Transcribing the Original

Many months ago I began transcribing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript into MS-Word format. It was my first contact with this historic document, and I rejoiced that Wilder had such clean handwriting, so unlike my own.

Wilder wrote Pioneer Girl as a remembrance of her childhood. It is a remarkable account in its own right, but what gives it special significance is its place in literary history, for this is the account that Wilder later spun out into the world-famous “Little House” series.

World famous those books may be, but I have a shocking confession to make: I have not read them. [Editor’s note: All these months later, Rodger has in fact at least perused some of the famous books!] That’s right; I am probably the first person since the 1930s to read her autobiographical manuscript before reading the books that it spawned. Those who have sought Pioneer Girl out before have done so because they loved the books and wanted to get closer to the truth of the story—whereas I read it because it was my job. Here am I, a newcomer to the world of Wilder, suddenly wrapped up in the Pioneer Girl Project, the most exciting development for fans and scholars of this author in years.

I feel like a bit of an outsider, but in a way, I think that my unfamiliarity made me a better transcriber, because every word was new to me. Now, of course, we’re well past the transcription stage. Now we’re deep in to research, gathering photographs, and so on, and I frequently have to refer to the published books. And when I read something that I remember from the Pioneer Girl manuscript, I get a little thrill of recognition. I’m interested to see how the story grew and, sometimes, changed. It gives me a hint, I think, of the excitement that confirmed fans of Wilder’s work will feel when they read Pioneer Girl—but in reverse.

Working on this project has definitely put the “Little House” series on my reading list. By the time Pioneer Girl goes to press, I will probably have read most of those books—just not in the right order. After that, it’ll be catch-up time.

Rodger Hartley

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7 thoughts on “Transcribing the Original

  1. Hi Rodger,
    So good to meet you this week while I was passing through Pierre after LauraPalooza. Thanks for sharing your unique – and bemusing – perspective on transcribing Pioneer Girl. You are quite right, your discoveries will be in reverse from the rest of us who have read the Little House Books and want to see the beginnings of Laura’s memories. Awaiting the finished product with excitement and baited breath.

  2. I am so excited with the news that the manuscript will now be in book form! Thanks for all your hard work and know that every “Laura” fan will appreciate it.

  3. I am a Laura fan from way back–read most of the books when I was in grade school, bought the set as an adult, and now have several books ABOUT her written by other authors. Since I live less than five hours from DeSmet, South Dakota, I have also visited there several times including four field trips with my students. I look forward to following this project to continue learning about Laura and her pioneer life.

    • Great, Kim. No details yet, but as we near the official release of the book, keep tuned to the media or this website, because there will be a big release event of some description in De Smet. Being only 5 hours away, you might not want to miss it!

  4. You MUST read the books when you get a chance! My son (6) and I have almost read through the entire series over the past 12 months. We are going to start over and read it again! There is so much to learn from Laura and her family. While I understand that what happened in the books isn’t entirely accurate to her real life childhood and adulthood, I still love these books, and feel as though I know her. 🙂

  5. Pingback: C-SPAN Stops by the Pioneer Girl Project | The Pioneer Girl Project

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