The thing that I find interesting about this particular title in the Little House series is the fact that it is directly tied to some of my all time favorite episodes in the television series. The first of which is “Sweet Sixteen,” the episode in which Laura gets her first teaching gig, ditches the braids, dons a long dress at last and finally manages to get Almanzo Wilder to see her as a woman at last. The second is the two part episode “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” which focuses on Laura and Almanzo’s budding courtship as well as Nellie’s romance with the fictional character of Perceival Dalton and of course the Season Seven opener, “Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
Needless to say, the book varies greatly from the events of real life. Although These Happy Golden Years begins with Laura taking her first teaching assignment and Almanzo driving her to and from her lodging each week, Laura is not excited about being a teacher at all. She is forced to live with a disagreeable couple, does not warm to her pupils and finds herself stuck in that position of being not quite a girl and not yet a woman. Although it was obvious from the last book that Almanzo was smitten with Laura and continues his infatuation in this title, he’s too proper to act on it beyond being kind enough to give her a lift two and from Ma and Pa’s. There are no stolen kisses and no confessions of love. In fact, when her teaching assignment is complete, he drops her off at home and tells her goodbye with no expectation of seeing her beyond that.
There is also this sense that Laura has become pretty and popular throughout the town judging by the number of young lads who come by to take her “buggy riding.” However, she only has eyes for Almanzo, who eventually begins taking her out in his buck board on Sunday afternoons…but unfortunately so does Nellie Olson who joins them on a buggy ride that convinces everyone in the trio that she has little in common with Mr. Wilder. Eventually the two become engaged and marry in what was originally supposed to be the finale of the Little House series.
One thing that I find unique about this title is the fact that it covers far more time than previous books in the series, which more or less seem centered on one year at a time. These Happy Golden Years covers several years implying that Laura and Almanzo took their time to settle down with one another. A number of characters from books past make cameo appearances including Mary who has been away at college, and several relatives from the Big Woods, which shows Laura Ingalls Wilder was cognizant that she owed it to her readership to give them an update on where everything stood as she prepared to end her series.
Re-reading the Little House series this summer made me appreciate just how big of a contribution Wilder made to children’s and young adult literature. The character of Laura (though autobiographical) is really one of the first to set the stage for characters that would age with their readers not unlike a certain boy wizard named Harry. However, although These Happy Golden Years was designed to be the final chapter of the Little House saga, in time Laura’s daughter Rose would see to it that there would be yet another installment of the beloved books before declaring the series at an end.