Upon learning that I’m from Canada, a classmate told me that one day she’d like to visit Prince Edward Island. When I shared that my husband and I visited there in the summer of 2010, she talked about how much she liked the Anne of Green Gables series. As we chatted more, I learned that my classmate had actually only watched the movies and had yet to read the books. While the 1985 Kevin Sullivan production of Anne of Green Gables is relatively faithful to L.M. Montgomery’s book, his subsequent production of Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel presents several incidents and characters not in the books. How far it strayed from Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Islandeven I had failed to realize until I reread the books this summer.
Briefly, in Anne of Avonlea, our heroine returns to her beloved Avonlea to teach. Her guardian Marilla Cuthbert has adopted again, this time mischievous but adorable twins. In the midst of school and home escapades, Anne and her friends run an Avonlea Village Improvement Society, which almost backfires when the first project is a disaster. Anne also meets new neighbors. One is the irate Mr. Harrison whom everyone assumes is single and whose parrot always greets Anne with the insulting, “Bless my soul, what’s that red-headed snippet doing here?” The funniest incident involves the town’s weatherman, who is famous for his inaccuracies but manages to have the last laugh. As you can tell, Anne of Avonlea is a fun cozy book about small-town life.
While Anne of the Island is no less homey, a vein of sadness runs through it. The first half portrays Anne’s return to college, the new friends she meets, and her visits home between semesters. It also hints of changes to come. For example, Anne submits her first literary story and Gilbert speaks for the first time about his love for Anne. Yet mostly, the first half is light-hearted adventures of college girls whose minds are on academics while their hearts are on boys. The second half returns readers to Avonlea and is more serious in tone. Diana marries the less-than-dashing Fred and has a baby boy, leaving Anne feeling as if she is a stranger around her bosom buddy. Other classmates leave the island, marry, or even face death. One of the most poignant moments involves Paul, an imaginative student introduced in Anne of Avonlea, who discovers he can no longer find “his rock people”. Anne sadly tells him, “You must pay the penalty of growing up, Paul. You must leave fairyland behind you.”
L.M. Montgomery is one of the authors I most revere. As one rarely finds faults with their idols, so I too am reluctant to point out any negatives in the Anne books. Yet in all honesty I sometimes found myself skimming certain passages, mostly the flowery descriptions or the verbose monologues. Ironically, these are the traits for which critics also faulted Anne in her literary endeavors, making me wonder if real-life reviewers criticized Montgomery for those traits too. If so, I’m glad that she stayed true to her own style. Although at times Montgomery too heavily relies on purple prose, it’s still her descriptions which endear me to the people and places in her books. As for the dialog, some of the monologues by the women drag (don’t say duh!), while many of those by her students or by the twin Davy are a riot.
As to what appeals to me about the Anne books, oh, just about everything else. She’s a student, a teacher, a writer, and a confused adult. Just like me! Unlike in the first Anne book, when earning top grades was all about beating out a certain boy, Anne now studies because she loves to learn. Well, she also wants to earn scholarships so that she can relieve Marilla the financial burden of supporting her through college. Unlike in the movie version where Anne leaves Avonlea to teach snobby and wealthy boarding girls, Anne actually teaches students of mixed ages and genders, a handful of which are her former classmates. The first day she heads to school with a speech memorized, which she instantly forgets the moment that she faces rows of students awaiting her instruction. When that first day ends, Anne wavers between going home to cry or breaking down at school. The decision is made for her by the appearance of various parents, all of whom have complaints or suggestions. Salvation comes in the form of a student named Paul, who gives her flowers because he thought she might like them. As part of Anne’s aspirations for literary fame, she composes a story around a character whose name MUST be “Averil” and who MUST suffer. Despite advice to the contrary, she creates a dull but dashing hero and kills off an apparently irredeemable villain. Yet even in this most novice stage, Anne discovers every author’s woe of dealing with characters who insist on saying and acting as they please. Then there’s her romances. While Anne certainly entertained far more suitors than I ever did, we struggled equally at age twenty with awkward dates. When Roy Gardner stepped into her life, epitomizing her ideal of tall and handsome with dark eyes and melting voice, Anne thought she had found her prince. There’s another way in which Anne and I are alike. Anne can set her hopes high and then just as easily crash into depths of despair. While adulthood tempered both of us with regards to moods, we still are creatures who feel intensely and so sometimes cause our own pain.
Now just because I connect with Anne on enough levels for me to consider her a kindred spirit doesn’t mean everyone will. Some readers might feel that the way she can win over all but the most cankerous is too Pollyanna-like. I love Anne for this reason. She is an exemplary model of how to deal with the nice and not-so-nice people in the world. Other readers might tire of her prattle and her flights of fancy. Again, I love Anne for this reason. Once I get over being shy, I love to chat and to imagine. Anne makes these traits feel desirable. Mark Twain once called Anne “the sweetest creation of life ever created”. Yet this does not mean Anne is a saccharine character. She has her errors in judgment and spitfire moments, which bring balance to her character, making Anne someone who everyone can love. If you add to this gorgeous scenic descriptions and cozy character portrayals, you have two great sequels to the beloved Anne of Green Gables story.
P.S. For the record, after watching the third and fourth Anne movies from Sullivan productions, I refused to watch them again. They are the most controversial among fans of the Anne books, because the plots not based on anything which Montgomery wrote. Moreover, only the first two movies were at least partially filmed in Prince Edward Island.
My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.
How would you rate these books?
- Notable Character: Anne Shirley (obsessivebookworm.wordpress.com)
- Change In Books (leajurock.wordpress.com)