Pillaging Anne

Stop pillaging Anne. For the love of Lucy Maud Montgomery, please just stop.

In the last week I have been called a pearl-clutcher (laughable if you know me), closed-minded, small-minded, an ostrich, and a fear-monger. I guess my post on The Handmaid’s Tale hit a nerve. Mercifully, I knew what I was getting into when I decided that I could not stay silent on an issue that is, I think, contributing to the destruction of our culture. My post was never intended as literary criticism of the book. It was designed to empower women who don’t want to read it. It was offered as a rationale for why it is permissible and wise to listen to our consciences.

Frankly, I don’t think that books like The Handmaid’s Tale deserve the attention and prestige that they are getting, but that isn’t what really bothers me. What really bothers me is when a culture of women turns on each other in an attempt to bully some women out of their confidence. It makes my blood boil when I witness women shaming others for not buying the latest Progressive lie. This is feminism gone all wrong. Some of the defenders of books like The Handmaid’s Tale are screaming that we need to empower women and therefore all women must read this book. What terrible and faulty logic! If we are empowering women, why then do we scream and yell when they choose to use their empowerment to exempt themselves from something they wish to avoid? How is it empowering women, advocating for feminism, or defending a woman’s right to choose, when she is bullied for choosing to reject the latest craze?

Ladies, your God-given instincts may not be perfect, but they are there to protect you. It is more than okay to avoid a book which makes you feel dirty, deeply depressed, violated, and/or hopeless.

And so, just a few days later, here we are again. This time it isn’t a new book but an old book. A hundred year old classic. A beloved children’s book. And it is being pillaged for the profit of those progressives who seek to justify their own moral relativism by attacking a paragon of innocence and infusing her with dark venom. No matter how cute and sweet that series is, the arsenic is potent. The sweeter and more cute the series, the more likely we are to overdose on the carefully packaged poison.

I am repulsed by what I have seen in this new Anne. But that isn’t my chief objection. My objection is to the growing body of articles, reviews, and online debates which not only seek to defend this modern “art,” but also insist that there is something inherently wrong with those of us who do not want a new Anne. I am one of those purists who believe that Montgomery’s character is just about perfect and that, as she was written, she has inspired generations of readers and will continue to do so.

I can only speculate on why there are so many caustic debates about this issue. So, I won’t waste your time running through those. Instead, I want to break down what I see as being the real issues with this television series.

anne-of-green-gables-film-1

Anne-spelled-with-an-E Had A Dark Childhood

“When many of us read the Anne books, we were children. And so we wanted a mini-series that would reclaim and recapture that feeling of childhood. The Kevin Sullivan series does that for us. And it will have that sacred spot for us forever. But there comes a time to see the story that L.M. Montgomery was telling under the story.”Sarah Bessey, blogger

I can’t buy that.

I won’t buy that.

Modernists have a terrible habit of reading darkness into things that the author consciously omitted. If the author left it out, why must we insist on reading it in?

Anne Shirley has a dark past. Anyone who has read the books knows this. But, when presented with the opportunity to dwell on that, Montgomery did not. We cannot do violence to our authors like this. We cannot presume to know more about their writing than they did.

Some have argued that Montgomery was prohibited from writing Anne’s darkness. The reality is, however, that she wrote eight books in the series over a span of more than thirty years. If Montgomery wanted an exploration of Anne’s dark past, she had decades to settle that issue with her publisher, her public, or whomever else might have stopped her. More importantly, Montgomery did write a darker series. If we want to explore the hardships of darkness, all we need to do is read the Emily books.

When Marilla is confronted with what returning Anne to the asylum would really mean, she turns her carriage around and heads back to Green Gables. Matthew and Marilla, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians, knew that in their own hurts and struggles, Green Gables was a place of refuge, hope, and blessing. This story offers us many opportunities to investigate the darkness, and in each case, the main characters square their shoulders, turn their backs on darkness, and move towards goodness and light. That is the thrust that propels the Anne books forward.

