Back to Little House

In 2004, while I was working on a Ph.D. in English at McMaster University in Ontario, I launched the Little House Archive as a subset of my personal website (along with a site devoted to another interest of mine, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew). Although there were (and are still) many excellent Little House resources on the web, particularly from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s publisher and from associations dedicated to promoting her legacy through tourist sites and online communities, I found that most of these sites tended to be less interested in academic scholarship or were more focused on one aspect of her cultural footprint: her life, her work, or the popular television series. Given that my interest in Ingalls Wilder Lane Studies has embraced multiple (and even competing) versions of Wilder’s life in the form of adaptations and extensions as well as the books Wilder wrote, I continued to see the value of my website as a resource. Unfortunately, I lost the bulk of this site during a migration to a new website hosting provider earlier this year. But my teaching and research interests continue to include Wilder—I taught Little House on the Prairie twice in children’s literature courses this year—and this seemed to be the right time to relaunch the site in anticipation of some fascinating new developments that are in the works for 2017, the 150th anniversary of Wilder’s birth.

In February 2017, HarperCollins will reissue Little House in the Big WoodsFarmer Boy, and Little House on the Prairie as unjacketed hardcovers with new forewords by Laura Bush, Ree Drummond, and Patricia MacLachlan, respectively, along with a trade paperback edition of The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by William Anderson, and a new edition of The Little House Book of Wisdom. Not only that, but this spring, HarperCollins will reissue some of its abridgments of Wilder’s books that were first published in the 1990s, starting with The Adventures of Laura & Jack and Pioneer Sisters in April. Also this spring, the team behind the annotated edition of Wilder’s initial first-person adult memoir, Pioneer Girl, will be publishing a collection of essays entitled Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And in July, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association will host its next Wilder conference, Little Houses, Mighty Legacy: Celebrating 150 Years of Laura Ingalls Wilder, held in Springfield, Missouri, fifty miles west of Wilder’s home in Mansfield. From the call for papers:

“LauraPalooza” embodies the community spirit, work ethic, and social interaction embraced by the Ingalls and Wilder families. Academic presentations mingle with dime socials and spelling bees. Join scholars, writers, and professionals who specialize in Ingalls and Wilder literary, historical, and cultural impacts.

The deadline for proposals is coming up soon, on 6 December 2016, the anniversary of the birth of Rose Wilder Lane. This conference follows similar events organized by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association in 2010, 2012, and 2015.

These publication and conference events demonstrate the continued relevance and appeal of Wilder’s books, in terms of sales, critical conversation, and community engagement. I look forward to continuing my investigation of all things Ingalls Wilder Lane!

Home to Little House

Back in mid-January, TVShowsonDVD.com announced that the first season of Little House on the Prairie would be rereleased on DVD and BluRay, with sets expected to be available on March 25, 2014. In subsequent posts on that website, the project was briefly rumoured to be discontinued immediately before they posted the official press release and cover art. This announcement was followed a month later by news that the second season would be released in the same two formats a mere six weeks after the first season, on May 6, along with one or two additional posts with the second season cover art. Judging by the fact that the first season contains part one of a six-part documentary about the series, it seems pretty likely that the remaining seasons will follow at a steady clip, especially given that the pilot telefilm aired forty years ago on March 30, 1974, and that the ongoing series premiered forty years ago on September 11, 1974.

Comparisons between Little House on the Prairie and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, and Dr. Who are obviously slight as far as content is concerned, but Little House remains in many ways a cult favourite: with all four shows, the line between “fan” and “fanatic” is often a blurry one. So the news about this DVD rerelease is exciting—perhaps literally breathtaking—for two reasons: first, because both the picture and the sound have been substantially cleaned up (apparently it looks even better than it did in 1974); and second, because unlike the first set of DVDs released a decade ago, these sets will contain the original network broadcasts. With a lot of older shows, the versions that become the basis for DVD sets are the ones that were made for syndicated reruns, which have to be trimmed to make room for more commercials. This means—wait for it—that each episode of Little House on these DVDs will contain two to three minutes of footage that I have never seen. With 205 episodes in total (including the two-hour pilot movie, three two-hour post-series telefilms, and a three-hour retrospective special), that’s four hundred to six hundred extra minutes. In total, that’s the equivalent of FIVE OR SIX NEW EPISODES.

