You’ve probably read at least one of the books from the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I first started reading them in kindergarten and instantly was smitten with the world that Wilder brought to life. I built houses out of Lincoln Logs and pretended that I was Pa, building a house on the prairie. My friends and I pretended that the playground was a forest and that we had to protect ourselves from bears.
My mom, who’d bought me my first copy of Little House in the Big Woods, got me a bunch of later books in the series, as well as biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Because, of course, this was back before Wikipedia and if you wanted to know about someone you had to get a book about them.) Somehow one particular four-pack of books from Costco made it into my possession; this was a chunk of a series called “The Days of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
It took me a while to realize that these books were not written by Wilder, nor were they nonfiction biographies about her. They were fictional stories about things that never happened to Wilder, written by some guy named “T.L. Tedrow.”
Now that I’m older and wiser, I know what that means. These books are fanfiction.I don’t have anything against fanfiction as a concept. From a writer’s perspective, writing fanfiction is a great way to sharpen your wit, hone your prose, and practice developing characters and plots in a ready-made universe. I just don’t think anyone should publish their fanfiction and pass it off as literature.
It might be understandable, I guess, if Mr. Tedrow embellished on events in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life that she hadn’t described in-depth in her books. But no. What Mr. Tedrow did was create an entirely inaccurate character, make up wild events (cause, you know, her real life wasn’t at all interesting) and then slap Wilder’s name on it.Think I’m exaggerating? In the four books I have, Laura Ingalls Wilder goes to the World’s Fair and becomes Alice Roosevelt‘s new BFF, helps solve a murder, gets thrown in jail for advocating women’s rights with Ellen Boyle and Susan B. Anthony, and has a second daughter named Laurie (named after herself).
None of these things happened. Also, half the books are dedicated to three made-up kids called Sherry, Terry, and Larry, and the hilarious hijinks they have with their dog Dangit.
I know this makes me sound like a totally dumb kid, but I just couldn’t process the idea that someone would make up stories about an existing historical character who’d already written books about her life, and publish them. Therefore, I concluded, these stories must be true. I walked into my second-grade class after I’d read one of the books and told my teacher about the time Laura Ingalls Wilder and Susan B. Anthony got put in jail together.
It wasn’t until I got to the last book where Wilder has her daughter Laurie, who I couldn’t find in a single biography, that I started to suspect that maybe, in the real world, people really did pull stunts like this.