I tried to like the new Anne of Green Gables series. I watched the pilot episode. I watched the next episode. I read an online article or two. I discussed it with Adam, by his own admission a devoted romantic victim of Megan Follows's sassy charm when he was a teen.
Yesterday I argued with him that the new Anne-with-an-E is more accurate.
Nobody could call Megan Follows homely or ugly. But Amybeth McNulty?
They are able to make her look painfully thin, quite homely, the perfect orphan.
So I watched. And I admit that I don't remember ever reading one of Lucy Maud Montgomery's books. I have a boxed set of three books, published in 1981, given me as a gift. At that time I was too snooty to read Montgomery; I was a lit major in college learning to appreciate the likes of Faulkner, Joyce, and Chaucer. I considered Montgomery a third-tier writer, if I was aware of her at all.
The new series is well-made, beautifully filmed, excellently cast. I would recommend watching it if you're interested in a tale of a traumatized orphan with horrible flashbacks who is adopted (after a couple of fits and starts) by an elderly couple not equipped to raise her. It's dark. Some call it Gothic. And although it shows Anne's imagination and inclination toward make-believe and fantasy, in this new Anne, it's a near-addiction to cope with her Post Traumatic Stress from being bullied in the orphanage and abused in various homes where she worked as a practical slave. As an orphan she used her imagination to escape the horror; as an adopted child she cannot yet relinquish these practices of escape.
Each adaptation of a book is its own digression from the text, and I won't compare this Netflix series with the previous series from 1985. They have quite different goals. The necessary comparison, however, is between the new series and Montgomery's book. How shall we describe this series? Is it close kin to the book , a distant cousin, or a red-headed step-child? The credits describe the series as "based on" the book. I think a better description would be "loosely adapted from" or "vaguely related to," or perhaps an ironically accurate, "uses the same names as" the book.
After watching the entire scene about the missing brooch -- including Anne's banishment from the home, return to the orphanage, running away, Matthew's horrible journey to retrieve her, his head injury, and their both being gone for two nights -- I decided to to read that portion of the book. Seriously, in the series Anne travels by train and ferry, is approached by a perverted child molester, hitches a ride with the milkman, sleeps in the bushes, and tries to raise funds by reciting poetry to strangers in a train station! I think perhaps the series creator has even more imagination that Anne herself. In the book? The entire episode, from the moment Marilla notices the brooch is gone until she rectifies her mistake, is only seven pages. Anne's punishment? Being sent to her room. She stays there overnight. There's never any talk of sending her back to the orphanage, much less doing it. In fact, in the book, Marilla says of having adopted a girl she believes is a thief, "But I've put my hand to the plow and I won't look back." There was no thought of sending her back. The entire section in the series is fabrication. It has no relation to the book at all.
The passage immediately following is the Sunday school picnic at the Andrews' farm (not the Berry's farm). In the TV series, it's a sad event. Diana is not allowed to speak to Anne. The other children ridicule her openly in front of their parents, calling her names, calling her trash. Anne runs and hides in the woods and has an emotional interchange with Marilla, who finally apologizes for the brooch incident. The public bullying is horrible to watch -- and from Christians! Why would they treat an orphan girl that way? Did that happen in the book? Well ... no. In the book, Marilla doesn't even go to the picnic. The reader doesn't even go to the picnic. All we hear of the picnic is Anne's retelling of the event to Marilla when she returns home. That's it! Here's the paragraph:
"Oh, Marilla, I've had a perfectly scrumptious time. Scrumptious is a new word I learned today. I heard Mary Alice Bell use it. Isn't it very expressive? Everything was lovely. We had a splendid tea and then Mr. Harmon Andrews took us all for a row on the Lake of Shining Waters -- six of us at a time. And Jane Andrews nearly fell overboard. She was leaning out to pick water lilies and if Mr. Andrews hadn't caught her by her sash just in the nick of time she'd have fallen in and prob'ly been drowned. I wish it had been me. It would have been such a romantic experience to have been nearly drowned. It would be such a thrilling tale to tell. And we had the ice cream. Words fail me to describe that ice cream. Marilla, I assure you it was sublime."
That is the picnic in its entirety, in the book.
What bothers me most is that the plot changes are so large and so radical that they produce significant character changes. This is not Montgomery's book. These are not Montgomery's characters. The plot seems to veer over a cliff. The voice and tone are not Montgomery's.
Still -- watch the series because it's well done. Watch it because it's interesting, and the characters are complex and the story is very compelling. I cried watching it, something I think I never did watching Megan Follows. But as you watch, do not mistake this for the book. The book is light, airy, whimsical, flitting from incident to mishap to hilarity with all the bumps along the way you'd expect from a girl finding her way in a new world. But none of the bumps hurt much, and it's a world of wonder and adventure, not a life fractured by tragedy and horror. I think I may go back and read the book.