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Literature / The Martha Years

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Martha Morse

A Prequel Spinoff series to Little House on the Prairie, about Laura Ingall's great-grandmother Martha Morse.

The four books, written by Melissa Wiley, are Little House in the Highlands, The Far Side of the Loch, Down to the Bonny Glen, and Beyond the Heather Hills, chronicle Martha's life from age six to age eleven growing up in Scotland in the late 18th Century.

HarperCollins was behind the publishing of this series; years after the original series was published, they hired several people to write three prequel series, each focusing on one of Laura's relatives. The Caroline Years told the story of Laura's mother, The Charlotte Years featured Caroline's mother, and The Martha Years followed Charlotte's mother.

The original idea was for the Martha Years to take Martha all the way to adulthood, but for various reasons, this never happened.


Tropes relating to The Martha Years:

  • Aborted Arc: The series was cut short after four books, so anything not wrapped up by the end of the fourth book was cut short (most notably Martha and Lew's friendship and future courtship).
  • Aerith and Bob: Grisie, Alistair, Robbie, Duncan, Martha.
  • And Now For Something Completely Different: Martha's series compared to the other Little House Girls. She was raised in Scotland in a wealthy, upper class family compared to the rest who grew up in ordinary, working class families in America. note 
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Martha to Grisie. Annie, the daughter of one of the tenant farmer's views her siblings as this since she's saddled with looking after them.
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  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Martha and Grisie have a few of these moments, particularly in the fourth book when Grisie has married and moved away, making them realize how much they miss each other.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Subverted. Martha, though the daughter of a lairdnote , would rather go barefoot than wear shoes.
  • Benevolent Boss: Martha's father is a beloved land-owner who'd do anything to help his tenants and Martha's mother is a kind mistress to the servants. Kenneth aims for this trope as well, instead of following in his father's footsteps.
  • Big Fancy House: Fairlie, one of Martha's father's properties across the loch. (Though he and Martha both prefer their small Stone House.)
  • The Blacksmith: Mr Tucker, Lew's father. Lew is an apprentice in this series and a proper blacksmith in the next.
  • Book Worm: Alistair, Martha's oldest brother. Martha's second governess Miss Crow, who turns Martha into one too.
  • Brave Scot: Featured in Martha's mother's stories, such as the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Martha and her favourite brother Duncan concoct schemes and games together as the youngest children of the house.
  • Brutal Honesty: Cook and Mrs Sandy - the wife of Father's steward - are incredibly blunt. At one point Mrs Sandy tells Martha takes after her grandmother who was handsome but not pretty. Luckily Martha admits she prefers people saying things outright rather than hinting around.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Martha and Lew Tucker, her eventual husband. They're friendly from the first book and grow closer over the series. By The Charlotte Years they've gone through an Inter-Class Romance and are Happily Married.
  • Close-Knit Community: Everyone in the small Glen Caraid - from the villagers to the tenant farmers on the other side of the loch - knows each other and there are many local jokes, traditions and communal celebrations.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Was intended to be this; but due to Executive Meddling, the series was cut short when Martha was ten.
  • Cool Old Lady: 'Auld Mary' the local wise woman/healer/midwife who lives out on the moor and is known as the best storyteller in the county.
  • Dances and Balls: Fairlie has a fancy ballroom and Martha attends a ball there in the third book, though she had more fun at Nannie's wedding dance.
  • Determinator: Martha. In Down To The Bonny Glen she runs over three miles to get help for a sick tenant and her parents can't believe an eight-year-old made it so quickly. As an adult, she has the guts to marry Lew against all social convention and head to America.
    • Lew is also described as someone who would 'walk through a tempest' and proves it in the fourth book. (Of course, Truth in Television - people who travelled halfway round the world to start new lives had to be determinators).
  • Does Not Like Shoes: See Barefoot Poverty.
  • Fiery Red Head: Martha and her middle brother Robbie.
  • First-Name Basis: Grisie's suitor Kenneth calls her by her first name at the end of the third book, tipping off Martha and the readers that things are getting serious. By the fourth book they're married.
  • Foreshadowing: Quite a bit, as Melissa Wiley wrote the The Charlotte Years as well. Martha's books establish her curiosity about America, discomfort with her wealthy lifestyle and even discuss names for future children. There are also a lot of hints about her romance with Lew. note 

