We’ve all seen the Little House on the Prairie television series. I grew up with it, and with the books. I thoroughly and (mostly) unreservedly loved both. It’s been years since I’ve seen the series, and I missed the Disney miniseries that aired a couple of years ago. When I was in high school, my Little House books were lost in a move, so it’s been even longer since I’ve read them. Via the magic of Netflix, I’ve been able to watch not only the Disney miniseries, but the original series and its pilot, and I have some rambling and disjointed thoughts and observations.
Left to right: Caroline, Carrie, Laura, Charles, Grace, and Mary Ingalls
I don’t have satellite or cable TV, and my TV reception is not good enough to get ABC, so I did not see the 2005 miniseries when it aired. I didn’t even know it existed, until I searched Netflix for the original series. I watched the miniseries, and was impressed with it. The sets, costumes, and actors were wonderful. The script was pretty good, and coincided fairly well with my recollection of the books. I don’t know how true to history the depiction of the Osage was, but it was believable. My only quibbles, and they are small, are that the music and the new age crap were out of place.
Left to right: Carrie, Mary, and Laura Ingalls, circa 1894
Jack, who was a bulldog in real life (the 19th century bulldog was most closely related to today’s Pit Bull), was depicted as an Australian Shepherd. There was a subplot that revolved around Jack’s bicolored eyes. Allegedly “Indians” called such dogs “spirit dogs” and feared them, which accounted for the Ingalls not being attacked by the local Indians. Um, no. Also, the “Enya on the Prairie” music was horribly out of place.
I went online and hunted up some critiques of the miniseries. It was a mixed bag, with some folks feeling it stuck more closely to the books than the original series and others feeling it had strayed too much. Interesting. There was pretty universal praise of the depiction of the Osage and universal condemnation of the new agey bits. So, my reactions were not out of line.
There was also criticism of which bits of the Ingalls story the creators decided to focus on. Some folks quibbled with the decision to leave Carrie out of the picture (she was born while the family was in Kansas territory). Others felt the miniseries should have shown the later parts of the Ingalls’ lives, after they’d left Kansas territory and moved to Minnesota. They didn’t like that the miniseries did not follow the same plot line as the original series.
Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder, circa 1885
Now for the interesting (to me, at least) part. I next watched the original pilot. I’d never seen it before, and assumed it would cover the family’s move to Plum Creek. Nope. It followed the exact same story line as the 2005 miniseries. In fact, the majority of scenes in the new shows followed the old pilot almost identically. The main differences between the two was the reason given for the family leaving Kansas territory and the depiction of the Indians.
In the pilot, the family were forced off their land because the government re-negotiated its treaty with the Indians, and the family were on the wrong side of the new boundary. In the 2005 miniseries, the family were accused by settling the land illegally, without having filed a proper claim. I don’t recall which is true; maybe neither is. I’m not sure it really matters much in terms of the telling of a successful story. (And, that’s what the original books were. They were stories, not strict autobiographies.)
The handling of the Indians differed between the two series, as well. In the original pilot, they are treated as flat characters. They’re just generic mid-70s teevee Indians. Caricatures. In the 2005 miniseries, the Indians are more completely depicted. They are families with children as well as a nation facing pressures and conflicts both within and without.
One thing that struck me anew while watching all the incarnations of the stories is the breadth and depth of the role pioneer women played. They weren’t just meek and mild cooks and child tenders. They helped build houses, plough fields, and harvest food. And they did it in corsets and several heavy layers of clothing, even when the weather was blisteringly hot. These women were no delicate flowers. If they had been, their families would have never survived, much less flourished, under such harsh conditions.
So, anyway, now I’m working my way through the original series. I’m about half-way through the first season, and it’s just as charming–and ham-fistedly cheesy–as I remember it being. It’s good, good stuff.
Charles Ingalls and Caroline Quiner
Caroline Quiner and Charles Ingalls
I included photos because I found them fascinating when contrasted against today’s popular representations. Doesn’t Pa resemble Abe Lincoln in that last photo?