Mrs. Rachel Lynde Would Not Approve

When a favorite book is adapted for the screen, I try to keep an open mind. I really, really do. And there were reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the latest Anne of Green Gables movie. The casting of Anne was more age appropriate. It was filmed on Prince Edward Island. And the granddaughter of author L. M. Montgomery was involved.

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But I was also smart. I knew I needed to watch with friends. And perhaps some sort of alcohol. On Saturday night, I made clam chowder and a few friends came over. Within the first few minutes, Ashley had already declared “Minus one point for Matthew falling into a puddle of manure!” Someone else declared “Half a point for it being filmed on PEI.” And then I said “Should we keep score? Do we even dare?”

For a little while, things were almost even. Not quite, but almost. And then it went straight downhill. At the end of the night, our score sheet read:

Points For: 14

Points Against: 317.5

So, what were our problems? In most cases, the casting and the characterizations just weren’t right. Matthew was too chatty and portrayed as a bumbling fool. Marilla was too soft. Anne was just way too happy. That streak of sadness and longing that is so critical to her character wasn’t there. Diana took the lead on the imagining (though she looked right.) Gilbert. Oh Gilbert. They lost 150 points for that casting decision. Rachel Lynde, Mrs. Barry, and Mr. Phillips were about the only casting decisions we thought they got right.

There were details that just weren’t right—and we can’t understand why certain changes were made. Sure, only a fan would be outraged that Anne told Marilla her parents died when she was five. But a key part of the books is that Anne had no memories of her parents, because they died when she was a few months old.

The pacing was very odd. We kept pausing and wondering how they were going to wrap things up in the time they had left. And then Anne suddenly fell through some ice and Matthew hopped on a sled to rescue her and we just lost it. At this point, I stopped the movie and got out the whiskey. I believe curse words were used. And one really shouldn’t curse while watching Anne. Rachel Lynde wouldn’t approve.

The movie ended with Matthew taking Anne back to the train station because the orphanage had found a better home for her—WHICH NEVER HAPPENED AND COMPLETELY CHANGES THE STORY. Rachel tells Marilla to chase after them. All are united in a hug and the credits roll.  Ummm, what? Of course, now that I’ve learned that they’ll be making 2 more movies, I sorta understand. But I’m still not happy.

My mom asked me if people would still recognize the story if they picked up the book. And the answer is probably yes. And she asked me if it was a good movie if I didn’t know the books so well. But I think the answer to that is no. So much cheese was crammed into a 90 minute movie. Parts of it was beautiful, but there was so little character growth. And Anne was just annoying.

I believe that classics like Anne are incredibly important, and movies can do so much to bring them to a wider audience. But please, for the love of God, respect the characters.

At the end of the movie, Ashley declared “I have to make sure my niece never sees this movie.” And then we popped in the Megan Follows version. Flawed though it is, our beloved characters are still recognizable. And I didn’t start cursing at Kevin Sullivan until the third Anne movie. . .

Kindred Spirits

The last six months or so have been crazier than usual, of which this poor neglected blog is certainly a testament.  To briefly recap: in June, I was named Interim Executive Director at the museum where I’ve worked as educator for the past nine years.  I spent four weeks this fall at a professional development seminar in Indiana.  And the weeks surrounding that departure were crammed with work things, a friends wedding (I was maid of honor), my parents’ 65th birthday party, and of course, the holidays.  Now that it’s January, I feel like I’m starting to get a sense of what the new normal is.  At the very least, I’ve found time to read and watch tv again!

Several of my friends had equally crazy (though for different reasons) falls.  They also happen to share my love for Anne Shirley.  In talking with one friend back in October about that lovely blank spot between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided that an Anne party would be the perfect way to celebrate making it to the end of 2013.  Tea, raspberry cordial (with optional hooch), tea-time food and the movie.  Because I am somewhat nuts, I decided that I would also haul out my entire Anne collection for party decorations.

