Comparing drafts of Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie first draftI know there’s been some debate about the authorship of the Little House on the Prairie books and how involved Laura’s daughter Rose was in the revision / editing / writing process. Honestly I don’t need Laura to have written the series solo: I will always find them to be amazing books, in particular the beloved third book in the series. In the back of my 65th anniversary edition of Little House on the Prairie, there’s a rather light-weight essay by William Anderson, but what I found most interesting was a photograph of the first page of Laura’s hand-written draft of the book. Not to be too cruel to Laura’s writing impulse — and we all know that we aren’t supposed to judge our early drafts, right? — but this early draft is pretty bad: flat, cliched, and stylistically bland, and obsessed with the hair and eye color of her characters. While the published opening, in comparison, sparkles–the voice so much more authoritative and confident that you have to read on (in the published version, even the paragraph breaks seem expertly done — the dramatic one sentence second paragraph makes you sit up and pay attention). If Rose’s involvement allowed Laura’s original language and story to be transformed in such a way…well, I’m really glad Rose was involved.

Here are the two versions. 

transcribed from Laura’s hand-written draft of Little House on the Prairie

Chapter one, going in. “A white-topped, covered wagon, drawn by two black ponies moved slowly across the prairie in Southern Kansas. A brindle bulldog trotted in the shade underneath. A man and woman sat on the spring-seat at the very front of the wagon. The man was driving, his bright, blue eyes looking ahead along the wagon trail, his brown beard blowing in the wind.

The woman sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap, her face nearly hidden by her sunbonnet, her cool gray eyes looking straight ahead.

A bed was made up across the back of the wagon and two little girls sat there. The sides of the wagon cover were rolled up and the prairie wind blew on them reddening their cheeks and blowing their hair every which way. The littlest girl had dark blue eyes and her hair was brown with reddish gleams like the beard of the man ahead, but the eyes of the older girl were a very light blue and her hair was golden in the sunshine.

The little girls were cool and comfortable but they were tired of riding in the wagon and….”


The published opening to Little House on the Prairie

Chapter one, Going west.

“A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees, and they never saw that little house again.

They were going to the Indian country.

Pa said there were too many people in the Big Woods now. Quite often Laura ‘heard the ringing thud of an ax which was not Pa’s ax, or the echo of a shot that did not come from his gun. The path that went by the little house had become a road. Almost every day Laura and Mary stopped their playing and stared in surprise at a wagon slowly creaking by on that road.


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