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Anne with an E series review

“Were those women — Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond — good to you?” asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.

“O-o-o-h,” faltered Anne…”Oh, they meant to be — I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible.” —Anne of Green Gables chapter five: “Anne’s History”

As cheery as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables can be, it hints not-so-subtly that Anne’s life pre-Green Gables has not been an easy one, that Anne became so imaginative because she needed to in order to cope. When I heard that Moira Walley-Beckett’s TV version Anne with an E (whose first season originally aired on Canada’s CBC and is now on Netflix) explored this further, with flashbacks to difficult moments in her childhood, I was all for the idea. It does do that (as did Breakthrough Entertainment’s recent TV movie, though not as extensively), and integrates these moments into the existing story, with moments early in Anne’s shaky transition into Green Gables reminding her of incidents in her past and giving us a sense of how insecure she feels. But it turns out that’s far from the biggest change.

As I got further into the new series, it became clear that this was a completely new way of imagining Anne’s world. We weren’t just here to read between the lines of the story as we know it; we were here to change some of that story significantly. The more scenes I saw that weren’t in the books, the more I was reminded of fanfiction. That’s not a judgment in one way or another. It’s just to say that the adaptor takes what’s clearly a love for the original (quite a few of LMM’s lines are present), thinks about other things that might have been going on with these characters given their life circumstances and historical era — especially things the original author might not have felt free to focus on (Anne’s “flowering time,” anyone?). And heightens the drama.

…and sometimes gets carried away.

If you’re a purist, there are parts of this adaptation that will delight you and parts you’ll hate. If you’re like me, deeply devoted to the original but also interested in adaptations*, you’ll sometimes mumble, “iiiiiiinteresting,” sometimes yell at the screen, and sometimes hit pause to look up etymologies. Though the book was published in 1908, it’s set in the 1880s. A mention of The Grasshoppers by “Mrs. Andrew Dean” places this version in at least 1895; some cursory Googling makes it seem possible that the ladies of Avonlea might have chatted about “feminism.” In my own understanding of Avonlea, that’s fun to contemplate, but not especially in character for the old-fashioned village.

I won’t give too much more away. I’ll just advise that if you haven’t watched it yet and you’re considering it, you allow it its own space in your mind. I doubt that anyone intends for it to replace our beloved novel, but it’s there to supplement it and, as Anne herself might put it, give us scope for imagination.

But the ending to this season is wrong wrong wrong. At least, I think so. What do you think?

*Side note: There’s so much L. M. Montgomery–related stuff out there these days that I can barely keep up. (I’m not complaining.) But if you can get your hands on Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane (Penguin Teen Canada), I recommend it. It shapes what we know about LMM’s youth, mostly from her journals, into a novel that imaginatively expands on some details without making particularly drastic changes. The part where LMM and I are besties? I can make that up for myself.

This is part of a series of posts on the recent profusion of children’s book adaptations available to stream on demand; click on the tag instant-gratification adaptations to read more. For more on Montgomery’s novels and their subsequent incarnations, click on the tag Anne of Green Gables.

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Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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Comments

  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Shoshana, thanks for such a thoughtful and complete review. I watched some of these over the weekend and think you’ve got it right. There were a lot more times when I thought, “huh, interesting perspective” than “Egads, Noooo!”
    I think the focus on her previous hardships makes sense. A 1908 audience would have been able to read between the lines and recognize the kinds of horrible things Anne had been exposed to before. A 2017 audience probably wouldn’t. Understanding better what Anne went through before arriving in Avonlea does shed a new light on her extreme cheerfulness. I actually found her less annoying this time. (Note: I didn’t find her annoying in the books, but have in adaptations.)

  2. Thanks, Lolly! I think you’re right that the audience’s era makes a difference in perspective. In the couple of modernized YouTube adaptations (there are two of AOGG, one of Little Women, and a bunch of others out there), it seems like the creators bump up against this with characters who become seriously ill at young ages–not that this doesn’t happen today, but it’s much less common, and a bigger shock, which changes the tone of things. One adaptation changed an illness to a car accident, which I thought made sense, especially since another character had been very ill earlier that year. (I’m being vague on purpose.)

    Anyway, it’s interesting to see what baggage adapters anticipate in their audiences!

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