Now, I knew I had a lot.  After all, I’ve been collecting since I was nine or ten years old.  If you’d been keeping an eye out for things for 25 years, you would have a lot too.  But seeing it scattered throughout the house was kinda amazing.  I believe guests were both amazed and frightened.  In my defense, the only things that are ever out all the time are a few pictures in the guest bedroom.  Though I will confess that I left out a few of the Anne dolls and added my Little Women porcelain figures and my Laura Ingalls Wilder (the author, not the little girl!) doll for this month.

yes, that is four different versions of Anne of the Island.  Turns out I have the most copies of that one.

yes, those are four different versions of Anne of the Island. Turns out I have the most copies of that one.

One friend brought scones and another egg salad sandwiches.  I made cucumber sandwiches, pimento cheese (yes, I know that’s not in Anne, but I live in the South where if you have tiny tea sandwiches, pimento is required!), raspberry cordial, and plum puffs.

Raspberry cordial!

Raspberry cordial!

Plum puffs!  Complete with stills from two of the movies.

Plum puffs! Complete with stills from two of the movies.

Here’s the thing about Anne: we all adore Anne, but we can also make fun of her.  After all, what child, even in the 19th century, ever talked like that?  We started being snarky from the very beginning, which made watching so much more fun.  We laughed in places where as a kid, I would never have laughed.  I would have just nodded my head because I understood perfectly.  We talked back to the movie often.  The champagne might have had something to do with that.

About halfway through the movie, we started imagining backstories for some of the secondary characters.  If Aunt Josephine is so rich, why isn’t Mr. Barry?  Was there some sort of family argument?  And how did she become so wealthy?  Was she a madam?  It went downhill from there.  By the end of it, Mr. Barry was a serial killer, Mrs. Stacey had some sort of secret double life, and I can’t remember what all else.  It was hysterical.  If we were really clever and not so busy, we could write one heck of an alternate history of Avonlea.

It’s not often that I get to celebrate my love of kidlit history with others in person and not just online.  That moment of discovery can be so delightful.  After all, there has to be a moment of discovery because it’s not like I talk about such things all the time.  (Contrary to the belief of one friend who teases me often about this interest and refused to come to the party because she “might be converted.”)  I discovered one kindred spirit when she noticed a very discreet watercolor of Green Gables at a housewarming.  Another was discovered during a workplace conversation about Little Women (a theme for one of our events.  Gee, I wonder whose idea that was. . .).  Bringing everyone together was such fun.

The bookshelf that holds all of my older versions.  They no longer fit on one shelf!

The bookshelf that holds all of my older versions. They no longer fit on one shelf!

Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.

On Slates

Around here, school is about to start.  This is quite evident with the flashing school zone lights, and the conversations among the younger set.  I spent Sunday night hanging out with two of my favorite girls, Grace and Sophie.  However, the usual “back to school” conversation took an unexpected turn.  Grace, now 11, started talking about boys.  It was a very long conversation.  Questions were posed such as “Would you rather be kissed by the dumbest boy you know?  Or a dumb boy you don’t know?”  “If a boy kissed you, would you faint from embarrassment?”  I also learned that Sophie had a pre-school boyfriend, who she kissed every day.  And Grace has her first official crush.  Luckily, she’s in that stage where she can still talk to him and not blush, but she’s also desperately hoping he doesn’t figure it out.

In the middle of all of this, I hopped up from the table and turned on my nook.  Since finishing up the Betsy-Tacy books, we’ve been reading Anne.  I have never before been so nervous introducing a book to kids before.  Anne is so near and dear to my heart.  What if they didn’t like her?  Before we read the first chapter, I told them that if they didn’t like it, I understood–that there were lots of other books I wanted to share.  As I started reading, I got more nervous.  It is a much harder read-aloud than Betsy–the rhythm and pacing are so different.  I also worried about the whole “are you going to send me back” part because these girls are also adopted.  I shouldn’t have worried.  Grace, Sophie and I are indeed kindred spirits and they really like Anne.

Anyway, back to my story.  I knew we were getting close to the wonderful scene in which Anne thwacked Gilbert with a slate.  But would we get to it tonight, after talking endlessly about the problems of liking boys?  Miracle of miracles, it was the next chapter!  What are the odds?  Life lessons through literature, handed to me on a silver platter!

