My take on the Elsie Dinsmore series.

Spoiler alert:  It's not positive.

In fact, it will very probably be volcanic.  Unlike most other times I present an opinion, I do not feel the need right now to filter my thoughts and feelings out of consideration for those who may have different ones.  I hate this series.  I think this series is incredibly (to use a very 21st-century term) toxic.  I think it deserves to be eviscerated with passion and righteous indignation, and that is precisely what I intend to do.


[Full disclosure before we begin:  As I've edited and continued working on this post, I have tried to stick to a mainly "fun" rant format, without going into too much "gory" personal detail.  I still talk about all my problems with it, but I've deleted some "tearful" parts because it just changed the vibe a bit too much.  I'm going to try to keep things Very Frustrated instead of weepy, if possible, but . . . things could have (and have) gotten weepy.  Just so you know.  It's all fun and games, but it's also definitely for sure not.]

[Did that make any sense?  Maybe not.  Oh, well.]

Right, let's get to it!

✾ ✾ ✾ ✾ ✾

I read several (not all, mercifully) of the original Elsie Dinsmore books when I was pretty young, like probably anywhere from six to eleven.  The really strange thing is I knew I hated these books as I continued to read them.  I attribute this to the fact that, unfortunately, the books are actually rather well-written.  Also maybe I just loved to hate them??  Maybe they were a vehicle for catharsis?  Who can know.

Anywho, I came to realize (actually, I pretty much always knew) how damaging this series is, and I started sifting through the messages and characters and trying to analyze them and their impact on me in a more thorough way.  I think it's worth discussing, because I think a lot of people have read this series and have probably unconsciously been damaged by it, as well.  So, today, I'm going to analyze three of the biggest "problem areas" within the books by examining specific examples of each.

✾ Let's start with Elsie Dinsmore herself, shall we?

This girl is perpetually held up as a model of Christianity in the books, but the brand of Christianity adulated in this series is so incredibly inaccurate and misleading and unhealthy.

~ Because of Elsie's example, I struggled for a long time with trying to make myself "feel" more love for God.  Elsie lived in a spiritual world of perpetual emotional indulgence and recognition, where lack of emotional stimulation was always or nearly always the result of unresolved sin and therefore a punishment of God.  Whenever she had one of her "quiet times," she always came away "refreshed" and "peaceful" and "full of love".  And when that didn't happen, she would more often than not trace that lack of tangible spiritual incandescence to a personal failing.

And guess what the most common and also the most horrific sin in this series was?  (I'll give you a hint:  major worry and struggle of mine for years.)

Have you guessed it?

It was idolatry. (*ding ding ding*)

Elsie routinely realized that she loved other people more than God, and that needed to be Dealt With.

To clarify, idolatry is a real issue.  I get that.  I just think it's
probably misrepresented here.

So, yeah, little pint-sized me started worrying way too early in life that I wasn't devoted enough to God (and I feel pretty confident that it planted the seeds of worrying that I was too devoted to other things, which would bloom so charmingly later in my life).  I was troubled, as a little girl, by the fact that I did not feel much "love" for God.  Certainly not the flamboyant love that Elsie felt for the Savior.  And, dreadful as it was, I was pretty sure I loved my parents more than God.  Because, you know, it's obviously wrong and spiritually unnatural for children to love their earthly parents more than God.  God had said, after all, that anyone who loved their relatives more than Him was unworthy of Him.

(Thankfully, when I brought this particular concern to my mother, she was able to lay my fears to rest with the explanation that that verse in the Bible, she was fairly certain, was directed more to adults than to SMALL CHILDREN, but anyway.)

Fear, and striving, and lack of security and knowledge of being loved--which were already problems with which I was dealing because of other issues in my life--entered my spiritual walk and tainted it as it was beginning.  Of course, the work that God was doing in my life and was going to do in the future was so not even close to being bound by the poison I was ingesting, but I still did damage to myself.  I still have those scars and wounds and misconceptions to deal with.

~ Because of Elsie (and my own natural tendencies, in fairness), I still struggle with understanding why authentic, God-honoring Christianity does not entail utter servility and doormat-ness.  Elsie literally puts up with anything from anybody, which I passionately hated on a surface level even as I was reading the books, but which, I believe, penetrated my subconscious with a disturbing uncertainty.  After all, Elsie clearly had more spiritual experience than I did, and she obviously thought that standing up for oneself was a poor imitation of the meekness of Jesus, so . . . who was I to say differently?  Maybe submitting oneself to God does mean putting yourself through a crucible of self-sacrifice even in interpersonal relationships, even to the point of enabling abuse.  How should I know?

I'm still working through this, but I have been making some progress, and if anyone is interested in a couple ideas and/or Scriptures that have "gotten me thinking" about how this mindset is probably completely false, hit me up in the comments.

~ Also, as an aside, WHAT EIGHT-YEAR-OLD CHILD HAS JEREMIAH AND LAMENTATIONS AS THEIR GO-TO BIBLE BOOKS?!?!?!

(Oh, but right, I was forgetting--she was Lonely™.  Whatever.)

