I have been a longtime fan of the Anne of Green Gables made-for-TV movies, starring Megan Follows as Anne. Those films had done such a good job that I thought they’d be impossible to beat, and hence I only finally got around to reading the classic children’s tale, published back in 1908. The book is a very good one, and certainly a great children’s tale, yet it falls just short of the films.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Anne is an orphan who is sent from the orphanage to Prince Edward Island, where she believes adoption awaits by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an older couple – not husband and wife, but brother and sister. Anne is chatty and passionate, and her imagination gets her into loads of trouble, yet when she arrives, Marilla informs her that she in fact wanted a boy. The emotional Anne is distraught, believing that she will be sent back to the Asylum, and she provides quite the contrast to the practical-minded Marilla. Their exchanges are humorous, for when Marilla asks Anne the simple question of “What is your name?” Anne responds with: “Will you please call me Cordelia?” Likewise, Marilla retorts with: “Call you Cordelia! Is that your name?”
Anne is what one would call a “hopeless romantic” who does not like her first name because to her it is not “romantic” enough. Marilla, of course, battles back with: “Unromantic? Fiddlesticks!” and she reminds her what a good, plain, sensible name like Anne really is. (Of course the last thing Anne wants to be is good, plain and sensible). Many of these moments can be found in the films, though the films worked to flesh out more of the exchanges, and of course, there is no compromising the beautiful scenery of Prince Edward Island captured on film.
It is also interesting to compare a book like this to Betty Smith’s great classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I would not be surprised if Smith was impressed by Maud Montgomery’s children’s tale, and allowed some of her literary techniques to percolate into her own thought when composing her own heroine, Francie Nolan. Both female leads are around the same age throughout the stories (Anne goes from being 11-16 and Francie is 11-17), they both are imaginative and have a love of books, yet Anne of Green Gables is clearly a children’s book, for it does not touch upon the deeper and darker issues that A Tree Grows In Brooklyn touches upon. Anne of Green Gables, for example, does not approach the issues of sex, poverty, and violence the way the Betty Smith book does, and it is for those reasons that Anne of Green Gables remains a young adult book, while Smith’s transcends into adult literature.
The writing is also more advanced than most of the books published today – young adult or not. Maud Montgomery is not afraid to dip into large vocabulary at times, the way many contemporary writers, and especially young adult writers, seem to be. The dialogue is also excellent, and she manages to capture Anne so well. Even with Matthew, who has minimal lines in the book, Maud Montgomery notes mannerisms and body language that give glimpses into his persona, without needing to over-explain. One of the funnier parts to the book is a scene where Anne is describing these short stories she’s written. It is obvious that the stories are the excessively Romantic and mawkish tales that a young girl would write at that age, and Maud Montgomery makes note of this when Anne mentions that while reading her stories, people laughed at all the wrong moments, (such as the death scenes), wondering how the adults could possibly find them “amusing” when everyone dies in them.
Anne of Green Gables has now been around for 100 years, and she’s been compared to a female Tom Sawyer, and that is somewhat apt. She manages to get into trouble, she’s full of imagination, passion, and in her own way, she is not bound by her sex. She’s determined, strong, intelligent, has a feisty temper, and is not afraid to compete with the boys – Gilbert Blythe mainly (her eventual love interest), when it comes to academics and adventures.
Since this is a review of the book and not of the films, the reason I found this book to fall just short of the great films is because the films do a better job of fleshing out the characters and incidents. The book I have finishes just shy of 280 pages, larger than average font, and as well written and excellent as it is, the films do a bit more exploration within Anne’s imagination, and you will love Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, and all of Anne’s friends just as much as you do Anne. I should also note that the acting is first rate and does the book great justice.
Yet, I cannot recommend this book more. It might be one of those you’ve known about, but have just been putting off. I urge you to visit it and see what a great writer Lucy Maud Montgomery really is. There really is only one Anne Shirley, and after reading this book, I am certain you’ll agree.