There was only the enormous, empty prairie

Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Strictly this is the third Little House book, but book 2 (Farmer Boy) is actually about Wilder’s husband’s childhood, not her own, so I thought I’d skip that one for now and follow the Ingalls family story.

This is pretty different from the first Little House book. From the first page there’s loads happening, with lots of genuinely fraught moments. The Ingalls family are travelling out west in a covered wagon because Indian land in Kansas is being opened up to settlers.

Now, this is the part I have a problem with politically, because the American Indians (the Osage tribe) are being moved on by the US government and their homeland handed out free to anyone who comes and stakes a claim. I know hindsight is a fine thing and all, but it’s not like the settlers don’t know the situation. In fact, they have – knowingly – jumped the gun and turned up before the deal is final and the American Indian have been moved on, because that way they can claim the best plot of land. But that means they have some trouble to deal with – they’re in the middle of nowhere, and the American Indian aren’t too happy with the presence of these settlers and don’t seem to speak English, so communication is fraught.

However, despite my political feelings (and they weren’t helped by the racism), this was a much more enjoyable read than Little House in the Big Woods. There’s a clear story arc, with difficulties overcome, character growth and then that crushing (though possibly redemptive) ending (I won’t spoil it for those who don’t know but you can fairly easily look it up if you’re curious). It felt better written and Wikipedia suggests that Wilder did more research for this book than the rest, because she was actually only 2–3 when she lived in Kansas, not the 6–7 depicted, but she wanted to get the details right. Which I found surprising, because the descriptions of the prairie itself were so evocative, they felt like the words of someone who really knew and loved that landscape.

“There was only the enormous, empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it, and birds flying up from it and singing with joy because the sun was rising. And on the whole enormous prairie there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there.”

It was also kinda fun discussing the book with Tim, who read this about 25 years ago yet remembers it surprisingly well! I’ll continue reading and reviewing the series over the next couple of weeks.

Published 1935 by Harper and Brothers.

Source: I think this was a present, but I’m not 100% sure as I didn’t write in the book at the time.

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