✾ Next we come to the person who is, I'm fairly certain, my absolute most hated fictional character EVER.  (Which, if you know me and my feelings about a certain Lord of the Rings character and a certain idiotic Gothic romance doctor, is saying quiiiiiite a bit.)

This person is


and I literally will not be able to convey the depth of hatred and disgust I have for him in this post.  (Because to do so would require far more time than we have.)

~ Horace Dinsmore, Jr. is troubling in a plethora of ways, but the biggest one is the fact that he undergoes no character improvement at. all.

Think about that.  In the second book, he "becomes a Christian," and even that has no significant effect on him whatsoever.  That's a problem, guys.

People may argue, "Oh, but he comes to appreciate Elsie's values!  He becomes more loving!  The Christian faith is important to him!"

(And I will argue right back, "No, it isn't.  Not the real Christian faith.")

Sure, he no longer punishes Elsie for refusing on the Sabbath to touch anything that isn't explicitly spiritual with a ten-foot pole (ahem, more on that later).  Sure, he starts . . . reading the Bible?  I guess?  Maybe?  But it doesn't change him at all.  

What I think is so awful about this character is that he is presented in such a way that his control complex and his misplaced sense of universal authority and his tendency towards emotional brutality all become divinely legitimized when he "converts".  All he has to do is name the name of Christ and suddenly all his loudest sins become justified--become, in fact, his prerogative

And that, my friends, is disgusting to me in the extreme.  

~ The man's punishments for Elsie are as out-of-line in motivation as they are in execution.  He banishes her to a closet and then forgets about her.  He withholds affection from her whenever she offends his Fragile Masculinity by daring to disregard his All-Inclusive Authority™ on any point.


He gets angry when she cuts like a fifth of an inch of one of her precious gossamer curls off.  He "likes his little girl's hair unspoiled," or some borderline predatorial garbage like that.  He refuses to accept that she could legitimately, innocently forget one of his thousands of commands and instead rails about how it must mean she doesn't respect his orders enough to commit them to memory.  

?!?!?!?!  I just . . . I can't.

~ ALSO, he thinks his authority extends to every single child he ever encounters, ever.  I'm not kidding.  The guy's gall is staggering.  In his mind--and apparently in the minds of all parents in the series, too??--he has the same level of authority over non-biological great-grandchildren as he does over Elsie.

(Like how when Lulu dares to have Spirit™ and physically defends herself against an abusive piano teacher, he--and everyone else--is instantly all, "Devil child, devil child!" and punishes her disproportionately and UGH I JUST HATE ALL OF THEM SO MUCH THEY'RE ALL SO AWFUL.)  (It was satisfying to get to use that Hairspray quote . . . :-P)

✾ Have I mentioned this series' inaccurate representation of the Biblical Christian lifestyle?  

~ Sundays, in these books, are to be "kept" with explicitly legalistic rigidity.  Acceptable occupations for the day are church attendance, prayer, holy thoughts, reading of either the Bible or Pilgrim's Progress, (presumably) eating and other bodily necessities, and absolutely Nothing Else.  Transgress these boundaries and you have Violated The Sabbath.  

~ (Prayer, by the way--unless prohibited by physical impairments--is to be performed On One's Knees with One's Hands Clasped.  Closets are good, too.)

~ And then there's Catholicism.  (Or, as Elsie and her progeny would prefer to call it, Satan's Playground.)

*biiiiiiggggg sigh*

May I take this opportunity to issue what I believe is a much-needed PSA to all my Protestant homies?

─────────────────────────────

Catholics do not worship Mary. 

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As I understand it, having accumulated a little bit of knowledge of the Catholic belief system due to various readings and having several Catholic relatives and friends, Catholics (at least those who subscribe to traditional, orthodox Catholic tenets) believe that Mary was sinless--"immaculate"--but not divine.  And I understand that, from the Protestant perspective, this is a theological impossibility.  We believe that the only sinless being is God and that all humans everywhere at every time in all of history (after the Fall) have been sinful.  I understand that, for us, calling any human being sinless could be considered the equivalent of blasphemy for that reason.  


But Catholics view that differently.  For Catholics, it's not blasphemous to say that a human being could be both sinless and human, because, for them, this is such an unusual situation.  Catholics believe that Mary was unique out of all humanity and therefore blessed by God with freedom from sin in order that Christ could have a stainless vessel by which to come into the world.  You do not have to agree with this belief.  I, myself, do not agree with this belief.  But I also don't agree that holding this belief--in the unique, particular way that Catholics hold it, not ascribing deity to her and therefore not worshipping her and not relying on her for the salvation of their souls from the damnation of their sinful nature--sidelines Catholic Christians into some sort of invalid, illegitimate cult.  I don't agree that it means that they're "not really Christians".

And I know that's not the only issue we Protestants have with Catholic views.  I know there's everything to do with the Apocrypha and icons and rosaries and the saints and all of that.  But I think the Mary issue is one of the big ones that contributes to some ungracious attitudes towards Catholicism and Catholics.

ANYWHO.  Just wanted to put that out there.  I by no means know everything, and I understand that there are a LOT of opinions on this topic and a lot to go into when discussing it (which I obviously haven't done here), but these books do have some problematic attitudes about Catholics and I've been noticing some similar attitudes pretty prevalently in real life, so I wanted to take this opportunity to address them, however briefly.

