Friday, July 12, 2013

Yes, I Am Still Talking About Anne Shirley

As I mentioned before, when I'm feeling down I seek comfort in the greatest Canadian heroine of the 20th century: Anne Shirley.

Watching Anne of Green Gables every time it was on PBS (or, even better, on the two tape collection) was a major past-time in my family. My mother loved it. My sister loved it. My godmother was usually the person we borrowed the tapes from. And I had no chance but to love Anne of Green Gables, too.

I was young enough that when I did the majority of my watching of Anne of Green Gables (and the sequel, which at the time was called Anne of Avonlea but has since been retitled to Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel) the follow-up TV series, Road to Avonlea, was still airing on Disney. But Avonlea without Anne Shirley is like a day without sunshine.

So, as I was feeling pretty crappy this past 4th of July as well as feeling rather miffed at my fellow Americans, I decided that I'd watch Anne of Green Gables while drinking a tumbler of Mexican tequila mixed with German cherries and cherry juice. And then I kept watching as the weekend went by. There is very little on television at this time of year, so why not just keep re-watching Anne of Green Gables?

And then I pulled out the old battered copies that my mother had received as a child in the 1950s. With artwork depicting a slender and sleek redheaded woman that looks nothing like Megan Follows and also nothing like any early 20th century Canadian girl I've ever imagined.

The books were a bit of a letdown, the first time I started thumbing through them. I've seen the tv specials so many times in my life- I remember when I used to also get scared when Diana was helping the limping Anne through the woods and Anne would start talking about the ghosts they imagined living there. That's how young I was the first, oh, dozen or so times I watched the specials. So, to go back as an adult and realize that Montgomery's writing isn't exactly the greatest was a little startling. The books are decent enough- it's not like they're terrible, but they're easy reads with a lot of flowery writing. Similar to Little Women, in some respects. There's very little action, however, with a lot of talking and I've come to realize that they're much better when being read outloud. As otherwise I'll just start to glaze over from the plethora of new names and silly little conversations that don't read in my head nearly as entertainingly as Dear Lucy Maud intended them to be.

So, that's how I spent a whole sick day from work this week- listening to the audiobook of Anne of the Island, only to realize that there's no audio version for Anne of Windy Poplars (at least not one available on Audible, iTunes, or even Librivox). It's a little intriguing to realize what was grabbed from Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and Anne of Windy Poplars to make the second television movie and what was kept. There's a rather heart-breaking death in Island that was completely ignored, but I wonder if it would've been worth including. Possibly not The twins, Davy and Dora, were pretty much completely removed and I can't really blame them (although, they did end up on the tv show towards the end). Minnie May Barry ends up basically taking Davy's place.

Thankfully, they also removed most of the proposals Anne received while at university. The girl has FIVE proposals by the summer she graduates. FIVE. And only one repeat customer!

For what it's worth, the second special is still good but not nearly as good as the original. I would've liked it more if they kept the story in Avonlea or at least on the island. I don't care for all that prep school meangirls nonsense. I would've preferred to see Anne going to her birth place and maybe a bit of Stella and Aunt Jimsie or Miss Lavender and more Marilla and Rachel than we were given. And having Gilbert as a friend for a bit before the whole weird distance-y mooning deal. However, I do love watching Colleen Dewhirst's scenes and trying to guess if she was wearing jeans under her dress or not (apparently, she was at times, I can't blame her!).

"Hello, John Blythe. I'm totally wearing jeans under this dress- want a peek?"
And, of course, the second TV special gets extra points for including not one but TWO members of the Kids in the Hall.

I think the thing that really gets me about the Anne of Green Gables tv specials is that they has no right being as good as they are. If you've ever had the misfortune to see the animated version, you know how terrible it can get. In the animated version, you don't end up loving Anne. You end up wanting to smack her and then kill her, she's so disgustingly ignorantly upbeat.

But Megan Follows has such an amazingly perfect performance in the 1985 special that never makes Anne's flights of fancy sound saccharine and one-dimensional. Anne Shirley may be an optimist and a romantic- but Megan Follows knew as a teenager to play Anne as someone that is trying to convince herself that everything is okay. She knew that the only way an orphan could keep her head up and stay as determined as Anne did was to use her fantasies for escape and for courage.

I think my favorite moment is when Miss Stacy comes over for dinner. Because normally I hate the type of moments like that one. Anne discovers a dead mouse in the sauce for the pudding but, before she can both remove the mouse and fully confess to having forgotten to cover the sauce to prevent that, a comedy of errors results in the sauce being served to everyone for dessert. Then, just as her treasured teacher is about to take a spoonful of cream with a hint of dead mouse- Anne shouts "PLEASE DON'T EAT IT MISS STACY!" and startles everyone into a near heart-attack. She then confesses about the mouse, apologizes for her faults and then, to her surprise, Marilla and Miss Stacy start to laugh heartily at Anne's drama. It's as they laugh that Megan Follows has one of her best moments- Anne struggling to understand her emotions- embarrassment, relief, confusion, and a little bit of weariness at not finding the moment funny despite how much everyone (well, you can't tell if Matthew is in on it) is laughing. It's perfect.

Anne was such a good character to get to know as a young girl. I was never one to "pretend out loud" but I felt like I got to by proxy via watching Anne. As a kid (and, well, as an adult) I was prone to speak flowery a little too often and wrote more than my fair share of bad poetry (at one point, I wrote a freeverse poem for each of the girls in my little middle school clique. All of them pouring my heart and soul into how much I appreciated each girl for her uniqueness. Thankfully, I never showed them to those girls.). Anne got that. Anne was that. Anne was the safe knowledge that it's okay to be the girl that's reading and walking at the same time. Anne was the comfort that it was okay to not yet be interested in boys, despite your friends being completely obsessed with boys. Anne was the distance needed to see that when a parent yells at you, it's often out of fear or worry rather than hatred. Anne was the dream that you don't have to go only as far as people think you will go.

And, most importantly, Anne was the realization that friendships, not romances, are the strongest and most emotional relationships you will have outside of family.

Sadly, the roommate does not share my love of The Anne-Girl yet. Mostly because she has never seen any of it. I will fix that, eventually.

Oh, and you might've realized I didn't bring up the third special. Because there was no third special. Don't be ridiculous. I also tend to feel that Annes House of Dreams and all later books are too boring, though.

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