“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.