✾ ✾ ✾ ✾ ✾

Surprisingly (for me), I think that's all I need to cover at the moment.  Huh.  

It feels very nice to get all that off my chest. ;)  I'm really interested to see what you guys have to say on all this, so let's talk in the comments!

(On a happier note, Happy St. Patrick's Day! ;))

Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Ok...so...I am actually a fan of The Elsie Dinsmore series, however, I read the updated versions from 2000. Not the originals. The original novels were edited for various reasons, primarily for the racist tendencies and also probably to give Elsie a more human appearance.

    What you said about Elsie is true. She struggled immensely with who she was and who she loved. Don't forget though, Elsie was a victim of psychological abuse from her own family. There were severe mental issues with her due to the lack of love and attention she received. Her only happiness was in her Christianity. That was where she found her value and her worth. Elsie lived out her Christianity, but as a child she was going through the motions. Reading the Bible, praying, being good and obedient. Being a Christian was her identity and at times her only sanity. Yet, at her young age, she may not have truly grasped the concept of ultimate redemption in Christ. The idea of Christ's love the extends to us and through us when we love others.

    As to your thoughts on the books inaccurate representation on Christian Lifestyle. Elsie's Christian lifestyle was actually very accurate at the time. Christianity in Elsie's day was not the Jesus Love Me, This I Know, fun filled, VBS Christianity we experience today. Christianity was taken very seriously back then. Elsie was raised as a traditional Presbyterian. They are known for their incredible strict and rigid Christian doctrine. So, it would make sense that Elsie would be so whole devoted to the her Faith, because that was Christian doctrine she was brought up in.

    Eric Liddel, the famous Olympic runner who refused to compete on Sunday, was a Scottish Presbyterian. Same intense and strict belief between him and Elsie. And yes, Elsie's views on Catholicism were accurate as well. There was still intense animosity between the Catholics and the Protestants, both sides despised each other vehemently. The stories also take place in the American South, where Catholicism is not highly looked upon. Pair that with Elsie's strict Presbyterian upbringing and then you understand why she is wary of them.

    I know that people tend to be aggravated at the way Elsie is treated and how she just takes it. Yet, look at the time period. The mid-late 19th century. This is not a modern day story. It was expected that children obey authority. Did all the Dinsmore children always do that? No. But, once again, Elsie's Christianity is her identity. She has no desire to be like her aunts and uncles who are spoiled and petulant.

    At least give her some credit for wanting to be herself and not wanting to run with the crowd.

    Your thoughts on Horace, however, are pretty much correct. He was a terrible father to Elsie in the beginning. He abandons her for 8 years and walks back in expecting to become father of the year. Yes, Horace was truly awful. I think development for Horace came (at least in the updated novels) after he married Rose Allison and she settled him down.

    Ok...I think I covered just about everything I wanted to say. At least you didn't go after Edward Travilla, because there would definitely have been problems there!

    Don't think that I'm attacking you or anything. However, some of the things that may aggravate you about Elsie Dinsmore, regarding her personality and her Christian lifestyle actually go much deeper. Abuse, neglect, rigid Christian doctrines and an extreme desire to know who she is without losing what she loves.

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    1. It seems that you and I have had very different Christian upbringings as well. You said that you struggled with Christianity because of fear, striving and lack of security in your life (in many ways those struggles aren't too different from Elsie's). So you read these stories of a little girl who also deals with fear and lack of security and see how she lives out her faith to perfection and of course, it's understandable that you would be intimidated by such a character.

      I was raised in a strong, loving Christian family and also grew up in the Presbyterian Church. So because I already had a strong Christian background, Elsie's extreme Christianity never bothered me. I more or less just smiled and thought, "Girl, you need to relax. It's not a crime to want to think about whacking your niece."

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    2. I have no quarrel with the Life of Faith revisions! I only read a few of them, but (from what I recall) they seem to be good books without all the harmful elements of the originals. (And oh, the racism! I didn't even touch on that . . . )

      That's a good point, that Elsie's a victim of abuse. But if Finley had portrayed her behavior as the unhealthy response of an abuse victim who didn't know any better, that would have been one thing. Instead, it was portrayed as an elevated and appropriate and Christ-like way to respond. That's my issue.

      I understand that her Christian lifestyle is accurate to the time, but I meant "inaccurate" as in inaccurate to what it ought to have been. Legalism has certainly been the religious status quo at various times throughout history, but that doesn't mean that it has ever been in accordance with God's actual desire for his followers' lives. Taking one's faith seriously is what one ought to do; living legalistically is mimicking the Pharisees. And the problem is that Finley wrote these books because Elsie had been adopted by her readers as a role model. That kind of Christianity was put forward as what all Christians should strive to emulate, not as one individual's personal convictions on "disputable matters," like Paul mentions in Romans.

      Same goes for the attitude towards Catholics. Period correct, but inappropriately portrayed as also Biblically correct.

      Yes, I think Horace was a decent guy in the LoF revisions. In the originals, unfortunately, he only had one positive appearance out of a 30+ book series. :-P

      Haha, yeah, I didn't really have a problem with Travilla . . . I mean, I don't love the age difference because it really is a bit much, even for then, but at least he always treated Elsie kindly and respectfully.

