It’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fault that I write historical fiction.
Well, not entirely. God has something to do with it too.
But I distinctly remember my mom pulling the car up to the library with me when I was little. I would jump out of the car and dash in, straight back to the shelf where all the Little House books lined up in a row, the next volume just waiting for me to snatch it up and take it to the circulation desk and then home where—oh, joy—Mommy would read me a chapter or two before bedtime.
She started reading me Little House in the Big Woods when I was five. Before that, my make-believe role of choice had been Cinderella, either before the ball (in an old patchwork skirt of my grandmother’s), or at the ball (in a beribboned petticoat and bed jacket of my mom’s). But once I met Little House, I became Laura. One of my friends and I played the roles so faithfully we even signed our notes to each other “Mary” and “Laura” in parentheses after our own names.
I’m not sure just what about these stories held such fascination for me, though I know I’m not the only reader—or writer—to date a love for historical fiction from the Little House books. But the world of prairies and sunbonnets, woodstoves, log cabins, and rag dolls captured my mind and heart to the point I nearly wished I’d been born in it. In fact, the first real story I can remember writing told of my family and me “accidentally” crossing the line between the 20th and 19th centuries while out for a drive, thus transforming our car into a covered wagon and—of course—bringing us into a delightful meeting with the Ingalls family.
And when I actually got to visit DeSmet “Little Town on the Prairie” South Dakota on a family history trip when I was nine, and visit the Surveyor’s House where the Ingalls lived while dressed in my red calico dress and carrying my own rag Charlotte—well, you can imagine.
As I’ve grown, I’ve learned from Ecclesiastes that it’s not from wisdom that I would ask, “Why were the former days better than these?” And in all honesty, I must acknowledge aspects of life a century or two ago that I am very grateful are past…from minor ones like outhouses to sobering ones like Jim Crow laws. But the fascination remains, and the majority of my most beloved books and movies take me to years gone by—without, of course, my actually having to experience the unpleasant elements. Hence one beauty of historical fiction.
But there is more. In the Scriptures, the Lord constantly encourages His people to look back and remember, to learn from the past—from others’ mistakes and failures, as well as from examples of faithful ones and most of all God’s faithfulness across the generations and in spite of, even through, human weakness and heartache. And the stories I love best are not just bonnet and parasol fluff but those that dig deeper. They uncover bits of history I didn’t know before, ingrain in me even parts I did far deeper than a textbook, and unearth from the past good to emulate and bad to learn from. They point me to the same God who was faithful then and is faithful now.
Laura Frantz does this, and Lori Benton, one of my new favorites (stay tuned for an interview with her, hopefully coming next month!). Also Sarah Sundin, Lynn Austin, Stephanie Grace Whitson, Lauraine Snelling . . . the list goes on.
I hope someday I’ll be among them, as I continue to spin my stories and learn from those who were there.
So how about you? Do you love historical fiction? If so, what—or who—first caused you to fall in love with the past?
I’ve read historical fiction for decades. Probably back to when I was ten years old.
I started making up stories in my head when I was about 12.
This phrase said it all: And the stories I love best are not just bonnet and parasol fluff but those that dig deeper. They uncover bits of history I didn’t know before, ingrain in me even parts I did far deeper than a textbook, and unearth from the past good to emulate and bad to learn from.
Haha–I love it. Now I’m wondering what some of your earliest stories were!
You are such a faithful commenter…bless you. 🙂
I LOVE historical fiction. It is definitely my favorite genre. The Royal Diaries series is what initially intrigued me with the past. Now Carolyn Meyer is one of my favorite authors. Her book about Charles Darwin was fascinating. Patricia Beatty, Elizabeth George Speare, and Bodie and Brock Thoene being some other favorites.
I, too, love this genre for what I can learn from bygone days. And it is so much more interesting than a text book of facts.
I remember you mentioning Carolyn Meyer to me one time–I should check her out. And I love Elizabeth George Speare’s books too. Thanks so much for sharing, Rachel! 🙂
Kiersti, As usual, beautifully written post. How wonderful that your mother introduced these stories to you. I can just see you dressed up in your calico and being Laura. Thank you for your biblical insight into history and for validating my love of historical fiction as well. I was a faithful Nancy Drew reader for years before I read my first historical fiction, The Silver Chalice, and got hooked.
Thanks so much for sharing, Marilyn! It’s so fun to hear everyone’s stories. 🙂
I, too, blame it on Laura (my historical fiction obsession, that is). I have a cringe-worthy memory of swishing around the house in long skirts and announcing that the chicken on the dinner table was “prairie hen.” LOL! (Mind you, this was when I was around 10 years old, not last week…)
Haha–sounds like we were kindred spirits! What a fun story. Thanks so much for sharing, Jenny! Lovely to connect with you. 🙂