Emily exists. Why are they soiling Anne?

Easy. Profit. Two kinds of profit.

First, those in the Progressive movement who seek to weaken the moral resolve of Christians with traditional values now have a delightfully toxic new platform. They can take a gorgeous, hope-filled, beloved children’s classic, adulterate it, lace it with poison, and repackage it as being “evolved,” “enlightened,” “educational,” “helpful for teaching compassion,” and “good for helping children recognize abusers.” By pillaging an archetype of Children’s literature, they can indoctrinate our children, attack their innocence, and attempt to shame us for not being more culturally compliant. In essence, they can take adult matters and force them into the tender hearts of our young children.

Second, Emily is not as well known. She is far less profitable. Montgomery’s writing in Emily is absolutely beautiful. Emily is not a second class character. Anne was not more successful than Emily because Montgomery did her best work with Anne. Anne persists in a way that Emily does not because Anne is for everyone. The Anne stories are truly magical because of Montgomery’s conscious choice to imbue Anne with the best of all things hoped for. If the storytellers behind this new t.v. series truly wanted to give us a look into the darkness of Montgomery’s world, they could have applied their creativity to Emily. But Emily won’t sell. Anne will. And so, any argument about this being a faithful exploration of Montgomery’s darker side is intellectually dishonest.

What About Those Who Hurt?

I know dozens of women who had dark and challenging childhoods. All of them clung to Anne like a lifeboat. Even if they related to Emily’s darkness, loved her through it, and saw a way through their own darkness in Emily’s story, they still loved Anne because of Anne’s joyous hope. They didn’t need another Emily. They needed an Anne too.

Some argue that our children need dark stories so that they can learn empathy. I could not agree more. And that is why, when the time is right, each of my children will read the Emily books.

Isn’t This Just Modern Art?

I have no objection to artists making art. I believe in our free will and our right to free speech. What I object to is the taking of acknowledged art and desecrating it as an expression of modern artistic sensibilities.

I would harbor a guess that the vast majority of Netflix viewers have never read the Anne books. This character and her story is such a well known part of our culture, that the vast majority of viewers are going to assume that this series is those gorgeous books turned into t.v.  And because Anne is excellent and wholesome fare for children, they are going to assume that this series is equally good for their kids.

I can not be convinced that this is not a case of bait and switch. I believe that this is explicitly designed to weaken the moral imagination of our children. To “gently” scandalize their innocence in an effort to make them more worldly, less hopeful, and less inclined towards that which is right, good, true, just, and lovely.

In The MoleHill, v. 2, there is a short story from Sarah Clarkson entitled “The Summer of the Mustard Tree.” In that story, a little girl has spent a summer nurturing her faith in mustard seeds in the hopes that they would move mountains. When a broken neighbor confronts the girl with “facts” which reveal the “truth” of the situation, the little girl is crushed. A wise friend steps in and says this, “Sweet girl, you can’t live by doubt. You can’t live by maybes or fears. If you’re going to live at all you have to live by hope.” This, I think, is the point of the Anne Shirley books.

Facts are not truth. Facts without right understanding are dangerous and destructive. We all know that Anne had a dark childhood. But Montgomery chose to write an optimistic, faith-like-a-mustard-seed, kind of Anne. The facts of her childhood did not become her truth. Her faith and optimism became her truth. And that is why she has been beloved for a hundred years.

If the writers/producers truly wanted to tell a new story, offer a different kind of Anne, all they had to do was make up their own. Instead of making something new and beautiful, they enslaved someone else’s creativity for their own gain. Instead of writing a new story with a new name and crediting Montgomery with inspiring their new work of art, they are are profiting from her brand even while they attempt to destroy it.

That’s not art.

That’s theft.

As for me and my house, Megan Follows can be our tv Anne forever.

 

34 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    Thank you, I agree with you totally.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Sad times we live in, I am sorry to say.

  2. Lisa Nehring says:

    Beautifully written. Excellent!