      That's okay! Everyone has different opinions on fiction. :)

      Thankfully, I was blessed to grow up in a strong and loving Christian family as well, but like all families it had its flaws; plus there were some unique issues in my life unrelated to Christianity that still unfortunately influenced my understanding of what my personal lifestyle ought to be. (Difficult to explain sans details.) But yes, because of some unique situations and my own personality, I developed an inaccurate impression of what my spiritual growth should look like. So because Elsie seemed like she "knew what was up" in regards to faith, you're right: I WAS intimidated by her. But then I figured out that she did NOT really "know what was up," and here we are. ;)

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    3. This! Livvy (@Olivia? @MeanwhileinRivendell ... how do I tag you lol) says exactly what I'd been meaning to say in response to this specific comment ... that yes, Elsie Dinsmore may well have been an accurate portrayal of what many Christians' lives and faiths were like back in the day, but the problem is that Elsie's legalistic, severe, xenophobic and frankly racist version of Christianity is simply WRONG ... whether in the 1800s, today, or the future.

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    4. Haha! Thanks ;)

      True! I'm glad we can all talk about our thoughts on the series, even if we disagree.

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  3. Good grief.

    I'm so glad I never read these stories, man . . .

    Because I can TELL that they are incredibly twisted & harmful & detrimental to one's spiritual health. (And you're not the only person who's had similar complaints, either; I've heard other folks who experienced this series in childhood saying much the same thing.)

    God wants us to be healthy, and happy, and relaxed. He does not want us to live our lives in mortal terror of--idk--BREATHING WRONG or something--and thereby incurring His wrath. People who subscribe to Elsie's views will be all like, "But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!!!" My favorite response to that line comes from G.K. Chesterton: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is not the end."

    Also, salvation has literally nothing to do with emotion. *huffs*

    ALSO, as a member of the oldest branch of Christianity, I would like to humbly state I don't appreciate being consigned to "Satan's Playground." *huffs some more*

    (You did a great job explaining our faith, by the way!!! THANK YOU for going to bat for us here. 'Cuz those mistaken ideas about Catholicism didn't die out with the nineteenth century . . . unfortunately. I can't count the number of times I've been told I'm 'not a Christian' or asked if I 'even believe in Jesus.' Lol.)

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    1. You're tellin' me . . .

      (I'm glad you've also had other folks tell you it was harmful to them, too. Makes one feel validated, you know.)

      That's right! Sure, there are things we ought not to do, and God won't just ignore our sins. But he confronted the Pharisees for their legalistic attitudes, so I don't think he wants us to impose this rigid, extra-Biblical standard on ourselves. (Ooh, that Chesterton quote! Food for thought, food for thought.)

      EXACTLY. Ugh. A whole other discussion, there.

      I wouldn't, either. :-/

      (You're welcome!! Your feedback was really helpful for me in putting all my thoughts together; I mean, I paraphrased what you said about how and why you believe Mary was immaculate. :-P

      Aaaagh, I'm so sorry. *sigh* You're right, there are still some problematic attitudes today.)

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  4. I almost (actually I do) think that the popularity of these books amongst the homeschool small fry is that they ARE so terrible. They truly are AWESOME to mock and pick to pieces.

    Unfortunately, there are similarities in tendencies of the horrible power structure in Elsie's life with some in the homeschool communities. As well as the legalism. Maybe that's why us kids loved to tear the books apart.

    Also, a lot of my issues have to do with the gagging sentimentality of the whole somewhat insular feeling mass of family and the absolute CREEP Mr. Travilla (Vanilla, etc.) was.

    Then, Elsie's goody-two-shoes-ness which was often straight-up just lazy. The part when she falls in love with the scoundrel was really her best moment, it was rather funny. Also, how bad her children ended up, lol.

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    1. Reading the comments and thinking more, I think a lot of the issues in Elsie tie together, the power-structure issues. Like slavery and her father's treatment (of like, everyone). It just reminds me a lot of what I read in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fisher (I love this history book, I'm like a broken record, but I wish more people would read it) about the (actual) patriarchal system in the Deep South/Backwoods and how it all sort of correlates.

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    2. Ah, that's a good point! I hope they're mainly read to be mocked . . . I just worry that some people take them seriously, or that they subconsciously influence readers (like what happened with me). And yes, unfortunately legalism is still a temptation for many, it seems.

      That's true, the books are very sentimental and saccharine. Aww, I don't know that it's fair to brand Travilla a creep. I mean, yes, it IS a little disturbing if you think about the fact that he played with Elsie when she was a child . . . but then again, so did Mr. Knightley play with Emma.

      Haha! That third book is probably one of the best books out of the generally awful series--probably the only positive appearance of Horace, plus what is probably Elsie's most human/normal moment.

      There are probably historical (and local) roots/explanations for all the harmful personal/social mores espoused in the books, you're right.

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    3. Oh, I just remembered one of my "favorite" Horace moments. When he was proposing to Rose and basically gives a panegyric to his first wife and basically tells Rose she'll be second. How romantic.

