Thursday, June 11, 2015
It is a huge book. The editor, Pamela Smith Hill, took Wilder's original autobiography, the basis for the fictionalized Little House books, and researched every possible piece of information that Wilder wrote. Every name was investigated, every place, every statement. The result is a work in which there are more annotations than there is original writing. That did get a little tedious at times, as the actual manuscript sometimes got overwhelmed with the marginal annotations that sometimes filled entire pages.
The actual memoir is printed exactly as Wilder wrote it out longhand in the early 20th century - including misspellings and other minor errors. There were two other versions of the book out at that time, and Hill is very careful to point out where they differ from this original writing.
Based on reading this, I would say that 80% of the Little House books is factual. But as Wilder produced the books, she got a better feel for making up good plots and characterizations. In other words, she became a storyteller instead of only a memoir-writer--but that kept the books from being completely biographical. Wilder felt a great responsibility to communicate to future generations a sense of the time and place when all the Little House events occurred. She was forceful when her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who helped edit the Little House books, tried to change that sense, and insisted that the books reflect actual family life in the late 19th century rather than appear "relevant" to the children of the 20th and 21st centuries who would be reading the works. She would tell Lane, when Lane attempted an edit that Wilder did not approve of, "No - a young girl of my generation would not do that."
There were a few things in Pioneer Girl that were not included in the series. Some of the incidents were best left not included for various reasons, or did not advance the story, or simply did not fit. For example, the family's move to Burr Oak, Iowa, and the birth and death of Wilder's little brother, were in the memoir but not in the series. However, some things, such as the romance between Laura and Almanzo, were written in more detail in the memoir, and cause any longtime reader of the books to smile at learning the additional information.
Hill is a very careful researcher and writer. Pioneer Girl is a great read for anyone who loved the Little House series, or for anyone who enjoys reading and learning more and more about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life. I will add it to my collection of other books about the Little House series, and will use it as a reference as well.