So, we read about Gilbert teasing Anne.  And Anne setting Diana drunk.  And I was struck anew at how funny Montgomery is–and how true those scenes still are.  They totally got why Anne was so mad at Gilbert–and we talked about the deep desire to sometimes whack a boy with a book (not a slate.  I had to explain what a slate was.)  I watched as Sophie and Grace’s face lit up at the thought of hosting a friend without the parents around.  I’ve read this book so many times now that the lovely details often just wash over me.  As I stumble over some of Montgomery’s “poetical” words, laugh at the jokes, and watch the girls’ reaction as they hear this classic for the first time, it feels like a fresh, new book.

As they were going to bed, Sophie asked me: “Am I like Anne?”

My reply: “I think there’s a little Anne in all of us.  You’ve got a great imagination, you get into trouble sometimes, but you have a big heart.  Just like Anne.”

Judging a book by its cover. . . Again.

I first ranted about covers of Anne back in 2009.  And then just this week, many kindred spirits joined my rant.  A new cover of Anne went viral–Anne is remarkably modern, and more shockingly, blond!  I mean, if you’re going to switch Anne’s hair color, shouldn’t you at least do something she would want?  Like raven black?  Anyway, it was all over facebook–and how could fans resist sharing their shock and horror with a cover like this?  Seriously, I don’t even have words to explain how inherently wrong this is.

anne

I just went to amazon, and this is now “out of stock” and no cover is pictured.  Methinks they heard the rants from around the world and actually did something about it.  Be sure to check out the comments.  I’ve never seen so many one star reviews on Amazon.  Alas, this publisher is just part of a long line of people that have done horrible things to the covers of the Anne novels.

And here’s a link to my original post, complete with lots more horrifying covers of one of my favorite books.

In other Anne news, I’m now reading Anne to my favorite little girls.  They’re in love!  And this is the cover of the edition we’re reading together:

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

Isn’t that more like it?

Timeless

This year marked the 40th anniversary of my museum’s biggest event of the year, Candlelight.  As part of the anniversary, we created a small exhibit and I researched the history of the event.  One thing that surprised me was how quickly the key elements of the event came together: buildings decorated by community groups, performances by community groups, and candlelit paths.  The core elements of the event are pretty much unchanged since 1972–which is pretty remarkable in this day and age.  And there aren’t many museum events anywhere that last for decades–events have a shelf life.  Audiences change, staff change, sometimes even missions change.  While finishing up this project, I realized that probably the biggest factor that’s led to the longevity of this event is the timelessness of Christmas.  People crave tradition this time of year.

We had a smaller event (the reading list and post about last year’s event) this past weekend which featured Christmas chapters from books set during the museum’s time period.  I read quite a few bits from the Little House books and Betsy-Tacy to guests.  For some little ones, it was their first introduction to Laura and Mary.  Many times during the day, I would read a passage, turn to the visitors and say “Does that sound familiar?”  And they would nod eagerly, their eyes round with wonder.  Though the concept of thinking a very good Christmas was a tin cup, a cake, a stick of candy and a penny is completely out of their realm of imagination, the worry about how Santa would find them is still a big concern for kids today.

Historically speaking, it amazes me how set some of our traditions have been for the past century or so.  Though variations of the legend of Saint Nicholas have been around for centuries, Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,”  wasn’t published until 1823.  And the visual we have of Santa in a red suit with belly and beard wasn’t firmed up until Thomas Nast drew a cartoon in 1863, smack dab in the middle of the Civil War.  (side note: Nast was more famous at the time for his political cartoons, which I find fascinating.  Early political cartoons and Santa, all in one artist!)  During the 19th century, there were enormous changes in how we celebrated Christmas (for more on this, check out Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas, which I wrote about last year).  But what struck me on this read-through of some old favorites is how these changes weren’t really thought of as new, but the way it’s always been.