      Oh, and when Elsie tells Edward she will love him equally to her father (what the?!!!!). And her father doesn't like her calling her husband by his first name, oh, I'm remembering so many things now.

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    4. Haha! Oh, yes. As Mrs. Higgins would say, "Very nicely put, indeed . . . No woman could resist such an invitation." XD It really makes you wonder why Rose married him . . . She seemed to be such a solid, sensible, good person on the whole.

      UGH STOP. There are just so many ridiculous parts. XD

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  5. Yes girl! You did it! I completely agree with everything you said.

    There are SOOOO many problems in these books (which you and I have already talked/ ranted about numerous times).

    Yes, I get that Elsie Dinsmore did grow up in an abusive environment, and that she turned to her faith for comfort. But guuuys! The Bible NEVER condones abuse! But what Martha Finley is writing is teaching little girls to just ignore and put up with any mistreatment from others because "that's what Jesus would do". This made me sooooooooo mad reading these books. And like you said, Olivia, I didn't fully realized just how toxic these books were until I got a little older. When I was younger, I knew that something wasn't right, that things in it were wrong, but it took me years to get the "aha" moment when I realized THIS IS ACTUALLY ABUSE!!!!! And "this is NOT what Christianity is supposed to be/ look like"!!!!
    Also, even if Elsie was sorrowfully mislead, other people could see the abuse and trauma this little girl was receiving. She was 6-8 yrs old when some of this was happening! WHY didn't an ADULT step in????? AUUUUGH!!!!!
    Also, her take on Christianity was VERY legalistic, like you said. She felt bad if she even thought of doing anything "bad", such as taking a walk or thinking of telling on someone for breaking her toy or something. Also, Horace Dinsmore is the ABSOLUTE WORST and just really needs to die. Period.
    He is an absolute control freak, and manipulates Elsie's piousness and goodness to his own sick advantage. And like you said, he DOESN'T CHANGE after he becomes a Christian! He just uses his new "faith" to justify every twisted thing he does. And the only reason that he becomes a Christian in the first place is because Elsie is literally dying! And who played a main part in this tragic event? Ding! Ding! Horace Dinsmore!
    He banished her to another house, away from her mammy and from him, just because she wouldn't play a song on the piano on Sunday! Aaaaargh!!!!!
    He tells her that she can't come home until she admits she was wrong and apologizes. Of course, Elsie says that she can't because this would be "going against God". (And I'm not saying that we should compromise our beliefs, but the idea that we can only read the Bible and do Bible-related things on Sunday kind of falls under the whole mindset of the Pharisees. More concerned with all the legalistic following of the rules than following Jesus. Anyways, back to it:) Elsie becomes very ill, and is near the point of death when her father finally comes. He becomes a Christian, and Elsie, of course, recovers.
    He uses his power not only over Elsie, but also over her children, Elsie's grandchildren, and some non-biological grandchildren. Pretty much he takes it upon himself to punish and order around every single child that he is ever around. This Guy has some SERIOUS problems. But for some reason, everyone else thinks that it is completely normal!!!! *angrily types*
    From what I remember of Mr. Travilla, I think he was a pretty good guy. However, if you really think about it it is kind of weird that Elsie's father's friend married her. I mean, he played with her when she was really little and watched her grow up, for goodness sakes! And while I do think he and Elsie were good for each other, and he was really sweet and helped her during times that her father was being a complete bum, he's also significantly older than her...at least 18 years, so that is a little creepy/ weird if you think about it that way.
    I could say soooo much more, but you already covered most of the main points, and this comment is probably already long enough. :-P
    Great post, Olivia!

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    1. PREACH, GIRL.

      Yes. If Finley had made it clear that Elsie's behavior was unhealthy, that would be one thing; instead, it was more like: "Oh, isn't this SAD? Everyone treats this little angel so BADLY, but WHAT CAN SHE DO, because she must BEHAVE LIKE JESUS, so she can't DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT." *irritated look*

      Horace is just the worst, let's not even. Ugh.

      (Exactly--Elsie's beliefs are really legalistic.)

      Hehe, I know . . . I mean, Travilla was always sweet and protective and seemed like a really good guy. Buuuuuuuut he really was a bit old for her. (I guess not any older than some of the Jane Austen couples, though . . . )

      Thank you so much!!!!! :D I've really enjoyed talking about this with you.

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  6. This was actually a far more serious post than I was expecting.

    I just have a few things to say, but right up let me say that I agree with almost everything you said. :) So bravo! And what I have to say will mostly be a reiteration of your points with my own personal experience added in...

    When I was eight or nine, my mom read the first two or three Elsie Dinsmore books out loud to me. I kind of grew obsessed with the series and read the first six books a million times over. (Later a family friend gave me almost the complete series and I read all of those as well, though the books got more boring as the series progressed.) I wasn't saved at this time and thank GOD that they didn't give me a twisted view of Christianity. (I'm saved now, btw.)

    Horace is a manipulative, smothering, emotionally abusive bully.

    Elsie is way too perfect and my sister and mom and I all laugh over the series now (I don't mind rereading the books - they're nostalgic for me, pretty well written, and I'm in no danger of being influenced wrongly by them). I wouldn't give them to any of my [future] children to read until they clearly understood what good fiction is.

