This is a fine episode because it deals so charmingly with the way children see things and dream of the future. While fishing, Laura and her friend, Jonah, find "gold" in Plum Creek. They spend weeks secretly panning one screen-door full at a time (using a screen door "borrowed" from Oleson's Mercantile). After weeks of work, the twosome skip school to haul their treasure to the bank--where Mr. Sprague has the painful duty of telling the kids that what they've found is actually iron pyrite--better known as "fool's gold". In a touching final scene, Laura tells her Pa that her disappointment is mostly felt because she wanted to buy nice things for him. He replies that she gives him, "everything he needs, every single day. All the gold in the world can't buy that". Watch for the hilarious "dream sequences", where the Ingalls are featured in white finery and jewels, while the Olesons are barefoot and don dirty sackcloths. Priceless.
Miss Beadle has been teaching the children about the gold at Sutter's Mill and the lesson gives Laura and her young friend, Jonah, the idea to try panning for some themselves down at the creek.
From here on, things get pretty predictable, although they are very sweet as Laura and her young buddy find what they believe to be a ton of gold. Laura has dreams of fine dresses and mansions (and buying everything from the Oleson's store!) and of riches beyond her wildest dreams. Naturally, both she and Jonah and shattered when they take a ton of their gold dust to Mr. Sprague at the bank and find that they have only Fool's Gold, so there will not be extra riches right now after all.
I love this episode for it's simplicity. What child doesn't dream of becoming filthy rich and getting everything they always wanted? You have to watch this one firmly believing in the innocence of youth, as it may be hard to fathom 2 children finding gold (or thinking they had), panning it for days and days and never telling a soul. Or suspecting that something's not right. How hard they worked in pursuit of something they didn't realize wasn't genuine was so bittersweet. You admire them for their tenacity, but feel sad for their gullibility. It's one of those "I don't know whether to laugh or cry" episodes.
The best scenes, and the ones where you're definately laughing, are the dream sequences. Laura dreams of a life as a wealthy girl, with her family dressed in finery and owning half the town. For some reason, in these dreams, the Ingalls' wealth coincides with the implosion of the Oleson fortune and they are filthy and destitute in these dreams. It's hilarious, more so thanks to the hillbilly soundtrack that accompanies them.
Laura is heartbroken when she realizes the truth. She is not angry about the wasted work, but sad that she won't be able to give to her family the way that she dreamed of.
Pa tells her that she gives joy to her family everyday and that is better than gold. One of the messages here is obviously that the Ingalls' have a wealth of a different kind. It's much the same as the "Richest Man in Walnut Grove" theme. That if you have a family that you love and can be with, then there is no better happiness that money can buy.
This comes up again once or more, usually accompanied by complaints about Nellie and how she has everything she wants, so clearly it was a theme that was important to core of the show. To indicate that although she had so little materially, Laura's life was full of other riches. Which is why we still read her books today.
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