Sunday, January 5, 2014

Good Reads: Spencer's Mountain

I consider myself fairly well-read, so I'm a bit ashamed that I just now have read Spencer's Mountain by Earl Hamner. The book was the basis not only for the movie of the same name but also for the long-running television series, The Waltons.

Published in 1961, the novel was inspired by Hamner's own childhood and recounts the adventures of the Spencer family in an isolated area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The movie version, starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara, and James MacArthur, follows the novel very closely except for the setting. The movie was filmed around Jackson, Wyoming, with the imposing mountains as a backdrop in most scenes. In almost every other instance, though, the movie is faithful to the book.

There are many other differences between Spencer's Mountain and The Waltons, including name changes, the number of children in the household, and supporting characters. Still, the core values and characterizations remain true to the original novel.

The novel roughly follows a year in the life of the Spencers as Clay-Boy attempts to realize his dream of going to college. But the novel is more than just a story about Clay-Boy.

The movie came out in 1963, and I watched it about that time. I always felt that I was experiencing what my father's childhood must have been like to some degree, for he grew up at the same time as Clay-Boy Spencer (John-Boy Walton). And like the book and TV show, my father came from a large family. Both his father and his mother lost their original spouses. When they married, my grandfather brought 4 children to the marriage while my grandmother brought 3. To this union, my father and his younger sister were born. Altogether, the family consisted of 9 children and 2 adults struggling through the Depression years.

My father and his family lived a rural lifestyle very much like that depicted in the TV series and the book. So when I watch the TV series or read the book, I'm seeing a bit of my father's life, and I like that.

After reading Spencer's Mountain, I picked up a copy of The Homecoming, also by Hamner. This novel is also about the Spencer clan. Although written in 1970, the setting of the book is 1933, about 2 or 3 years prior to Spencer's Mountain. The story is about an anxious Christmas Eve the Spencer children and their mother spend waiting for the arrival of Clay Spencer, who has taken a job in Charlottesville and comes home only on weekends and special occasions. The journey home requires a trip first by bus, then a 6 mile walk. A heavy snow on Christmas Eve only arouses more worry in the household.

It is actually The Homecoming that jump-started The Waltons.

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