    Martha: "Pah! I wouldna want to marry some old earl. I'd rather marry someone who does something interesting with his days. I could help him...Who kens, I might just decide to marry a blacksmith instead. He'd be handy to have around when I need an iron kettle or some such."
  • Growing Up Sucks: Martha's opinion, as growing up means becoming a Proper Lady and all her siblings leaving home.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Martha and Grisie. Martha is tomboyish and lively, while Grisie is girly and reserved.
  • Happily Married: Martha's parents Allan and Margaret; Grisie and her husband Kenneth by the fourth book; Nannie (the Morse's kitchen maid) and Gerald in the third book. Lew and Martha by the next series.
  • I Am Not My Father: Kenneth is ashamed of how his father treats his tenants (kicking them off the land because he can make more money sheep-farming) and vows to be a kinder laird when he takes over.
  • Idle Rich: Martha's Uncle Harry and Aunt Grisie, who focus more on entertaining than managing their land. Martha herself feels insecure when she realizes her friend Annie cooks for her whole family while Martha isn't needed by anyone.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: While she comes to appreciate the privileges of being a laird's daughter Martha spends a lot of time wishing she could be a normal village girl or tenant's daughter. The fact her status means she stuck inside while everyone's out working and playing together doesn't help. Even the other characters acknowledge she's better at common things like cooking and working outdoors than fine accomplishments of needlework and dancing.
  • Lady of Adventure: Martha emigrated to America when her parents forbade her to marry Lew, as a single woman by herself in the 18th Century.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Like Aunt Like Niece: Discussed. Martha thinks her cousin Meg - who is jolly and friendly - takes after her own mother, Meg's aunt, particularly because she was named after her. (Meg being short for Margaret).
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Martha comments that the cheerful Kenneth relaxes Grisie, the same way Martha and Grisie's mother loosened up their serious father. Carries into the sequel series with Martha herself, as she's outgoing and talkative like her mother - though more hot-tempered - while Lew is quiet and calm.
  • Man in a Kilt: As fitting for the setting, many men are depicted wearing kilts on formal or celebratory occasions.
  • Marry for Love: Martha. Although the readers never get to see it, instead of choosing a land-owner she falls in love with common blacksmith Lew and - when her wealthy parents forbid the match - she doesn't just marry him but first leaves them and goes all the way to America so they can be together. The next series shows the pair very much Happily Married so it's clear it was all worth it.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Uncle Harry's family with seven children (Janet, Meg, David, Harold, Rachel, Mary and baby Eamonn). Also Mr and Mrs Sandy who have six children (Neil, Annie, Flora, Finlay, Donald and Peggie).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Auld Mary in Martha's eyes. She brews miraculous herbs and medicines, is able to instantly calm babies and has a cat that she talks to and is said to talk back - but Martha's unsure whether she actually has powers or just years of experience and wisdom.
  • Nice Guy: Martha's father and all three of her brothers; Gerald Cameron who found Martha a hedgehog and later married Nanny; Grisie's suitor Kenneth, and Lew, who smuggled Martha craft supplies.
  • Nice to the Waiter: All Martha's family are kind to their household servants, though Martha is particularly close to them. She feels uncomfortable when she visits her cousins and Grisie's father-in-law who aren't as familiar with the staff.
  • Not So Different: Down-to-earth Martha feels different from the ladylike Grisie, but Cook points out they're more similar than she thinks, both stubborn, sarcastic and dreaming of being somewhere else.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Grisie's father-in-law isn't the pleasantest of guys.
  • Old Maid: Cook, though she admits by choice as she had plenty of suitors she turned down. Miss Crow would be heading this way too, as she mentions she's thirty one.
  • Parents as People: Martha's mother initially thinks Martha's overreacting when she claims her governess, Miss Norrie, doesn't like her. She changes her mind when Miss Norrie, scolding Martha for misbehavior, calls Martha "wicked", and promptly fires Miss Norrie and apologizes to Martha for not believing her.
  • Plucky Girl: Martha, her friend Annie and little cousin Mary.
  • Prone to Tears: Miss Norrie, Martha's first governess is very nervous and emotional. Martha observes she "goes into a flurry" over such horrific behaviours as leaving dirty footprints in the house, getting hair messy, wanting to go for a walk up a hill and visiting the kitchen. When Martha is late for dinner Miss Norrie descends into hysterics. Even older characters like Cook, Auld Mary and later Martha's parents get tired of her.
  • The Quiet One: The Tuckers (Lew's family) are this to the whole valley. Everyone jokes that the world will end if two of them speak on the same day.
  • Rebellious Spirit: Martha and a constant issue in the series as she feels restrained by the expectations of being 'the laird's daughter' and wants to be normal like everyone else. Clearly her rebellion only grows as she's emigrated to America by the next series.
  • Riches to Rags: Martha between this series and the next. Or rather Riches To Commoner as she isn't poor as a blacksmith's wife but certainly loses the status and luxury she grew up with. Played with in that she was never comfortable with her wealthy lifestyle, chose to leave it and shows no regrets about the change.
