The Happiest Days of Our Lives by Wil Wheaton

The Happiest Days of Our Lives

AuthorWil Wheaton

Pages: 160 pages
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Release Date: December, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59606-244-3

I first became aware of Wil Wheaton (outside of his acting, of course) a couple of years ago (or maybe around the time I joined Twitter. I can’t remember) and could never really figure out what the big deal was, or why nerds (Trekkie or not) were ready to kiss the damn ground he walked on. Sure, I was damn jealous of the traffic his blog gets, and that he was going to be on Season Three of The Guild, but Wesley Crusher? Come on, nobody liked Wesley Crusher back in 1989, so why would that change now, 20 years later?

Well, for one, it turns out not even Wesley Crusher liked Wesley Crusher all that much (Wheaton appreciates the success of the show, but was never too fond of the material given to him by writers), and it also turns out that Wes– er… Wil Wheaton has a whole lot more to offer outside of Wesley Crusher and Gordy from Stand by Me.

The Happiest Days of our Lives showed up unannounced on my doorstep the other day, an advance copy from the good people at Subterranean Press that wasn’t ever really on my radar. It couldn’t have come at a better time. After coming over a marathon read of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, I picked up Junot Diaz’s The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that promised to be a geek’s dream, but left me feeling confused, alienated and a little depressed. Inevitably, it became hard not to compare Diaz’s novel to the one I read next. To follow that uneven experience, I picked up the quiet little novelette by Wheaton, a collection of non-fiction pulled together from writing for his blog, WWdn and found everything little misinformed me wanted The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to be.

Over the last six years, I’ve written thousands of posts for my blog, talking about every subject imaginable. Nothing generates as much email and as many comments as stories like the ones in this book. It’s not surprising, really, because these stories are the most fun to write and are the closest to my heart: stories that celebrate geek culture, passing my geeky hobbies and values along to my own children, and vividly painting what it meant to grow up in the ’70’s and come of age in the ’80’s as part of the video game/D&D/BBS/Star Wars figures generation.

p. 9

Where The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao fought tooth and nail to be geek-chic, The Happiest Days of our Lives does it effortlessly. Wheaton isn’t trying to convince us he’s just like the rest of us nerds, he’s simply telling the stories of his growing up, revealing pieces of himself that are eerily familiar to any body who grew up in the ’80’s or early ’90’s. Through Wheaton’s words, I found memories of the first time I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, or making that tough decision about which action figure (Star Wars in Wheaton’s case, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in mine) to choose before mom’s ready to leave the store. The details may be different, but the memories and nostalgia is the same.

January, 1984

Papers scattered across my bed appeared to be homework to the casual observer, but to me they were people. A thief, a couple of wizards, some fighters; a party of adventurers who desperately wanted to storm The Keep on the Borderlands, but without anyone to guide them, they sat alone, trapped in the purgatory of my bedroom, straining behind college-ruled blue lines to come to life.

I tried to recruit my younger brother to play with me, but he was 7, and more interested in Monchichi. The kids in my neighborhood were more interested in football and riding bikes, so I was left to read through module B2 by myself, wandering the Caves of Chaos and dodging Lizardmen alone.

A portrait of the artist as a young geekp.87

Wheaton has a gift for recollecting that undefinable feeling of growing up, the one you don’t realize you’re experiencing until you’re much too old to appreciate it. Wheaton’s now a father, and The Happiest Days of our Lives is about fatherhood, just as much as it’s about childhood. Wheaton relates his stories of growing up to his children with as much wit and wisdom as the coming-of-age stories, and one can feel the pride and love Wheaton has for his children.

Wheaton is best known for his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that period of life is clearly just that, a brief (albeit important) piece of his life. Some of the stories touch on his time as Wesley Crusher (including a particularly interesting piece about returning to the Star Trek set 20 years later, only to find the set replaced by something wholly different, The Big Goodbye), others don’t even mention it. Like everyone, Wheaton’s world is still being affected by the ripples of that life changing experience, but he’s moved on and has so much more to offer now than anecdotes about a cultural zeitgeist.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Wil Wheaton, and I’m going to Stage 24 for the Star Trek documentary.”

The guard, who was probably in elementary school when I was piloting the Enterprise, nodded.

“May I see your ID, sir?”

Though I’m “sir” to a lot of people these days, it was bizarre to hear it in a place where I was used to being “The Kid” or “The Boy”. I pulled it out of my wallet and handed it to him.

“Okay, you’re all set, Mr. Wheaton.” He said. “Just pull up to the valet there. I’m sure you know your way around here?”

I smiled. “Yeah, I do.”

He handed me back my ID and leaned down toward me.

“We’re not supposed to do this, but I’m a big fan,” he said, conspiratorially. With anyone who really was a big deal in Hollywood, he was probably risking his job.

“Really?” I said. “You seem a little young for TNG.”

He grinned. “Not Star Trek, your blog.”

This took me completely by surprise. I don’t think that my blog has been anything special recently. I’m so unhappy with it that I’ve frequently considered putting it on hiatus for a few months.

“That,” I said, “is totally awesome. Thank you.”

He smiled and then looked over his shoulder at the other guards. He turned back to me, nodded tersely, and waved me onto the lot.

The Big Goodbyep. 103-104

The Happiest Days of Our Lives is presented as a collection of short non-fiction, and was written as such, but a strong narrative theme runs through the novel, making it read more like a memoir: a series of snapshots into Wheaton’s life as a youth and a father.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives was the perfect antidote for a reader burnt out on heavy narrative. The simplest, strongest thing I can say about Wheaton is that he was able to teach me a little about myself, to pull back that curtain on my past and bring back memories of hanging out with my buddies, getting knocked in the face by a dodgeball, and playing Warhammer and D&D. I may never have met him, but Wil Wheaton seems to get me, and I can’t ask for more than that. Within minutes of finishing The Happiest Days of Our Lives I had a copy of another of Wheaton’s books, Just a Geek ordered from Amazon.

You may know him as Wesley Crusher or ‘That kid from Stand by Me’, but maybe it’s time to get to know him as Wil Wheaton. I did, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.