I don't know about you but I spent a significant proportion of my primary school years reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching the television adaptation of the series, which used to fit nicely into the slot between coming home from church and eating lunch on a Sunday, if I remember rightly. The obsession became so great that I even remember re-enacting favourite scenes in the playground at school - the typhus epidemic from the TV show and the 'Long Winter' among others in case you're wondering; I suppose it helped that, like most people, we had a friend who was not dissimilar to Nellie Oleson. I read and re-read those books so many times, propped up in bed with a cup of tea and biscuits, that I can still remember huge chunks of their storylines.
So you can imagine how much I loved reading Samira Ahmed's piece for the Guardian, entitled 'Spirit of the Frontier'. Ahmed writes about being a childhood Ingalls fan, re-enactions and the fascination with maple syrup poured onto pans of snow (or with whatever 'molasses' and 'cornbread' were, in my case). As an adult it's intrigued me how preserving the memory of Laura and her family has become such an industry, with books, a newsletter, museums, festivals and a musical - among other things. I mean, there's even a conference called 'Laurapalooza'. This year's extravaganza included presentations such as Looking for Laura: Place, Memory, and the Authentic “Little House” and What is at Stake in Staking a Claim?. I'm not even writing this in a mocking way; to be honest I'd definitely relish taking part in a panel discussion entitled Loving Laura in a Lindsay Lohan World.
Now a couple of years ago I discovered that Christian fundamentalists of a certain persuasion don't like the Little House series. This is bemusing, as it's basically got everything that they usually love - the 19th century, large families, agrarian living and plenty of learning of Bible verses and stories with a moral. With it having been years since I read the books (I still have them but they're packed away in a box) I couldn't remember what it could be that might have caused so much offence. The piece in the Guardian cleared that one up, or at least I'm 99% sure it has, anyway. Ahmed writes about Laura:
"She married in her black cashmere dress to save the trouble and expense of an elaborate wedding, and refused to say 'I obey' in her marriage vows, defying social convention. She wrote, 'I could not obey anybody against my better judgment'..."Of course I had to go and check this out and there it is, for all to see within the pages of These Happy Golden Years:
"Then she summoned all her courage and said, 'Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?' Soberly he answered, 'Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.' "
" '... even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgement.' 'I'd never expect you to,' he told her. 'And there will be no difficulty about the ceremony, because Reverend Brown does not believe in using the word 'obey'.' 'He doesn't! Are you sure?' Laura had never been so surprised and so relieved, all at once. 'He feels very strongly about it,' Almanzo said. 'I have heard him arguing for hours and quoting Bible texts against St. Paul, on that subject.' "Clearly Reverend Brown knew his stuff! You learn something new every day.