Tag Archives: Little House on the Prairie

Home to Little House

Little House on the Prairie title cardBack in mid-January, TVShowsonDVD.com announced that the first season of Little House on the Prairie would be rereleased on DVD and BluRay, with sets expected to be available on March 25, 2014. In subsequent posts on that website, the project was briefly rumoured to be discontinued immediately before they posted the official press release and cover art. This announcement was followed a month later by news that the second season would be released in the same two formats a mere six weeks after the first season, on May 6, along with one or two additional posts with the second season cover art. Judging by the fact that the first season contains part one of a six-part documentary about the series, it seems pretty likely that the remaining seasons will follow at a steady clip, especially given that the pilot telefilm aired forty years ago on March 30, 1974, and that the ongoing series premiered forty years ago on September 11, 1974.

Comparisons between Little House on the Prairie and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, and Dr. Who are obviously slight as far as content is concerned, but Little House remains in many ways a cult favourite: with all four shows, the line between “fan” and “fanatic” is often a blurry one. So the news about this DVD rerelease is exciting—perhaps literally breathtaking—for two reasons: the first, because both the picture and the sound have been substantially cleaned up (apparently it looks even better than it did in 1974); and second, because unlike the first set of DVDs released a decade ago, these sets will contain the original network broadcasts. With a lot of older shows, the versions that become the basis for DVD sets are the ones that were made for syndicated reruns, which have to be trimmed to make room for more commercials. This means—wait for it—that each episode of Little House on these DVDs will contain two to three minutes of footage that I have never seen. With 205 episodes in total (including the two-hour pilot movie, three two-hour post-series telefilms, and a three-hour retrospective special), that’s four hundred to six hundred extra minutes. In total, that’s the equivalent of FIVE OR SIX NEW EPISODES.

Now, I’m not anticipating that we’re going to discover a new character who was ritually cut out of the syndicated versions or subplots that alter character development in a radical way. It’s entirely possible that the new footage in question consists almost entirely of establishing shots and bumpers, along with extra bits of dialogue that don’t add anything substantial to the content, or more extreme close-ups of Michael Landon crying. In other words, it’s entirely possible that the editors who trimmed the original broadcasts for syndication did so pretty judiciously, even though the way they did so (abrupt fades and cuts) is jarring to watch.

The copy I ordered is still in transit and will take a while to get here, so I have a bit more waiting ahead of me. But I’m really looking forward to taking another look at a TV show that I’ve been watching, off and on, all my life. I like to think that, for me, revisiting these episodes with so much extra footage will be a lot like discovering a stack of extra photos of my family when I was a child that, for whatever reason, didn’t make it into my mother’s albums: familiar but new at the same time. In fact, I so much enjoyed writing about the pilot movie in my book Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature that this might be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to write about the overall series in a more intentional way—not only to speculate about what made it an unexpected hit in the 1970s but why it continues to endure forty years later.

Publication of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl

It’s been announced recently that the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is preparing an annotated edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoir “Pioneer Girl,” with plans to publish the book in June 2013. It’s being prepared by Pamela Smith Hill, author of the exceptional biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, which I found filled with wonderful new insights and information about Wilder, her families, and her communities.

I started reading Wilder’s books as a boy, around the same time that I watched reruns of the TV show Little House on the Prairie on the nearest CBS affiliate. Unlike a number of readers of Wilder’s texts who detested the TV show due to the huge liberties taken with the story, I found both Little House worlds equally interesting, in spite of the differences in terms of medium and storytelling style (also, alas, the books did not have extreme close-ups of Pa crying). Moreover, I’ve continued to be interested in both adapted texts and adaptations as an adult. The TV show Little House on the Prairie remains a guilty pleasure, and I confess to enjoying the wide range of parodies and mash-ups I’ve seen on YouTube. My research in the field of Ingalls-Wilder-Lane studies hasn’t been extensive, except for a few review articles and a website that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but this fall I’ll be publishing a chapter entitled “Our Home on Native Land: Adapting and Readapting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie” in my latest collection of essays, Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature. (I went over the copy-edited version not too long ago and am currently waiting for proofs. The book should be out in August or September.)

This week I started rereading Wilder’s novel Farmer Boy (the one about Almanzo), partly because I haven’t reread it in ages and partly because I’m trying to make sense of a recent sequel entitled Farmer Boy Goes West. I’ve also had a blast reading recent memoirs by Melissa Gilbert, Alison Arngrim, and Melissa Anderson, three of the actors from the TV show. I always enjoy knowing more about the people behind texts or shows that I like—even (or especially) aspects that reveal them to be real human beings.

Anyway, I’m glad Pioneer Girl will finally be available in book form. I read parts of one draft on microfilm, and it was enough to convince me that it’s a significantly different story than the one told in Wilder’s autofiction. These differences are important, especially because of the misconception that Wilder’s books are straightforward autobiography or memoir. They are, in a sense, but without insisting on total historical accuracy. In the final analysis, they are not history, but story.

Wilder’s literary and cultural legacy shows no signs of slowing down. Her books are about to be reissued in the Library of America, in two paperback volumes and in a boxed set of hardcovers, both of which are definitely on my to-buy list. Her (largely negative) depiction of Native Americans is complex and complicated (at least to an extent), and it needs to be discussed more, especially since the novel Little House on the Prairie is still being bought for children. And while there have been numerous attempts to keep the story going by devising all kinds of prequels, sequels, interquels, sidequels, abridgments, and activity books, none of these offshoots—except for the TV show Little House on the Prairie—has endured. It’s Wilder’s own story that continues to be read, reread, and discussed as a particular slice of U.S. colonial history and children’s literature. And so having access to Wilder’s original first-person memoir, which she transformed into a set of children’s books after being unable to sell it, will add tremendously to our understanding of how this purportedly “true” story came to be shaped and reshaped.

A website for the Pioneer Girl Project has also been launched, and I for one look forward to seeing more details about this book as they become available.

UPDATE: Speaking of Laura Ingalls Wilder, my friend Melanie Fishbane has just published a guest blog entry on the excellent website Beyond Little House, which is the go-to place for everything Wilder-related. She discusses the chapter “Almanzo Says Good-By” from These Happy Golden Years and even throws in the weird-but-fascinating TV movie Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, where the keyword “true” definitely belongs in quotation marks (but it’s fascinating nonetheless)

UPDATE 2: I guess I should mention that Mel and I actually drove to Dearborn, Michigan in November 2010 to see a Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit there. You can read more about it in Mel’s blog post, where I’m the unidentified “friend.”