LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I spotted that the Bismarck Tribune was looking for someone to review “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder” (Nancy Tystad Loupal, editor, South Dakota State Historical Press, 2017), I immediately contacted the editor.

Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).
Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).

Our home library has an entire shelf of books by and about Wilder, the famous prairie writer, and I’ve read them all, more than once. I still have all of my copies of the Wilder children’s books, historical fiction (mistaken by many to be nonfiction) given to me by my mother in the 1960s, and it was only this past winter that I gifted my hardcover copies of the Garth Williams’ illustrated copies of her books to my stepgranddaughter.

My mother wanted me to remember that while we were living in various Army posts around the world, I was still a child of the prairie, and what better way to do that than to read Wilder’s books?

Now, in my fifth decade, I find myself inspired by the knowledge that Laura was already in her 60s when she began writing her books, and thus I forged ahead with starting my own blog, WildDakotaWoman.blogspot.com.

Readers of Wilder are always eager to read more about her life and to visit the places she lived, as I have done over the years. This new collection of essays, a publication of The Pioneer Girl Project, by a number of notable Wilder scholars, will not disappoint. This book is a follow-up to the wildly popular “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” (SDSHS Press, 2014).

The writers of the essays explore in great depth the issues surrounding the contributions of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, to her mother’s books, Laura’s path to becoming a published author, the myths and truths found within her books and the lasting appeal of her writings. “As Wilder’s letter to (Rose Wilder) Lane attests, whenever these two strong-willed women did not see eye to eye on the manuscript, Wilder usually prevailed.”

Countless readers have been deeply touched by her books and the lessons within them, and it is fascinating to plumb the reasons why her books resonate to this day. “Once again, Laura Ingalls Wilder had proven just how relevant she was to another generation.”

Here is one of my favorite Wilder lines, quoted in the book, from a letter she wrote:

“Almanzo (her husband) still loves horses as well as when he was that Farmer Boy, but he doesn’t drive them now. He drives our new Chrysler sedan instead, at least he holds the wheel. Of course I do the driving with my tongue.”

In the essay entitled “Little Myths on the Prairie,” Michael Patrick Hearn states “It is a clean, concrete, muscular English, almost Biblical in its cadences, Hemingwayesque in its clarity and precision. It is the journalistic style Wilder burnished all those years writing for the rural press. …She dispensed with the gratuitous.”

Focusing on the settings of her books, John E. Miller writes, “The prairie, in Wilder’s writings, was a place of wonder and delight, a rich storehouse of life that pleased the eye with luscious sights of wild flowers, tall grass, animal life, and water flowing in streams and contained in lakes.” She “felt a close connection to the land and used [her] craft to express the spirit of the region.”

“The Little House series is an act of creative, edited memory.”  It has given countless readers insights into her prairie world in all its glory and has shaped a love of a unique landscape.

“The Little House is always there, a cherished place where we can go if we need it. And we will.”

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