The television show, Little House on the Prairie, aired weekly in the United States from 1974 until 1982. I was six years old when the show began, and, somewhere around age 10, finally started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. I began reading her books for two reasons:
1) I wanted to know more about the Laura I saw on the television show and the historic time in which she lived and that led me to read the books.
2) I sat in the back row in my 5th grade classroom and I was so bored during Math class that I would read Wilder’s books, hidden on my lap, just below the level of the desk, while the teacher tried to instruct a room full of kids about the merits of things like long division and decimals, fractions, and percents.
There were consequences to these things:
1) I learned that the book version of Laura Ingalls told a different story than the television version of Laura Ingalls.
2) My Math skills are terrible, but I can bake my own bread and churn butter like no one’s business. I also do pretty well in Spelling Bees.
I have read of other Laura fans who only like the books and who disparage the television show as smarmy and overly-sentimental. From adult eyes, perhaps the show was syrupy, but it made my child’s soul happy to think of this family who lived so long ago, who rose to the occasion of serious challenges and endured various hardships, and who always stuck together no matter what. I enjoyed watching Television Laura battle Television Nellie Oleson. And I really, really wanted one of those bonnets they wore for sleeping at night. Later, when I read the books, I learned that Laura’s actual story was factually different from the tv show. Still, the two had their similarities: the book also involved a family who lived long ago, who rose to the occasion of serious challenges and endured various hardships. Book Laura still battles with Book Nellie Oleson. I don’t recall whether the books depict Laura and Mary wearing those shower-cap like bonnets to bed with their flannel nightgowns, but I always imagined them doing so when I read the books. For me, there was no problem reconciling TV Laura Ingalls and Book Laura Ingalls.
Since we’re on the topic of television, I’m just going to come out and admit it now. I was also a childhood fan of another TV show, also accused of being overly-sentimental, about another family enduring hardship (this time during The Great Depression) that aired around the same time as Little House on the Prairie — The Waltons (aired weekly in the U.S. from 1972-1981). Did you know that The Waltons was also based on a book? The book is Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hamner, Jr. As it turns out, some of the skills from this particular era in American history (like, say, frugality) are going to come in handy given the current economic challenges in the U.S. Almost makes me wish I had paid more attention in Math class. 🙂
I digress. What I really wanted to point out in this post is that I recently read (but can’t recall where — was it Beyond Little House? — that a boxed-set of the complete series of Little House on the Prairie will be available beginning in October. If you’re one of the fans who, like me, has no problem reconciling TV Laura and Book Laura, I thought you’d like to know. Of course, I don’t have time to watch the complete series on television myself, but it’s nice to know that I can if I ever want to.
So, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, what do you think? Is there room for both TV Laura Ingalls and Book Laura Ingalls in our collective memory of this pioneer? We know from past posts, that I have no problem with this. Remember Walt Whitman’s quote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
The sleeping bonnets I mentioned above:
And, just because there might be a few of you around my age who also watched The Waltons, “Good Night, John Boy”:
See you in the stacks!