Literary Daybook, Feb. 7

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published February 7, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 7, 1968, the helicopter, which just dropped off Major Averitt and a few other marines, is hit and goes down.
-- "Ghostrider One" (1993)
by Gerry Carroll

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of "Little House on the Prairie" and seven other "Little House" books, was born. The books are a fictionalized account of Wilder's early years on the American frontier -- and the TV series is a fictionalized account of the books -- but even scholars view them as a valuable record of pioneer life. From birth until she married at the age of 18, the real Laura moved back and forth across the Midwestern states and the Indian and Dakota Territories with her family. Relatively few years were spent farming the prairie, and most homes were not a little house but a covered wagon, or a dugout in a creek bank, or a hotel manager's or butcher's or railroader's apartment in town. If the fiction tells a heartwarming tale of "male unrest and female patience," the biographies describe Wilder's life as a frontier Job: malaria, grasshopper plagues, the six-month blizzard of '80-'81, droughts, diphtheria, fire, going to teach at 15 and to board in the home of a woman gone mad from frontier loneliness ... Nor was the writing of them an exercise in feet-up nostalgia. A life of penny-pinching had enabled some investment, but the 1930 stock market crash left Wilder with new worries, and she turned from the casual magazine writing she had been doing to autobiography. Early rejection slips were accompanied by the advice to add more specific details of pioneer life, as well as a fictional framework. With the help of her daughter -- a writer herself, Rose had a hand in all eight books -- Wilder reworked the first part of her remarkable life into "Little House in the Big Woods," and in 1932, at the age of 65, she published her first book. That house is gone, as are the Big Woods of Pepin, Wisc., but a replica dwelling now stands on the site.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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