Monday, October 18, 2010

Back to the Little House

Little House on the Prairie Boxed SetEvery decade or so I go back and read the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

At the time my Mom started reading this to us I was probably about the same age as Laura when she lived in the Big Woods. By the time we'd started with Little House on the PrairieLittle House on the Prairie 75th Anniversary Edition, I got tired of being restricted to a chapter a night and started reading the books on my own.

I'm a couple of years shy of 50 now and I've read the entire series at least four times. I used to have my own copies, but they got lost somewhere along in my divorce, so I suppose I'll have to hunt down another set.

Now that I've embarked on my own pioneer adventure, its probably time for me to read the series again. I'll report to you if I have any new revelations.

A few thoughts about the books before I hie off to my library and borrow some copies:

One of the things that surprised me last time was the simpleness of the language. As a seven- or nine-year-old it was relatively easy reading. As an adult reading it years later, it was almost too simple. And yet Mrs. Wilder's very clear writing style gives us a series that has held up for nearly eighty years since it was published. Unlike the works of other "classic" writers, such as Dumas and the Baroness Orczy or Austen or Melville, her clean style makes her writing always "modern" sounding, relevant and easy to connect with for every new crop of children (and adults) who read it. It's possible that her exactness and her vibrant, clear description were learned as she became the "eyes" of her blind sister, Mary. No doubt the editing by her daughter Rose Wilder Lane helped too.

As a kid, I was always fascinated with "how-to," wilderness survival and the crafts of more "primitive" times. The detailed explanations of things like building a smokehouse, making a pig's bladder into a balloon or cooking johnny cake enthralled me. These books became a detailed instruction manual for crafts I might someday undertake.

As an adult focusing on green living and a more rustic lifestyle, the how-tos are going to be eminently useful.

I'm a bit ambivalent about the TV series. Much as I liked him as an actor, I could never see Michael Landon as Pa/Charles Ingalls. Personally, Victor French, the guy who played Mr. Edwards, always seemed more like person who should have played Pa, while Edwards, from the description and illustrations of him I recall from the books, should have been played by a more scrawny jack-rabbit of a guy. Karen Grassle was near perfect as Ma/Caroline Quiner Ingalls. The same for Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls. I think one of the things that bugged me is that even though Melissa Gilbert was actually 16 or so when they started bringing in Laura's romance with Almanzo Wilder - about the same age as the real life Laura when she met him - she looked way younger (I thought she must have been about 13 at the time) and it always struck me as sort of icky. By the way, kudos to Alison Arngrim who played Nellie Olson. Playing an effective villain is challenging!

The entire series was a little too smarmy for me. At times it got so sugar-sweet that I wanted to smack the writers. It's probably not the show that's the problem, its Brady Bunch Syndrome. Any challenge that can be solved in a half-hour to and hour of TV time isn't a problem. And half the time it was something that a few moments of honest communication could have solved. And yet every once in a while it shows up on TV and I can't help watching.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesI managed to snag a copy of The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. Maybe I'll try some of the recipes and report my findings - and updated recipes no doubt - as well. I'm off to the libary, folks! Enjoy!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

1 comment:

  1. I also read and re-read all the Wilder books as a child, but I could never stand to watch the TV show because it was too far from my mental images of the people and places in the books. One of my favorite books in the series was Farmer Boy, which is about Almanzo story rather than Laura; I particularly liked the story of how he grew the prize pumpkin by feeding it milk!