Now, historical purists will remind me that the publication dates on these autobiographical novels don’t match the dates they were set, so it’s entirely possible that the attitudes about Christmas better reflect the 20th century than the 19th.  But let’s just ignore that for right now and see what we can find that’s stayed virtually unchanged over the past century and more.  I had thought about typing out some of these wonderful quote and passages for you, but decided that part of the fun is reading the whole chapter.  So, my gift to you is an excuse to pull out an old favorite!

Worry about Santa finding you?  Check out multiple volumes in the Little House series, including Little House on the Prairie (no snow!) and On the Banks of Plum Creek (no chimney!)

The joy of finding the perfect gift for someone?  Take a look at Anne of Green Gables (puffed sleeves!) or Roller Skates (Trinket’s first Christmas tree).

The worry of not being able to give all you want to?  Probably all of the Little House books and Little Women too (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”)

The importance of stockings!  Again, Little House and also the later Betsy-Tacy books.

Hinting about something you want and not trusting your family to get it for you?  Why, you simply must read “The Brass Bowl” in Heaven to Betsy (possibly my favorite Christmas passage in the BT books.)

Food, glorious food?  Well, descriptions are all over the place, but Farmer Boy immediately leaps to mind.  The description of the feast almost takes up a whole page.

The fun of shopping, even if you don’t buy?  Why, go no further than Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, which also includes one of my favorite bits about the importance of believing in Santa, even if you are grown up.

I know I’m leaving out many Christmas classics.  What are some of your favorites?  These stories have so much in common, even if they were written decades ago.  And I think they’re going to last just fine into the future.  Even as time and technology hurries forward, some things, especially emotions don’t change much.

And now I must run to do a wee bit of last minute shopping myself.  Merry Christmas to you and yours.  And happy reading!

Kindred Spirits

A few weeks ago, a friend said to me:

“I just got an ice cream maker.  So I’m thinking about having a party where we watch Anne of Green Gables and then break into the ice cream at the same time Anne tastes ice cream for the first time.  What do you think?”

I’ll give you one guess to figure out what I said.

Yes, you’re right.  I was thrilled!  Best party idea ever!

I should say a few words about this friend.  I have this tendency to categorize my friends, and she falls in the “museum friend” category–another educator at a history museum.  When she first moved to Texas, she called me up and said “I need a mentor.”  Or something like that.  I still find that incredibly ironic because a)she’s older than me and has lots more experience and b)I’ve probably learned more from her than she’s ever learned from me.  We quickly became good colleagues and have shared many a drink as we discussed various museum educator quandries.

But I didn’t realize our shared love of Anne until I invited her to a housewarming at my last apartment.  From my trip to PEI, I have a wonderful watercolor of Green Gables.  It’s like a secret password–to most folks, it’s just an old house.  A picture of an old house makes sense in the home of someone that has been working in historic house museums for years.  But to those that are kindred spirits, well, it’s GREEN GABLES!!  At any rate, when she saw that picture she squealed “Green Gables!!”  And then I learned that she dragged her husband to PEI for their honeymoon.  That may have been the moment that our friendship went to a new level.

So, her party thrilled me for a couple of reasons.  Chief among them was my ability to say to another friend (who was invited but didn’t come): “See, it’s not just me!  I’m not the only person you know who has this crazy love of Anne!” (this other friend thinks that I’m making my Betsy-Tacy friends up. . .)   It has also been years since I’ve watched the movie.  And finally, it gave me an excuse to make raspberry cordial again.

I would classify raspberry cordial as one of those iconic literary foods.  When you hear the name, well, don’t you just automatically think of Anne?  And how often do you hear about raspberry cordial and Anne isn’t referenced somehow?  I made the recipe from Kate MacDonald’s cookbook, which means it was a non-alcoholic cordial.  Just raspberry cordial is a bit much, so we added some Sprite and man, it was tasty.  As was the ice cream!  Isn’t the cordial pretty?  Please excuse the containers–I did not want a raspberry interior in my car. . .