Now, I’m not anticipating that we’re going to discover a new character who was ritually cut out of the syndicated versions or subplots that alter character development in a radical way. It’s entirely possible that the new footage in question consists almost entirely of establishing shots and bumpers, along with extra bits of dialogue that don’t add anything substantial to the content, or more extreme close-ups of Michael Landon crying. In other words, it’s entirely possible that the editors who trimmed the original broadcasts for syndication did so pretty judiciously, even though the way they did so (abrupt fades and cuts) is often jarring to watch.

The copy I ordered is still in transit and will take a while to get here, so I have a bit more waiting ahead of me. But I’m really looking forward to taking another look at a TV show that I’ve been watching, off and on, all my life. I like to think that, for me, revisiting these episodes with so much extra footage will be a lot like discovering a stack of extra photos of my family when I was a child that, for whatever reason, didn’t make it into my mother’s albums: familiar but new at the same time. In fact, I so much enjoyed writing about the pilot movie in my book Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature that this might be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to write about the overall series in a more intentional way—not only to speculate about what made it an unexpected hit in the 1970s but why it continues to endure forty years later.

[Note: This post originally appeared on my personal website.]

Publication of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl

It’s been announced recently that the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is preparing an annotated edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoir “Pioneer Girl,” with plans to publish the book in June 2013. It’s being prepared by Pamela Smith Hill, author of the exceptional biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, which I found filled with wonderful new insights and information about Wilder, her families, and her communities.

I started reading Wilder’s books as a boy, around the same time that I watched reruns of the TV show Little House on the Prairie on the nearest CBS affiliate. Unlike a number of readers of Wilder’s texts who detested the TV show due to the huge liberties taken with the story, I found both Little House worlds equally interesting, in spite of the differences in terms of medium and storytelling style (also, alas, the books did not have extreme close-ups of Pa crying). Moreover, I’ve continued to be interested in both adapted texts and adaptations as an adult. The TV show Little House on the Prairie remains a guilty pleasure, and I confess to enjoying the wide range of parodies and mash-ups I’ve seen on YouTube. My research in the field of Ingalls-Wilder-Lane studies hasn’t been extensive, except for a few review articles and a website that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but this fall I’ll be publishing a chapter entitled “Our Home on Native Land: Adapting and Readapting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie” in my latest collection of essays, Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature. (I went over the copy-edited version not too long ago and am currently waiting for proofs. The book should be out in August or September.)

This week I started rereading Wilder’s novel Farmer Boy (the one about Almanzo), partly because I haven’t reread it in ages and partly because I’m trying to make sense of a recent sequel entitled Farmer Boy Goes West. I’ve also had a blast reading recent memoirs by Melissa Gilbert, Alison Arngrim, and Melissa Anderson, three of the actors from the TV show. I always enjoy knowing more about the people behind texts or shows that I like—even (or especially) aspects that reveal them to be real human beings.

Anyway, I’m glad Pioneer Girl will finally be available in book form. I read parts of one draft on microfilm, and it was enough to convince me that it’s a significantly different story than the one told in Wilder’s autofiction. These differences are important, especially because of the misconception that Wilder’s books are straightforward autobiography or memoir. They are, in a sense, but without insisting on total historical accuracy. In the final analysis, they are not history, but story.

Wilder’s literary and cultural legacy shows no signs of slowing down. Her books are about to be reissued in the Library of America, in two paperback volumes and in a boxed set of hardcovers, both of which are definitely on my to-buy list. Her (largely negative) depiction of Native Americans is complex and complicated (at least to an extent), and it needs to be discussed more, especially since the novel Little House on the Prairie is still being bought for children. And while there have been numerous attempts to keep the story going by devising all kinds of prequels, sequels, interquels, sidequels, abridgments, and activity books, none of these offshoots—except for the TV show Little House on the Prairie—has endured. It’s Wilder’s own story that continues to be read, reread, and discussed as a particular slice of U.S. colonial history and children’s literature. And so having access to Wilder’s original first-person memoir, which she transformed into a set of children’s books after being unable to sell it, will add tremendously to our understanding of how this purportedly “true” story came to be shaped and reshaped.

A website for the Pioneer Girl Project has also been launched, and I for one look forward to seeing more details about this book as they become available.

UPDATE: Speaking of Laura Ingalls Wilder, my friend Melanie Fishbane has just published a guest blog entry on the excellent website Beyond Little House, which is the go-to place for everything Wilder-related. She discusses the chapter “Almanzo Says Good-By” from These Happy Golden Years and even throws in the weird-but-fascinating TV movie Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, where the keyword “true” definitely belongs in quotation marks (but it’s fascinating nonetheless).

UPDATE 2: I guess I should mention that Mel and I actually drove to Dearborn, Michigan in November 2010 to see a Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit there. You can read more about it in Mel’s blog post, where I’m the unidentified “friend.”

