to love.
My Review (Caution-Spoilers):
I have classified this novel as Children's Literature, though Young Adult might be more appropriate. It is fairly easy reading, but is probably most interesting for those about 12 years old and up. Though it is very clear that this novel was written in the early 1900s, you can't help but like it in many ways.
First off, Freckles is the kind of person that you just have to root for. He has had a lot of bad luck in his young life, but none of that stops him. He gives everything he has for those he loves. More than anything, he craves Mr. McLean's respect and trust and literally lays his life on the line to earn them. No, he's probably not the most realistic portrait of a nineteen year old man, but he is a character that you can look up to and respect.
What really sets this novel off though is the way the Limberlost is portrayed. Stratton-Porter's love of nature really shines through and makes the Limberlost a character in and of itself. It fact, you could almost say the Limberlost is the most developed character in the story. I love how Stratton-Porter describes it in its many seasons from bleak winter to blossoming spring. Her words really evoke a feeling that is breathtaking and hard to describe. I'm not exactly what you might call a "nature lover", but this story really makes me appreciate the beauty that I see out my window everyday.
Now, I do have a few problems with this story. I've already mentioned that many of the characters seem sort of flat, they are either 100% good or 100% evil. But my biggest beef is how Stratton-Porter works out Freckles' heritage. Yes, it's cool that he is descended from Irish nobles, but Stratton-Porter seems to argue that he couldn't have been anything else. She basically says that Freckles couldn't have been as true and noble as he was if his family hadn't been highborn and honest. That isn't necessarily true, for many people have risen above their family history to achieve greatness. I just think it would have made the story a bit easier to swallow if his family had been poor and he had risen above them. Not to mention it would have been nice to see Angel give herself to him even in his poverty.
These are not major problems, however, and the book is still a nice read. For its noble hero and for its portrayal of nature's beauties, Freckles is a refreshing story for young and old, and one that I think many will enjoy.
There are actually quite a few versions of "Freckles" on film, the earliest being from 1917. The 1928 version actually stars Gene Stratton-Porter herself as the Swamp Angel.
The only version I have seen was actually released under the title of City Boy. It only takes the bare bones of the plot and not even really that. It's not a bad "made for tv" movie, it's just not a very accurate portrayal of Stratton-Porter's original.