Should We Be Excited Or Scared About the Little House on he Prairie Movie?

What Women Really Think
Oct. 3 2012 2:30 PM

Should We Be Excited Or Scared About the Little House on the Prairie Movie?

little house

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House memoirs, the story of her settler family's migration from Wisconsin to (eventually) the Great Plains, and the series of books that followed it are close to holy writ in the canon of women's literature. Told from Wilder's perspective, the books recount her adventures in the schoolroom and in sod houses, through the fever that steals her sister Mary's sight and her courtship with Almanzo Wilder, the homesteader who would become her husband. The series is a phenomenon so powerful that its inspired cookbooks and memoirs of the obsessed, like Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life. So the news that Sony Pictures is considering a feature-length adaptation of the first book is a cause for both excitement and anxiety.

Part of what makes the possibility of this particular Little House remake both tantalizing and unnerving is the people who are reported to be involved in it. Abi Morgan, who has signed on to write the movie, doesn’t exactly have a resume that suggest a prairie childhood: She wrote Shame, Steve McQueen's harrowing portrait of sex addiction, the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, and created and wrote The Hour, the BBC's excellent drama about the staff of a news magazine show in 1957. Morgan has a real talent for creating adults who work through sophisticated moral tangles, often of their own making, but I'm not sure how she'll tackle a child's perspective. And David Gordon Green, who is set to direct, may have made his name with the sensitive indie All The Real Girls, but recently he's spent time on slacker comedies like Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter.

Advertisement

This isn't to say that Little House on the Prairie couldn't benefit from an adult sensibility. While the soapy memory of the television adaptation may obscure the reality of the books, part of the power of the original series is its clear-eyed observations of trying circumstances. Wilder may have been recounting childhood memories, but her experiences were hardly those of a sheltered innocent. Her family's journey was marked by dreadful fevers, culture clashes with the Native Americans settlers who were being displaced from their land, and blizzards that could strand a man, eating his children's Christmas candy to survive. Even when the family did settle into a house, they did so in a place touched by tornadoes that could break every bone in a boy's body, where the jobs available for young women took them far from their families and into homes dominated by domestic violence. The Little House books are powerful, and can be the first ones girls ever read that trusts them to reckon with grown-up fears and consequences.

A movie that honors that tension would be a real event, both for those of us who grew up with the Little House books, the adults who introduced them to us, and all the little girls in our lives we hope will come to love Laura Ingalls Wilder as much as we do. But for that to happen, Morgan and Green will have to approach the material as a new frontier to discover, as it's been for generations of readers before them.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.