Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Wilder Life

I love all things Laura Ingalls Wilder. My copies of the original series, the faded yellow paperbacks and my hardbound copies of the first 2, inscribed from my grandparents as a Christmas gift in 1976 are precious mementos I have packed and unpacked in over 12 military moves. My favorite book is the most depressing, The Long Winter, because it amazes me how anyone in that small town survived 9 months of blizzards and biting cold with very little to eat. Apparently not one settler went mad, though Charles Ingalls did raise his fist against the wind and yell that it would not defeat them. 

Many thousands of other have been similarly touched by the Little House books and so there are spin-off books, cookbooks (I still have my copy that my mother and I used to make a Little House dinner when I was in 5th grade), crafts and touristy trinkets, and museums at all the homesites where the Ingalls family lived. Wendy McClure is a writer about my age who has recently published a book, The Wilder Life, about her obsession with all things Laura. She churned her own butter, twisted a hay stick in South Dakota, contemplated filling her pocket with pebbles on the shores of Lake Pepin, spent the night in a covered wagon, and marveled at the tiny houses that the Ingalls family of 6 lived in. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit these places in her book since I have little desire and no reason to drag my family across America to see these sites myself. 

However, I do have one gripe with Ms. McClure and her recollections. Her liberal political mindset permeates her book to the extent that it is uncomfortable to read portions. She lambastes homeschoolers, libertarians, and all things Christian in every chapter. Her determination extends to rewriting the Ingalls family's story to imply that Ma and Pa were only churchgoers for the social aspects of living in deserted, lonely places on the prairie. She forgets that Ma insisted on the Sabbath being a day of rest throughout the whole series. She forgets the reference in Little Town on the Prairie when Mary won a competition at college for knowing more Bible verses than any other student. She forgets the relief Ma showed when DeSmet finally gained a church of its own. No, it wasn't just a social outlet and deep down Ms. McClure knows this, after all she could tell the guide at the DeSmet museum how many acres were included in a homestead claim and the name of Laura's corncob doll. 

There are many, many Laura books out there and this one gives something new, an overview of how meaningful the Little House series is to so many people around the world, if you can just mentally skip the author's bias against the very values and beliefs the Ingalls family held dear.

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