Published by Arcade Publishing on September 6, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
This myth-busting book finally reveals the true story behind the beloved children's classics.
Generations of children have fallen in love with the pioneer saga of the Ingalls family, of Pa and Ma, Laura and her sisters, and their loyal dog, Jack. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books have taught millions of Americans about frontier life, giving inspiration to many and in the process becoming icons of our national identity. Yet few realize that this cherished bestselling series wandered far from the actual history of the Ingalls family and from what Laura herself understood to be central truths about pioneer life.
In this groundbreaking narrative of literary detection, Christine Woodside reveals for the first time the full extent of the collaboration between Laura and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose hated farming and fled the family homestead as an adolescent, eventually becoming a nationally prominent magazine writer, biographer of Herbert Hoover, and successful novelist, who shared the political values of Ayn Rand and became mentor to Roger Lea MacBride, the second Libertarian presidential candidate. Drawing on original manuscripts and letters, Woodside shows how Rose reshaped her mother's story into a series of heroic tales that rebutted the policies of the New Deal. Their secret collaboration would lead in time to their estrangement. A fascinating look at the relationship between two strong-willed women, Libertarians on the Prairie is also the deconstruction of an American myth.
The first books I remember buying as a kid were the Little House books. I still have them; they’ve been read so many times I had to tape the spines. In the 1990s, I read the books about Laura’s daughter Rose, and kept going to the books about Laura’s mother and grandmother. But Laura’s stories were always my favorite, and I loved Laura’s plucky attitude and pioneer spirit, and the knowledge that the Ingalls family would survive any hardship because they had each other.
Essentially, I’ve been a huge fan of the Little House books and Laura Ingalls Wilder all my life. I even embody some of that pioneer spirit. I’m a farmer. I love the land. I like being self-sufficient. After reading LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE, I have to wonder if I absorbed the intended messages of Rose Wilder Lane, the themes she slid into her mother’s books. The author deconstructs the “new” pioneer myth Rose built, shaping her mother’s stories into a vehicle for her political beliefs of freedom, love of nature, self-sufficiency, and so on.
I’m not sure if LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE will appeal to all fans of the Little House books. It can be hard to see the layers peeled back on childhood favorites, to learn that Rose carefully edited the books, picking which of Laura’s experiences best fit the ideal she wanted to portray. But I geeked out over learning more about Laura and Rose, their writing process, and their relationship, as well as how their personal beliefs and politics influenced the books.
LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE is, in part, a biography of Rose’s adult life. At first I didn’t know why Woodside was including information on Rose’s travels through Albania or her writing career. But it made sense as the book went on, showing how those travels and experiences shaped Rose just as much as her early life on the farm did. I also learned quite a bit about libertarianism; for example, I never knew Rose was one of the founders of the movement.
Overall, I found LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE interesting, educational, and eye opening. For the most part it was easy to read, laid out chronologically and written almost in a conversational manner. But I do have one quibble. Sometimes the author referred to a person by their first name, then their last name, or sometimes both names, and I didn’t always know who she meant. Or a person wouldn’t be mentioned for chapters, so when they showed up again, I didn’t remember who they were. I wish the book had a summary of important figures for reference.