    So, yeah, the series is problematic, but I still indulge every now and then.

    I remember sobbing over Elsie's Widowhood, lol.

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    1. btw, my 'bravo' looks like I'm congratulating you for agreeing with my opinion :P So please ignore that - it wasn't my intention!

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    2. I'm glad they didn't give you a twisted view of Christianity, too!

      Horace is disgusting.

      I might--I repeat, MIGHT--re-read a couple of the better ones at some point, myself. We'll see.

      Fair enough. :D

      (No, no, it didn't!)

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  7. I can't say much about this because it's been too long since I've read the books, but I do remember them being somewhat problematic for me as well. Elsie is so perfect, and I remember reading about the one time when she felt a hint of anger toward her father because of some way he had treated her and then how she felt so bad like she had committed a terrible, terrible sin and needed to repent of it immediately. I get it. Being angry at people and taking that anger out on them is not what we as Christians are supposed to be doing...but on the other hand if the author is writing it as though the feeling of anger is the same thing as taking that anger out on someone...then we're left with the problematic situation of never being able to feel any sort of negative emotion at all...which is completely unnatural and impossible to do...and so we'll constantly be feeling like failures when all the time the fact that we didn't act on those feelings of anger shows that we are being guided by the Holy Spirit and that our hearts are seeking to honor and obey God. We cannot completely avoid wrong feelings, but we can, with the Lord's help, choose not to act on them and therein lies the victory.

    There's a difference between a good heroine who makes the right decisions despite her inward feelings, and a heroine who never has any bad feelings at all...and in my opinion the first one gives us a much better example to follow because she's an honest depiction of human nature, whereas the second one--well, she's not a reality and therefore can not be emulated. All she succeeds in doing is making us feel bad for not being perfect, and that's not really helpful to anyone. (At least, that's what that kind of character does to me...but then I'm a worrier and a perfectionist so that plays into it as well, I'm sure.)

    I've enjoyed the Elsie Dinsmore books in the past so it's not like I totally disapprove of them but at the same time...yes, they are quite frustrating and just the sort of book I get way too much fun out of brutally picking apart. :P Hence, I must say, I very much enjoyed reading this post. And you made some good points. It's been so long since I read the books that I can't really remember Horace Dinsmore's development as a character, but I do remember him being very strict and never wanting to back down or change his mind once he had issued a command, and how Elsie was always declaring that he had every right to demand those things of her because he was her father and he should be obeyed...or something like that. I don't know...I think it just kind of got old after awhile, too.

    Anyway, I guess that's all I have to say. Great post, Olivia! (And Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, too! :))

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    1. P.S. Oh! And I wanted to comment on your new blog layout! Your header is gorgeous. I'm just like super impressed right now...the way the paper is torn in the middle and your blog title fits right into that spot...ahhhh! I just really, really like that. And then the adorable picture of you on the sidebar!! Just beautiful. <3 <3 *hugs*

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    2. RIGHT. The Bible does say not to let the sun go down on our anger, and it says that God is slow to anger. But at the same time, anger itself is not a bad or sinful emotion. In fact, it can be appropriate and productive. The difficulty is that we as humans so often express and act out our anger negatively or sinfully, as you say. But, also as you say, it's not that we should never feel anger or act on it AT ALL.

      Yes. And especially if that heroine has feelings that are portrayed as bad feelings when THEY'RE REALLY NOT BAD FEELINGS. You know? (Yeah, I struggle with worry and perfectionism too, as you know, so I relate.)

      Thank you! Yeah, Horace is awful.

      P.S. Awwwwww, thank you!!! :D I'm SO glad you like it. That makes me happy. :D *hugs*

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  8. I had a friend who had all these really old, old, old copies of the Elsie Dinsmore books, and she loaned us 4 or 5 of them, which my mom read out loud to my brother and I, and we just kind of thought of them as quaint and legalistic and frivolous -- I remember laughing so hard over the woman who messes up words all the time and called Mr. Travilla (sp?) Mr. Vanilla or something similar? But we didn't consider them, um, serious books, I guess? Pietistic and legalistic and unrealistic is how I remember us regarding them. I haven't read them since, and I would've been like 10 at the time, so it's been a long while, and we certainly didn't read all of them, just the first few. But I can see how, if someone read them when young & impressionable and took them really seriously, they could cause Major Problems.

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    1. Ahhh, that would be Aunt Worthy in the Millie Keith series--the one who calls Travilla Vanilla, that is. :D

      See, that's a good way to approach them, "pietistic and legalistic and unrealistic." But yeah, I think that's the problem. I read them and hated them as I read them, but I was still unknowingly influenced by them.

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  9. Ah thank you for calling out one of the bad specimens of Christian literature. I have never read these in particular, but I know people who have read them as children and I've read other books similar (i.e.: unrealistic and legalistic).

    I'm a protestant as well and I do not believe that Catholics are not Christians. I believe that it is possible for them to hold wrong beliefs, but that's possible for protestants and Catholics alike! If they have the right view and belief of God and trust in Jesus for their salvation I believe they are true Christians. Thank you for mentioning that. I'm glad you agree. :)

    I'm so glad that there are a lot more GOOD Christian books being put out these days, such as Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, books by N.D. Wilson and books by Nadine Brandes.