Watching any movie with friends is a bit different than watching a movie alone.  I honestly have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve watched Anne from start to finish.  This time around, I really noticed the humor.  Montgomery had this sharp, ironic edge to her pen.  Of course, Anne’s dramatic flair can get a little tiring, but I’m still amazed at how much dialog was lifted straight from the books.

And though the scene where Matthew died didn’t make me cry, the scene where Anne tells Marilla that she’s staying in Avonlea and giving up college for the time being did make me tear up.  Some members of the party will insist that I started crying much earlier in the movie.  This is not true–my eyes were tearing up from a combination of allergies and laughter.  Not the fact that Marilla finally said that Anne could stay.

But it was so good to watch and laugh and enjoy that movie with friends.  And ice cream and raspberry cordial.  There are lots of other folks gathering to watch a literary movie tonight as well, a movie that will likely make a few more dollars than Anne ever did.  Still, even though we may always be frustrated at what the movies mess up, there’s something magical about watching a decent movie based on a book you love.  Reading can be such a solitary experience, but watching a movie doesn’t have to be.  I know the standard line for readers is that “a movie is never as good as the book.”  My personal attitude is: as long as people won’t be horribly confused if they pick up the book after watching the movie, I’m good.  As long as any plot changes still make sense with the character’s personality, I’m good.

So yes, I can live with Anne of Avonlea, but we will not speak of the third Anne movie. 

And sometime in the next week, I’ll totally be in a movie theater, bawling my eyes out at the last Harry Potter movie.

Secrets Revealed

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesIt’s not often that I read a cookbook straight through, but after dipping in to The Little House Cookbook, I knew this was one that I had to read.  It has been out for a very, very long time (1979), and I have a very dim recollection of checking it out at the library when I was a kid.  But I had never gotten around to purchasing it for my library.  After reading it cover to cover, I’m thrilled to add it to my kidlit history shelves!

From a historical perspective, Walker does a wonderful job of talking about the challenges of cooking in the 19th century.  She talks about the shift from hearth to stove.  How to preserve foods.  What could be purchased from a store–and how exciting it was when new products were born.  It’s stuff we try to explain to visitors at the museum on a regular basis, and her introduction to these complex stories is superb.

And from a kidlit perspective–this book is pure magic!  These books spend a lot of time on food.  Quick–how many Little House foods can you name?  I’ll wait.

See?  A lot, right?  I think it is physically impossible to read Farmer Boy and not raid the kitchen.  There are so many wonderful things to think about: fried apples n’ onions, vanity cakes, green pumpkin pie, doughnuts, even something as simple as popcorn just sounds better after reading about it.  And this cookbook has all these recipes and more.  Of course, Laura didn’t include recipes for everything, and Walker’s research skills really show here as well.  She hunted through period cookbooks and tested and tested again to make these recipes possible for modern cooks.  Granted, there are several recipes I have no interest in trying (roasting a whole pig?  umm, no), but the fact that even those recipes were included makes this book extra special.

The Anne of Green Gables TreasuryMy delight in reading this book reminded me of a treasured book from my childhood.  Back in 1991, Carloyn  Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson published The Anne of Green Gables Treasury.  Picture this: nerdy, 12 year old Melissa on the phone with a friend who also loves Anne.  We’re thumbing through our respective copies together, squealing and giddy.  Finally, we have the answers to so many questions!  A map of Avonlea!  The floor plan to Green Gables!  A tea time menu, complete with recipes for Monkey Face Cookies (which are wonderful!) and Plum Puffs (also quite good)!  Explanations of the clothes!  Oh, it was really, really exciting.

Collins and Eriksson have gone on to publish more Treasuries, including books on The Secret Garden, Little Women, and of course, Little House.  They are all quite good, but in my mind, none of them have had the magic that the Anne treasury did.  Suddenly, almost all of my questions were answered.  It was like these authors had uncovered these secrets that L. M. Montgomery had left buried in the books.

Books like these certainly aren’t for everyone.  A lot of readers may not want to go beyond the page.  But for those that do, I thank people like Barbara Walker, Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson.  They’ve brought me a lot of joy as a reader–and certainly helped grow my love of history.