  3. Deanna Clevenger says:

    Bless you, Sara. I read The Handmaid’s Tale many years ago, and I don’t remember much about it other than having a feeling of discomfort and unease. I put the book out of my mind. Fortunately, it was a library book and not one I needed to keep on my bookshelf. When it came out recently as a book that young girls should read, I wondered if I was remembering the right book. Surely young ladies wouldn’t be encouraged to subject themselves to such trash. Darkness and evil have become too prevalent in young people’s literary diet. After all, we are what we “eat.”

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Yes! We are what we read (and eat). The fuel we run on will effect the performance of our engines, so to speak.

  4. Melissa Diskin says:

    You forgot the quotation marks around “Progressive.” 🙂

    What’s deeply disturbing is that the production values of this Anne are lovely and enticing that it may look better on the surface. But the story that’s being told drags the light out of the book’s flowering of small acts of kindness into larger, redemptive consequences that heal both Anne and her extended circle. The humanity that’s widely described in this show isn’t the decency and foibles of the various characters and how Anne and the good people surrounding her grow to fruitfulness. Instead, the camera and storyteller (NOT LMM) linger on the dark , unredemptive, maliciously mean underbelly of the human soul. This is an unforgivable perversion that I see taking over so much film and television — it’s unrelenting. It purports to be an explanation of “reality”, but it’s all sin with no cross. All death with no hope of resurrection, just defiance. You don’t have to be a Christian to be affected by this pervading night. And yet somehow we’re expected to believe that a graceful heroine arise from these ashes! Cheap grace, indeed.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Yep. Cheap grace, indeed!

      I had the quotation marks but my two editors removed them! 😉

  5. Shelley Myers Nash says:

    Thank you! Thank you! A hundred times thank you! I am so tired of feeling bullied to read that which does not meet my Lord’s standards.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      It is my pleasure and honor, Shelley! In “Out of the Ashes,” Anthony Esolen writes: “Someday people will wake up and say, ‘Why did we believe such a mass of stupidities, cruelties and lies? What was the point of it all?'” He tells us that it is time to stand up and help to wake others who have lost their way. It is time to reconnect the great ideas to the fount of the Divine from which they truly sprung. It is time to tell the truth and bring sanity back to Western Civilization.

  6. Heath says:

    When I heard that Netflix produced a new AoGG an alarm bell went off. Thank you for speaking up and confirming my doubts. I’ll wait patiently for a remake that is true to the spirit of the original, and this one will become a good family table top topic about the often subtle influence of media.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Thank you! And yes! This series does give us a great opportunity for dinner table discussion!

  7. Kelly says:

    You have a gift for pulling all of these thoughts together – thank you! Totally agree.

  8. Becca says:

    Amen Sista-friend! Amen! 😉

  9. I am sensitive to any content (in literature, movies, or music) that is PG-13 or higher– it just sticks with me. Thank you for the reminder that this inclination neither makes me a prude nor means that I’m in denial about the darkness in the world. I want my life to be filled with what is beautiful. Sometimes that does involve reading about suffering and pain and ugliness– but that’s not the focus of Anne. I appreciate you speaking up on this. 🙂

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Exactly right, Alicia. It is one thing to choose to read a dark book because it something that you have prayerfully discerned that you need. It is another thing entirely to take a joy-filled children’s book and PUT darkness in there that is not there.

  10. Marjohna says:

    Thank you. The perversion of an author’s work has long been a sore spot with me. When I was a school child and the assignment was to read the abridged version of a book, I would always read the unabridged. I wanted to know the book exactly as the author intended it. I specifically resent having the author’s beliefs and themes deleted or altered. It is outrageous and as a person who believes in a life after this one, I am certain the thief will face his/her crime. I personally do not believe that people who thus abuse the work of others have any talent to create their own literature. I teach my students to see the adapted and based on and abridged versions for what they are – a cheat.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Exactly. It ceases to be the author’s work when we reduce, modify, or interpret it.