CFP: LauraPalooza 2012: What Would Laura Do?

[The call for papers for this exciting conference was posted recently on the website of Beyond Little House, an amazing resource for Ingalls-Wilder-Lane studies.]

The National Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association Conference

Sponsored by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association and the Department of Mass Media at Minnesota State University, Mankato

We invite submissions of paper, panel, and workshop proposals for review and possible acceptance for presentation at the second LauraPalooza conference, to be held on the campus of MSU, Mankato, July 12-14, 2012.

The theme of this year’s conference reflects the continuing interest in the lives and stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, particularly as related to American culture, history, values, and ideological practice. Participants may consider asking themselves, “What Would Laura Do?”

Topics may include:

  • The broad influence the stories have had on American popular culture in the last 75 years
  • The history of the books and their cultural, educational, political, and social influences
  • The renewed interest in women’s handwork as cultural artifacts of women’s history
  • The preservation of American folk music ways
  • The preservation of American food ways
  • The strategic and political influence of farming and farming culture in American history
  • The long-term ramifications of the 1862 Homestead Act on Western culture
  • The ever-widening circle of Lane’s politically Libertarian belief structures
  • Historical racism and its lasting effects
  • New discoveries in individual research that add to the Lane and Wilder legacies
  • Any other way you might interpret the legacies of Wilder and Lane.

Submit your proposal in the form of a 700- to 1,000-word abstract, outlining your idea and research, by midnight on December 15, 2011. All proposals should include a 200-word bio as would be appropriate for the conference program. Panel proposals should include bios for all panelists and his/her topic of discussion. Workshop proposals should include an outline of the workshop curriculum and materials needed.

We are also accepting proposals for presentations or programs for Camp Laura, an activity-based conference for elementary school children, running concurrently with Laurapalooza 2012. Please follow the same submission guidelines outlined above, but denote “Camp Laura” at the top of your abstract.

Be sure to include all contact information. Abstracts should be sent via email to amy.lauters@mnsu.edu, conference chair. Acceptance notifications will be sent out via email on the birthdate of Laura Ingalls Wilder: February 7. Those with accepted proposals will be expected to register for and attend the LauraPalooza 2012 conference. (Registration begins in February.)

Pre-order Listing for Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

Amazon.com now has a pre-order listing for a memoir by Alison Arngrim called Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, scheduled to be published by It Books in late June 2010 (coinciding with the publication of Melissa Anderson’s memoir The Way I See It.

For more information, see the official Alison Arngrim website.

Pre-order Listing for Borrowed Names

Amazon.com also has a pre-order listing for a book of poems by Jeannine Atkins titled Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters, to be published by Henry Holt and Co. on 16 March 2010. The book is geared to young adults. For more information, please read Jeannine Atkins’s LiveJournal blog.

Pre-order Listing for Growing Up Mary

Amazon.com now has a pre-order listing for a memoir by Melissa Anderson, titled Growing Up Mary: A Memoir of Little House on the Prairie. The book is scheduled to be published by Globe Pequot on 15 June 2010. Looking forward to seeing it when it’s published!

UPDATED 16 DECEMBER 2009: Anderson’s book is now titled The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Time on Little House and has the following catalog description:

When other girls her age were experiencing their first crushes, Melissa Sue Anderson was receiving handwritten marriage proposals from fans as young, and younger, than she was. When other girls were dreaming of their first kiss, Melissa was struggling through hers in front of a camera. From age eleven in 1974 until she left the show in 1981, Melissa Anderson literally grew up before the viewers of Little House on the Prairie.

Melissa, as Mary, is remembered by many as “the blind sister”—and she was the only actor in the series to be nominated for an Emmy. In Growing Up Mary, she takes readers onto the set and inside the world of the iconic series created by Michael Landon, who, Melissa discovered, was not perfect, as much as he tried to be. In this memoir she also shares her memories of working with guest stars like Todd Bridges, Lou Gossett, Jr., Mariette Hartley, Sean Penn, Patricia Neal, and Johnny Cash.

In addition to stories of life on the set, Melissa offers revealing looks at her relationships off-set with her costars, including the other Melissa (Melissa Gilbert) and Alison Arngrim, who portrayed Nellie Oleson on the show. And she relates stories of her guest appearances on iconic programs such as The Love Boat and The Brady Bunch.

Filled with personal, revealing anecdotes and memorabilia from the Little House years, this book is also a portrait of a child star who became a successful adult actress and a successful adult. These are stories from “the other Ingalls sister” that have never been told.