Forgetting the Way to Fairyland

“Anne of Green Gables” is a hot topic in my circle right now.  We’ve known about the impending Netflix series for a while now and have been pestering our Canadian connections for the dish since it premiered on the CBC first.  The response I’ve heard is mixed – some people have been praising it’s gritty, realism and others are aghast at the pale imitation being called by the same name.

I will admit that while I haven’t watched it yet (it’s not released) I’m in the later half already.  Honestly, I was when I first read the interviews with the director and her plans to develop very modern themes of gender equality, feminism, bullying, and prejudice – that’s all well and good, but it’s just not Anne.

Having watched the trailer and the infamous footage of the “pants mouse” incident I won’t deny that the series looks well produced and well acted, but it’s not Anne and this is not to tear into something that I haven’t seen.  I can’t cast judgment on something I haven’t seen on my own, but I can posit some opinions on what I have, mainly thoughts on why this particular version needed to be made in the first place.

It’s very clear that “Anne” is meant to be, in modern terms, a “gritty reboot”.  It’s supposed to be darker, more realistic and delve into deeper themes, topics and taboos, but all that leaves me asking… why?

Why do we need a gritty reboot of an idealistic, idyllic piece of juvenile literature?  What are we gaining from modernizing such a classic work of prose?  And it’s not just about “Anne”, it’s about trends I see in film, music, and television in general.  It seems like we’ve lost our ability to appreciate beauty and instead, we’ve raised idols of blood, gore, sex and violence.  I saw these trends in college when plays and paintings had to be hyper-analysed to within an inch of their life to be deemed of any value and more often than not appreciation of beauty – line, form, rhythm, emotion – was undermined as too pedantic and pushed aside to make room for the coarse, the crass and the unsettling; the only things that seem to have value to a modern audience.

“Anne of Green Gables” as it stands is nothing of the later, and everything of the former.  It is true that she is an unloved, neglected, orphan child whom the townspeople initial presume will kill them all in their beds, but that’s the end of it.  Except for a few glances from Anne to her childhood – tales of speaking frankly about the twins or creating her imaginary friends – her past is boxed up and put on the shelf once she makes herself at ease in Green Gables.  It is part of her past, but it is not a part of her.  From then on the book focuses on her beautiful character and dare I say, her beautiful soul.  Her imagination turns the mundane into the miraculous.  Her innocent, rambling cadence becomes poetry and her through her eyes her world is made more, and more beautiful.  Adults, children, and even crabby old Rachel Lynde are won over by her and she transforms them forever.

People have already argued that they see in Anne Shirley a shining example of an abuse victim rising from the ashes of their horrible life and if this book had been written by a modern author or even Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell I would say they would be right, but it isn’t and it’s not.  Anne doesn’t become who she is by triumphing over adversity; she is herself from the beginning and the horror that is assumed in her previous life never touches her.  To call Anne’s innocence or spirited imagination a coping mechanism denies the source of its beauty – Anne with an “E” is created, not made.

This is the root of the impulse to modernize and over analyze works of beauty.  Beauty at its core reminds us, as a friend so aptly put it, of the transcendent.  It reminds us of creation and therefore of a Creator and like the proverbial space which abhors a vacuum our modern nihilism, relativism, and materialism abhors even the suggestion of a Creator.  This is why we’re so drawn to the gritty, the dark and disruptive – it allows us to deny beauty and therefore deny creation.

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”

– L.M. Montgomery

Today we live in a world that is forgetting the way to fairyland.  We line our roads with thorns of realism and walls of analysis.  We brick up the windows from which we can see a glimpse of beauty because we are afraid of what we will see looking back at us from the stars.  We are forgetting, as Anne herself said, that there is a “thin veil” between us and a “kingdom of ideal beauty” through which we can sometimes steal a glance and that it is those glimpses that make life worthwhile.  If there’s ever a time that we need beauty, that we need to be swept off our feet to fairyland and ideal kingdoms of beauty it is now.  So let’s stop pretending there is a need to modernize “Anne of Green Gables” because there isn’t – we don’t need to separate ourselves further from fairyland, from the transcendent, from the beautiful.  There is, however, a deep need to walk through the White Way of Delight and cross the Lake of Shining Waters, there is a deep need to fawn over puffed sleeves and spare rooms, there is a need for charm and innocence and kindred spirits and being scandalously in love.  We need a skinny, little red haired girl who sees beauty in everything and who makes us love her just for who she is created to be.