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    1. I'm glad you never read them! But yeah, unfortunately, there are plenty of other books that have similarly harmful elements.

      Exactly! There are "disputable matters" we may ALL have false opinions on, but we won't know here on Earth.

      I've heard Goldstone Wood is really good, and I'm hoping to try one of Brandes's books sometime soon. I still think that Christian fiction needs to step it up in several ways, but there are some gems out there, you're right. :)

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  10. I personally grew up loving the Elsie books, when I was about 6-10 I loved them because I enjoyed the old-fashioned style, and then when I was about 11-13 I loved making fun of them and finding all the mistakes. There are like soooo many of them that they kept messing up the continuity. But anyways,

    I personally, even when I liked them, never really took anything spiritual from them, postivie or negative, because I knew most of what it was saying about Christianity was nonsense and tommyrot. But I still enjoyed them

    Horace was the wooooorst. Like ever.

    Touching on what you brought up about Catholicism, they really do hold Mary up in an odd way, and my catholic friends and family have talked to me more about Mary then about Jesus, which is sad. I also went to a Catholic wedding a few weeks ago, and wow, that was intense, but my main take away was when the bride and groom stood looking at the statue of Mary in silence while Ave Maria played for four minutes, and how many times Mary was brought up in contrast to Jesus. Anyways that's my two-bits.

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    1. I went to a Protestant wedding a few years ago, and the stand-out thing to me as a Catholic was that Mary wasn't mentioned at all. Which felt odd, to me, because it's not what I've been brought up to expect in a church service.

      Not bad, you understand. Just odd. Different.

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    2. It was strange, 'cause I was low-key obsessed when I read them, but I also hated them?! Confusion.

      Anyways. I'm glad they didn't really give you any negative impressions of Christianity.

      He was indeed.

      The traditional Catholic view of Mary is strange to us as Protestants, but I don't think the teachings themselves place her above Jesus. Of course, individuals may misinterpret those teachings (as individual Protestants could misinterpret a Protestant tenet), but I guess my problem is more that sometimes it seems like many Protestants stereotype ALL Catholics as, like, Mary-obsessed? And as "not really saved," or whatever.

      Interesting! I've also been to several Catholic weddings and have never experienced more of an emphasis on Mary than on Jesus, that I recall. I guess everyone's experience is different.

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  11. Wow, I didn't know anyone else read these! I agree, especially with Elsie's dad. (What the heck is wrong with him?)
    ~IrishAG

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  12. You forgot Edward talking about how he wished Elise was older than eight so he could marry her 😭😭😭

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    1. Oh my goodness, did he do that?????? Eeeeeeeeeeessssshhhhhh . . . I'd forgotten that. :-P

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    2. Yeah, he did that regularly or said he wished he was younger . . . that is my most significant memory of him . . . and why I called him a creep.

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    3. Ew ew ew. In that case, I understand. XD

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  13. Yesss... PREACH.

    *a round of applause for Olivia hitting the nail on the head* Okay! *puts glasses on and leans forward* I have time for a quick comment. :D
    FIRST OF ALL, I remember reading these books and half liking them/half getting really frustrated at them. I think I was was around the ages of 10-13 when I read 5 or so of them. (I later got on to the Mildred Keith books, which I liked better.) I relate to so much of what you said!

    First of all, I knew from the get-go that Elsie just didn't seem REAL. She was too perfect and I couldn't relate and because of all her righteousness and what was brought across as "the real Christian way", I also felt as if I was a lesser human being after reading those books. And may I add, that I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER worrying about loving my parents more than loving God too!! (After reading those books.) I never sat down and thought about it, but I think it 'damaged' me more than I realized when I read those books. (Thankfully I stopped around age 13 and never looked back. And never thought of them again. :P)

    Secondly, Horace makes me want to pull my hair out and slap him in the face for good measure.

    Thirdly, the more I think about it, the more I cannot get over how legalistic and religious those books were...! *gags* To think I read it and thought it was legitimately true and good. Dear me.

    Fourthly, I was very interested to read your thoughts about Catholicism! I don't know a whole lot about it - I have some friends (and even very distant family members) who are Catholic but I must admit I was always told that they "worshiped Mary" and they didn't believe "what we believe". Not that I always hold a grudge against Catholics - I don't! - but I am sure I don't fully understand their viewpoint, and I'm sorry for that. It's saddening to think that I can so easily prejudice myself against someone/something or misjudge, without even hearing THEIR point of view or a different perspective. I think that's something I'd like to look further into. :)

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    1. (Aww, thanks. ;))

      Yeah, I remember the Mildred Keith ones as being better, even in the original, non-Life of Faith format.

      OKAY YES. "A lesser human being" is a great way to describe the feeling. Lesser, inferior, etc. AND RIGHT?!?! WHAT WAS UP WITH THE PARENTAL STUFF?! Sigh.

      One of the only appropriate responses to Horace. *nods*

      Oh, I know. It only gets worse the more you think about it. The rage just builds. :-P *gags too*

      Thanks! I'm glad it was of interest. I'm sure there are things I don't understand about their viewpoint--or, heck, even the viewpoints of other Protestant denominations--too. And you're right, we do need to check ourselves when we find ourselves judging something without even hearing all the applicable points, perspectives, etc. But it's easy to do. :-/ I feel you!

