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