Big Little House in American Literature

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler wrote, "is a subject no one has a right to mess up. Nothing but the best will do for him"; and that is how I feel about Laura Ingalls Wilder, who deserves to be ranked with Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Twain and O'Connor and Dickinson as one of the geniuses of American letters, though she has been regarded for sixty years as a "children's writer," however fine a one, and for the past ten as the "inspiration" for the television show Little House on the Prairie. (Michael Landon is probably in Hell for his part in that trivialization of a work of high literary art, with Melissa Gilbert and company likely to follow him in due course; while, as far as children's writers go, these are a relatively recent addition to the literary scene as "authors" like Stephen King, Jackie Collins, and Robert Ludlum scribble diligently to provide brain fodder for brutish and lascivious post-adolescents.) Thirty-four years after her death at the age of 90 on Rocky Ridge Farm near the town of Mansfield, Missouri, Mrs. Wilder has still to receive the critical recognition due her, although the estate itself has accrued millions. If, on the other hand, she ever does receive it, the result will probably be a mere upgrade in her literary status from "children's writer" to "Western writer," since—to paraphrase H.L. Mencken—critics must have categories,...

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