  • Robert Burns: Not in person but Martha and her family enthusiastically read his latest poems and publications.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Touched on, though it doesn't cause any great conflict. Many of the locals of Glencaraid (Cook, Mrs Sandy, Nannie etc.) believe strongly in Scottish myths and following traditional customs, while more urban and educated characters (Alisdair after going away to school, Miss Norrie, Miss Crow and Allan Morse to a certain extent) bring in modern thinking, science and logic. Martha herself loves the older myths and customs, but is also interested in new ideas and learning.
    "Alisdair says all this bother about omens and luck is just superstition." Martha went on. "He says is doesna really mean a thing. He says we ought to remember that it's 1791, practically the nineteenth century and we mustna cling to the foolish notions of the old days."
    "Ah, yer brother say that, does he?" Cook answered sharply. "I suppose that's the sort o' tomfoolery they teach them at them fancy city schools nowadays. 'Nearly the nineteenth century' indeed. As if the sun and the rain take any heed o' what century it is."
  • Scenery Porn: Describes the Scottish highlands beautifully, befitting a prequel series to Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.
  • Ship Tease: Martha and Lew's eventual romance isn't developed in the early books, as Martha's so young. However a subplot in Beyond The Heather Hills has Lew going above and beyond to help a bed-ridden Martha, them passing secret letters to each other and a sweet scene at the end of the book, that definitely hints at something more. Cook even calls them quite a pair and suggests there isn't anything Lew wouldn't have done for Martha.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Tomboyish, wild Martha and refined, ladylike Grisie. Though as time goes Martha realizes they're more similar than she thought.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: A recurring theme. Nanny goes for the plain Nice Guy Gerald over his arrogant brother Henry, out of Grisie's many suitors she chooses the good-natured Kenneth and Martha clearly follows the pattern marrying Lew, who she's describes as incredibly loyal and kind-hearted throughout the series.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Martha definitely qualifies, being the daughter of a laird (owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate, roughly equivalent to an esquire in England, yet ranking above the same in Scotland) and preferring foot-racing to sewing.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Martha and Lew. She was from well-off society, the daughter of a lairdnote  while he was a skilled labourer. The books were developing this before Executive Meddling ended the series. In real life, they emigrated to America to get married and start a family freely.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Grisie is described as looking a lot like her mother - dark-haired, warm eyes and the beauty of the county. Meanwhile Martha takes after her father's mother who was handsome "but not one you'd call a beauty".
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Martha's mother and Grisie are both very good at sewing, spinning, knitting, embroidery and so on.
  • The City vs. the Country: A recurring theme. Martha's cousins, aunt and uncle come from the city and are more sophisticated while Martha's parents (especially her father) prefer living simply in the rural Glen Caraid. When Uncle Harry's family come to live in the valley, Martha is surprised how little Rachel and Mary are allowed outdoors - Cook even points out they won't be able to manage a 3 mile trek like she can.
    • It's also an issue with Martha's governesses: Her first governess Miss Norrie dislikes living at the Stone House because it's so isolated, while Miss Crow's first words are how much she loves the view and quickly explores the area.
    • Also a conflict between Martha and Grisie: Martha is happy living in the valley, but Grisie wishes to go away to school in the city. (Interestingly when she marries Kenneth they live in Perth, but at the end of the book they move back to the country, while in the sequel series Martha is happily living in the town of Roxbury near Boston so they both seem to have found middle ground).
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Martha and Grisie; much like her great-granddaughter Laura, Martha would far rather be playing outdoors than sitting inside sewing or knitting.
  • Tomboy: Martha, obviously.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Miss Norrie who is a terrible teacher, hopelessly out of touch with Martha, refuses to associate with the servants and looks down on the tenant farmers for not having proper education. An odd example as while Miss Norrie is well-educated and from a more upper-class background than most of Glen Caraid, she clearly isn't wealthy herself given she has to work and being a governess is only one up from a servant anyway. (Which Cook isn't slow to point out). And ironically Martha's family who are genuinely wealthy subvert this as they're all very sensible and aren't impressed with Miss Norrie's behaviour.
  • Uptown Girl: Martha for Lew. She is part of the Scottish land-owning class while he is a working class blacksmith. See Star-Crossed Lovers above for more details.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The author admits that the only facts known about Martha is her birth and death date, the date she emigrated from Scotland, that she was the daughter of a laird and married someone considered beneath her station. With Lew only his name and profession are known. Everything else is fictional.


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