By Sheila Gazlay
©2014 by Sheila Gazlay
I’ve always been a reader but have never read many of the books upon which the TV series Little House on the Prairie was based. I had a sister in law who read them all cover to cover during the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Several times I think. I was more a fan of the TV show but I did read Little House in the Big Woods and one other.
I know that the stories depicted on the TV show were not the literal truth. For example one episode had someone’s house burning down with people trapped inside- Pioneer Girl apparently does tell of a fire or near fire that Wilders’ father helped put a stop to. The show was filled more with stories of what could have happened and how Laura Ingalls’ family was involved – the extent of involvement I’m sure was embellished upon for TV. The general tone of the show, though, was true. Now the story is getting a new, more adult, twist, with the publication of Pioneer Girl by South Dakota Historical Society Press.
The existence of Pioneer Girl is not news to some. There was a children’s book with that name produced based on stories from the books and there had always been talk of an unpublished manuscript with the same name. The manuscript is also mentioned by Daniel Zochart in his Ingalls biography entitled Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
When I first heard the news report about the upcoming publication of this book, my reaction was, “Why in the world would you do that?” My reaction was based on a description of the contents of the new book and how it would include stories of incest, rape, all sorts of very adult matters. It occurred to me it’d surely tarnish the image Laura Ingalls Wilder had worked to put forth in the original series. I know she worked to get Pioneer Girl published before the Little House books we now know were published but I’m not sure anyone can say for a certainty that after having gotten those books published, she would have wanted this, more scandalous, book published. Maybe not.
The book is not being marketed to children and the publishers, to their credit, are making that known. Though there will be adults – like my former sister in law – who will appreciate the way the book ties things up, I wonder if it won’t end up being, in addition to an important look at historical events in the life of a beloved writer and a piece of literary history, an ill-timed black mark on the original books