I think I’ve maybe gotten most of the ranting out of my system.
I’ve also been re-reading many People Are Stuck Inside Forever historical novels, which inevitably led to re-reading “The Long Winter,” which led to me noticing some stuff about the Little House series. And I figured I’d blog about it, in the sporadic way I’m doing everything.
Preliminary disclaimer post, though: holy shit these books are racist.
I’m not really qualified to talk about that, especially since other people have done so already and with more background. Check out https://bookriot.com/i-grew-up-with-laura-ingalls-wilder/ and https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/little-house-prairie-was-built-native-american-land-180962020/, as well as Ana Mardoll’s reread, which takes a more socially-critical look than I’m going to: http://www.anamardoll.com/2012/08/little-house-lets-read-big-woods.html.
Personally, I can do the thing I do with Lovecraft and other old SF books, where I cringe at bits and then sort of shunt them off into a form of mental discontinuity. Both privilege as a white chick and a lifetime of Disney movies have also let me treat historical novels the way I do both “1776” and “Hamilton”–essentially, divorce the work from what it’s based on and pretend it all takes place in an AU where the protagonists are way better people and, in this case, didn’t then raise a libertarian trashfire.
This isn’t a thing everyone can or should do! If the concept of the books or passages from them make you nope the fuck out, that is totally fucking understandable, because even with all the above, some things are still YIKES for me. (Plus, nobody has to read anything they don’t want to. This isn’t ninth grade, you don’t have to suffer through two hundred pages of Hemingway to pass anything.) I’m not responsible for kids, which is great for the world in general for SO MANY REASONS, and I don’t know that I’d give the books to them if I was. I also would be seriously reconsidering this whole thing if Wilder or her horrible daughter were in any position to benefit from the attention.
That said: “talented” and “good” don’t go hand in hand, stopped clocks are right twice a day, et cetera. The Little House series does some things really well (food and/or clothing porn, the proto-cosmic horror of Nature, the Nellie Oleson arc), and some things interestingly (the increasingly Jesusy bits in Silver Lake and Long Winter only for religion to drop back down again in Little Town and Golden Years, the point at which the Laura-Mary relationship changed), and I’ll probably be rambling mostly about those.
I’m going to skip Prairie. Not only is it the one with the most egregious racism–there’s a gross stereotypical Native American bit character in Long Winter, and a minstrel show in Little Town that…ugh…but Prairie is really concentrated Oh God No–but, despite being the one to lend its title to a whole series, it’s also kind of the least significant. Aside from a cool trippy bit about malaria, there’s not much there (OTHER THAN THE RACIST BITS) that isn’t in the other books: you’ve got hints of the Mary-is-a-Priss, Laura’s-a-Tomboy aspect of Big Woods and the Nature Can, and Will, Fuck You Up theme from later in the series, and that’s pretty much it,
There are biographical reasons for that–the family actually moved and then came back to Wisconsin, so a lot of the events and dynamics in Big Woods sort of bracketed the ones in Prairie–but the effect is that you don’t need to read and/or care about Prairie. Summary: the family goes to take over land the government has stolen from the Osage, there’s a lot of racist bullshit, they build a house and get malaria, Mary is the goodiest-two-shoes ever oh my GOD, they find out that they’re for serious stealing the land even by the gross racist standards of the US Government, and they leave the end.
Also you don’t get malaria from watermelons. For the record.
I will also be denying that “The First Four Years” and similar exist, because fuck you, do not subvert your happy ending. See above re: AU, and in this one Laura and Almanzo had an awesome farm and stayed near her parents and nobody lost their shit about the New Deal. Fuck off, reality.