Failing Lent… again.

 

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photo credit:  Aaron Burden via Unsplash

Well, that wraps up another Lenten season and I don’t know about you, but I feel like I crashed and burned.  Again.

 

Just a few days I go I was bemoaning this to some friends:  I don’t’ come from a family or tradition that really “did” Lent.  I’m a convert so EVERYTHING is new and different and confusing and I’m constantly forgetting things and then remembering that they were really important about a week later.  Lent feels like this every year.  I just can’t seem to remember everything I’m supposed to do for myself let alone all the rich traditions I’m meant to be creating for my children and family.

That Lent countdown poster?  Stayed in its bag until Holy Thursday; as did the Stations of the Cross for kids booklet we got at Religious Ed.

Adoration?  Stations? Ha! Well, I wrote them in my planner, so I get points right?

Getting to all the stuff we’re supposed to do during Holy Week, plus baking, cleaning, prayer, building a rocket to the moon and perfecting cold fusion? Big ol’ nope.

I often hear people say they don’t need Lent.  Thank goodness it’s not in their tradition because they don’t need it.  Well, I need it.  I need it because if it’s hard for me to remember not to eat cookies (why do I know so many people with Girl Scouts?) then that’s probably saying something about my ability to say no to bigger things.  If I can’t find five minutes of prayer when I’m absolutely supposed to do it, I’m probably not doing so hot the rest of the year.

I need Lent because I’m still working on this thing that is me.  I need Lent because I’m still learning how to be a good wife, mother, friend, and daughter.  I need Lent because I’m lazy and selfish and greedy and it’s so easy to overlook that in a world that insists “You do you” is the highest level of consciousness and perfection.

I need to get better and Lent helps me remember that.  I need to pray more and give more.  I need to prioritize different things and be more humble.  I need to be more aware and be more thankful.

What are some of the concrete things I’ve taken away this year?  I need to figure out how to bring our faith home in a way that is practical and fits in our family culture so that I’m doing better in the education of my children.  I need to prioritize time in prayer, which other than ad-libbed spontaneous prayer is all but nonexistent.  I need to be more generous – it’s hard when you live a frugal, budgeted existence to remember how much you can give and to not prioritize things based on what you get back and I can do better with freely giving and blessing others.

This weekend I attend an Easter service with my family (they attend at a small, rural Methodist Church) and the pastor there gave a great sermon about Mary finding the tomb empty.  Mary was so overcome with emotion, so worried about the here and now that the Angels appearing not phase her, unlike every other instance in the Bible the Angels don’t start with “Be not afraid” and not too long after, still so worried and concerned in the moment she even fails to see Jesus standing before her.

I think failing at Lent this year has made me realize how much like Mary at the Tomb I can be – so wrapped up about the here and now that I fail to see God standing before me – in my family, in my community, and in my own soul.

Luckily, there’s always next year.

A Merry Manifest

We recently had a spate of sickness sweep through our house, I lasted until the last stand which was the culmination of a never ill child, three seconds warning and the viral christening of a grocery store floor.  I managed to last five more hours after that before finally succumbing and sleeping for a good part of the next day.  Of course, that doesn’t mean nothing of interest is floating through my head – oh I have thoughts; lots of thoughts and lots of opinions forming but for now just a list of the things that are worth noting.

Watching:

I really wasn’t expecting much when I sat down to watch this the other night, but honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I don’t think it was the stomach flu altering my mind.  It wasn’t a perfect movie and there was plenty of camp and Matt Smith as Mr. Collins – well whatever, he’s the Doctor.  I’ll have more to say about period dramas soon, but this definitely proved a point I’ve had kicking around in my head.

 

Listening:

Oh, this is almost perfect.  So close, and definitely worth a second listen, but I think Ms. Newton gets carried away with the gravelly voice of her Mr. Rochester.  Honestly, the Librivox version has done the best so far to capture, what is in my opinion, Jane’s dry sarcasm and wit and their tete-a-tete.  I want to say more, but we’ll talk more about period dramas soon I promise.  Overall though it’s a quality recording and worth a listen to or an addition to on your Audible wishlist.

This was a fun find – all six complete, mature Austen works in radio play format – and it was just what I needed to get through some long days at work.  I’d say the weakest of the six was “Emma”, but I must admit I’ve never gotten through a version of Emma – book, radio or film – without wanting to just smack the woman.  “Persuasion”, my all time favorite, was excellent and even “Mansfield Park”, which I rarely appreciate as I’ve been told I should, was fun to listen too.  There are some issues with consistent volume, it I felt I got my moneys worth from it.