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  14. Wow.


    I mean, wow.


    I have only read the ALoF Retellings of the Elsie series (except perhaps for one book of the original series? I have no recollection of it except that it was longer and more wordy than the ALoF versions and I got bored :P). And this post (and the comments!) are making me so grateful I didn't read the original series.

    I literally have so many thoughts and musings but I think we'll have to save it for a chat because I don't think I'll be able to compile everything into a comment. But for now...bravo. This was a grand, though-provoking post to read. :)

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    1. Yep. *nods*

      I'm glad you didn't read them, too! Yeah, the LoF ones are much better. Those, I would probably actually enjoy were I to read them again. I liked those a lot. :)

      Ooh, yay!! I can't wait to talk about it and so many other things. Sounds like a plan! And thank you. :)

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  15. Oh wow! I remember when you posted this I did want to comment, but now that I go back and realize your read the orriginals instead of ALoF, I can't really comment a whole lot. I read a few of the ALoF and still thought they were pretty dramatic but I don't remember any Catholic hatred. Thanks though for explaining the Catholic's real beliefs. <3. Gotta love the dolls though! <3 They were sooo pretty.

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    1. From what I remember -- and what others are saying -- the Life of Faith adaptations are WORLDS better.

      You're welcome! <3 Ooh, yes, I think I remember seeing those dolls, and they were gorgeous.

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  16. Hi! Thank you so much for putting this out in the world. I'm a library worker and have read probably thousands of children's books of all types at this point. I read the first four(?) of these when I was probably 10-13ish. I got at least through where she was supposed to be engaged. I too remember hating these as I read them, yet reading them anyway because surely there'd be some romance or something rewarding further along, and my mom had sweetly bought me the entire hardcover set from some mail magazine, which had to have been expensive. I'm in my twenties now, and mentioned that I thought those books had been awful, and she was crushed (I don't think she's actually read them? but anyway...). Out of every perspective I've encountered in a book, this has absolutely been the most scarring and potentially very harmful for young readers (and I read a LOT of "sweet christian children captured by savages" garbage). The literal and constant abuse from her dad and family in general was abhorrent, but more than that, her absolute need to tolerate everything "for God" was truly terrifying. I can't even work on calligraphy in the present day without thinking about the whole ink blot debacle from the first book, and it's been a decade. At this point in life I have become a buddhist, and finally found some calm and peace that seemed to have been missing in the past years. I think Christianity can be great for some people, but whatever brand was trying to be put forward in this book is a truly damaging one, and to think that it got into so many young hands, and probably still does, is very worrying. I had several "how to be a lady" types of christian books growing up, and I'm still having to actively undo my ideas built from the twisted views they presented. I grew up in a loving, well-meaning household, but the seeds of sexism planted so deeply that I had an extreme "not like other girls" mentality, among many other issues, toward the point of fully believing women weren't as good at anything, christians were indisputably the chosen race of all humanity, and my biggest hope in life would be to get married someday. Anyway, that's a lot of burdens for a tween to carry, and I'm much happier and more fun now thanks to a lot of therapy, feminism, and soul-searching.

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    1. also forgot i'm on anonymous, but one more thing I've found out about fairly recently is "Scrupulosity" otherwise known as Religious OCD. It's been a huge eye-opener, and reading someone's comment about elsie feeling she had sinned even when she hadn't reminded me of this. It's worth looking into, as it can be crippling and very helpful for people to understand, for themselves and for friends who might be struggling and not know why.

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    2. Hi! Thank you SO much for your comment. I really value it, and the thoughts you shared in it.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with this series. I think it's pretty telling that a library worker is able to say that out of all the harmful perspectives they've read, this is the worst.

      EXACTLY. The idea that you need to tolerate and enable abuse "for God," or out of "respect for authority," is disgusting.

      And being unable to think about such a commonplace thing without tracing it back to some hideous moment in the series? I RELATE.

      You're very right: the brand of Christianity championed in this series is incredibly damaging -- AND, I believe (praise God), entirely false and entirely inaccurate to the true heart of Christ. When I was writing this post, I did a bit of cursory research, and I read that some fiction writers actually incorporating the trauma of reading this into their stories. The phrase that has stuck with me is "it poisoned our souls." It's so true and so heartbreaking.

      I feel that completely. I was also raised in a loving family, but unfortunately, I managed to get my hands on these kinds of reading materials -- often not even endorsed by my parents (it was just stuff I found and read). AND THE "NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS" MENTALITY. PREEEAAACCHHH. I wrote another post a little while back about how Christian writers are STILL pushing that agenda, whether they're intending to or not.

      Those are huge burdens for a young person to carry. I'm so glad you're healing. <3 I pray we all find the TRUTH of God.

      RELIGIOUS OCD. I didn't know they'd put a name to it other than legalism or religiosity, but whatever the term, I most definitely struggle with it. Thank God, he's been healing me for years and I know he will continue to do so. There's still a way to go.

      Thank you again so much for this comment!

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