  11. Killian says:

    Wasn’t the Handmaid’s Tale written in 1985 though? Not really a new book. This was the one thing that confused me. Are people focused on it again because there is a new series?

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Yes. The hype is related to the new series. I call it a new book because it is younger than I am. Compared to the Western Canon it is still a “new” book and has not yet withstood the test of time and changing trends.

  12. Rebekah says:

    Thank you for this. I wanted to love Anne with an E, but it left me so empty and sad. After watching about four episodes, I had to get out my DVDs of the original and watch them to good again. There is so much in the books that wasn’t in the original show, that there would be plenty of material for years of television. That is what I was hoping for, a faithful recreation, but that is not what we got.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      What blows my mind is that they don’t understand how profitable it WOULD be to do just as you say. Harvest those books faithfully. Anne fans everywhere would gobble it up, buy it on dvd, give it as gifts, etc.

  13. Abra Michelle Morris says:

    YES!!!!! SO MUCH YES!!!! Lucy Maud wrote PLENTY of dark things, look at her collection of stories titled “Among the Shadows” if you want proof. She kept Anne light because she wanted to keep Anne light because she knew that there were people in the world that took all of the darkness they were given and TURNED it into light. One of the best descriptions I have seen so far is that they have turned this Anne into a PTSD Anne and that all of her amazing lightness has been turned into coping mechanisms.

    As far as Kevin Sullivan’s Anne, I honestly have SO many issues of that one as well. He turned into Dr. Frankenstein and mashed together so many books and so many characters and THEN he just turned downright butcher for the 3rd and 4th installments (aka atrocities).

    I feel that, at this point, I have lost hope that any TV or movie version will ever come close to matching the magic and charm of the books but I do enjoy the BBC version of Anne of Avonlea for a nice evening of escapism into Lucy Maud Montgomery’s world.

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Oh man we can so agree on those later Kevin Sullivan movies. WHAT IN THE WORLD?! I (Sara) personally love the first KS Anne movie. I think that it comes about as close as anyone is going to get. The second movie is so far from the books… so far… but still maintains some of the spirit of the story. After that… sigh… Just like his Jane of Lantern Hill… wow… so creepy.

    2. Alice says:

      I LOVE the BBC Anne of Avonlea!

  14. Marcie says:

    For me the answer is in the first book. When Marilla realizes Anne’s sad past and that she lived with an abusive alcoholic etc she asks Anne if they were good to her. Anne answers, after thinking and clearly struggling with what to say that she believes they “meant to be” but their lives mist have made it difficult to do so. Her past was hard and sad and she chose to look to the good. Anne is sunny and kind in spite of her hardships. These aren’t ignored in the book-she just chooses forgiveness and positivity in response. That’s the whole books message. To dilute or twist this message is to destroy the essence of the character.

  15. Alice says:

    Wonderful – thank you – I agree!

  16. Blue says:

    I am a non-religious liberal/progressive and I could not agree more about the new Netflix series. I don’t plan to watch it or encourage my daughter to see it. Cheap exploitation of our lowest nature. There is a lot of that around these days. http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/05/anne-of-green-gables-netflix-review-anne-with-an-e-bleak-sad-wrong

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Thank you for your comments! I agree. I am re-reading Anne right now just because I want to appreciate her all over again and am saddened every time I think of how a scene was reinterpreted for this series. Just a poor handling of the story and a disservice done to the viewers.

      1. Blue says:

        Hi Sara, I also wanted to thank you–I arrived at your blog because I was trying to figure out which edition of Childcraft encyclopedia was the one I recalled from my childhood in the ’80s. Turns out it was the 1964 edition. I don’t think I would have been able to find the right set without the info and images you provided, so thanks!

        1. Sara Masarik says:

          Hello! I am so glad! It is a thrill to know that our efforts were helpful in this way. We love the Childcraft books and have really enjoyed getting to know the various sets. Happy reading!!

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