Reading:

 

Because I’m only reading about seven books at the moment I thought it right to add one more the list.  As many people know my family is a big fan of the “Avatar the Last Airbender” series, so when I saw a new YA book written by the lead creator I knew I needed to give it a shot.  Needless to say, I’ll be reviewing this on its own, but so far I’m enjoying it.  It does suffer a little bit from “Whedon-itis” – that is a really clever writer having specific characterisations or tropes that he prefers to pull from.  Typically this makes the first couple offerings of the writers work seem fresh or clever, but the later a bit tired when you recognize repeated character types in a person’s work.  However, I’m willing to give MDD a bit of a pass because he does write for the YA audience and well, YA loves a stock character regardless of author.  Where “Avatar” was based on a pseudo-Easten Religion-esque world “Rebel Genius” takes places in something akin to an Italian Renaissance where art, not martial arts, are the true power and there have already been some interesting deviations from the Avatar world’s understanding of faith, religion, etc. which would make it appealing to a number of people I know.

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The Homely Hobbit Hole: Reflections on Homemaking

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“The essence of home, you see, is not necessarily a structure.  What makes a home is the life shared there…”

– Sally Clarkson, The Life Giving Home

I’ve been reading a lot of books centering around the home recently – books about creating the home and books where the home is held to an ideal.  It’s been making me think a lot about my home in particular.

As a working mother, I can definitely say that I don’t have the time or energy to devote to my home that others do, nor am I naturally gifted at housekeeping.  My house is normally in a state of acceptably clean, clutter-y comfort.  My home is a mismatched, hodgepodge of hand-me-downs and thrift store relics and there is no perfect southern exposure to bathing my rooms in perfect, crisp light.  I do not have a designer’s eye for style and color and I just recently started replacing things I purchased for my first apartment over ten years ago.  I am not anything spectacular in the kitchen either and I can never quite seem to get in the counters clean enough or get all the crumbs swept up off the floor.

It’s easy to get caught up in Instagram-worthy homes that populate social media these days.  It’s easy to get swept away in the idea that what makes a home are white walls, a minimalist sensibility and not a hint that the room photographed is ever actually lived in.  These are the things that decorate a house, but these are not the things that make a home.

In her book, The Life Giving Home, which I’m currently working through Sally Clarkson makes a list of what a home is to her, what her ideals are in crafting her home and I have to admit I always approach these type of books with a bit of trepidation since homemaking and work are rarely seen to go side by side.  But instead of putting me on my guard it got me thinking: I’ve always tried to consider myself a homemaker with an outside job, but how can I bring more intentionality into the home that I’m making even when my time and attention is divided elsewhere.  How I can I make a home with my particular life in mind?

Ever since I was a child Tolkien’s descriptions of homes in his works have always stuck with me; the opening lines of The Hobbit were probably the first prose I committed to memory, not for any particular reason, but just because I found this image so endearing and they are the images I come back to when thinking about this topic.  Nowhere in his works does Tolkien describe these homes, whether it is humble Bag End or the stately home of Elrond, as perfect or stylish or even impeccably clean – all things held to a high standard in the glossy pictures of modern homes.  Instead, he focusing on the feelings the homes cause and power they have over those in their walls.

That is the kind of home I want and while cleanliness and order definitely help and are worthy goals they are not the primary focus of my homemaking.  My house does not have to be spotless to be comfortable.  My furnishings do not have to be new or stylish to be beautiful.  The food in my kitchen does not have to be beautiful photographed or even entirely handmade to be nourishing.  What my house needs to be is a place of comfort and safety.  It should be a cure for the ills of the world and refuge for those who seek it.  It needs to be a place filled with food and song and laughter and good stories, and these are all things I can do with my life.  Sure the food might be a little simple, and some nights a good portion might come from a bag or a box and perhaps the stories might not always be perfect or of the highest caliber.

I hope that if someone comes to my house and sits at my hand-me-down table or on my thrift store couch after eating a good meal made from the best I could offer on a busy night after a long day that they would feel at ease, they would feel a little less weary and they would leave a little happier.  That if they pass by my home, which will never be worthy of a magazine or a pin on Pinterest or even a well lit Instagram photo, that they might still think, “That’s Molly’s homely little house… and that means comfort.”