A friend and I were discussing books, recently. I know, big surprise. But after talking her ears off about The Lord of the Rings (books and movies), and discovering she’d never read them (oops), we started discussing other favorite authors. So, first up, she asked if I’d ever read the Anne series, by L. M. Montgomery, and which of them was my favorite? To my surprise, when I said that it was probably Rilla of Ingleside, she agreed with me!
I’m trying to remember the last time I met someone who had even read any of that series besides Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. How many people have even heard of Rilla? And for that matter, how many people have read anything ELSE by L. M. Montgomery? I know, it’s a favorite rant of mine, but how can people possibly just stop with Anne, when Montgomery wrote so many books that are even BETTER.
Please understand, Anne Shirley is a fabulous character, and I love her imagination and mishaps, as she tries to fit into life with the Cuthberts and the people of Avonlea. And if you keep reading, you get to follow her as she grows up and has children, who are every bit as delightful and imaginative as she was. I truly enjoy reading about Anne, when she’s mothering her own six children and supporting Gilbert, as he does the doctoring for Glen St. Mary. In the middle of this, she still manages to enjoy friendships with many interesting and eccentric people, as well as keeps up a writing career.
And if you’re a fan of the movies, I will repeatedly tell people that the first two movies are good and fun, combining elements of several of the books, but don’t watch the third one. Gilbert never goes to war, and I think they invented that movie to earn more money. Of course, if they wanted to do a movie where people go to war, they should have used Rilla of Ingleside. But I really don’t believe they could have done that book justice, because it’s a powerful book, and was never meant to be turned into a movie full of cheese.
Rilla Blythe is a beautiful, dreamy teenager, and unlike her siblings, she has no ambitions except to have a good time, attend her first grown-up party, and take life easy. But World War I is on the horizon, and when war is declared, most of the young men of her acquaintance enlist, excited about the idea of being able to and fight. There are plenty of war details, as the Blythes avidly follow the news, praying for their loved ones, but throughout, we watch as Rilla is forced to grow up.
She has her first romance, raises a war baby, loses loved ones, and has to wait and see whether another loved one is dead or missing in action. These are tough subjects, and so much more serious than many things that happen in the previous books. Every time I read it, my heart breaks for certain people in the book, and no matter how many times I read it, those incidents don’t change. It gives you insight into what families endure when their husbands, brothers, and sons go to war. You realize that not only did women lose some of their men, but other girls lost their sweethearts… or those that would have been their sweetheart.
Rilla is not perfect, but the Blythe family has a harder row to hoe than in any of the rest of the Anne series… and so, Rilla learns to deal with the good and the bad, the joys and the heartbreak.
Now, if you’re ready to venture beyond the Anne series, then please do so. Because honestly, the Anne series is NOT the best of Montgomery’s books. Not by a long shot. Okay, fine, that’s my opinion, you’re allowed to disagree. : )
My favorite individual book of hers is The Blue Castle. This is such a favorite, that when I found that it was not included in my Montgomery collection on the Kindle (it’s still under copyright), I chose to bring my own paper copy of it with me to Australia. I cannot live without reading The Blue Castle, every once in a while.
I love the fact that despite her books being set in the early 1900’s, some of her female characters actually remained single until they were in their early thirties. Many, many books of that time show that marriage was expected of women, at a young age, and spinsterhood was condemned. But still, there were women who married later in life, unlike today, where many of us either wait on purpose, or wait by accident, because the guys are taking their own sweet time.
The Blue Castle is the tale of a young woman, who turns thirty-one, is pitied by her family, and has never had a chance at love. She’s pretty much a doormat, never sticks up for herself, and her mother is a cold, hard woman, who never encourages her. But one day, she visits a doctor over some strange heart pains she’s been having… and a week later, she receives a letter from the doctor, telling her that she’s going to die, within a year.
She has to face the fact that she is alive, but has never lived. And with only a year to live, she doesn’t want that to be all she’ll ever have. So, the chains fall off, and she starts telling her family what she thinks of them and everything else. Her family honestly believes she’s gone crazy. And it’s so FUNNY. If you aren’t aware of it, Montgomery’s books are hilarious. The characters are so alive, and she lets them poke fun at each other in SUCH a a way.
So, if you read The Blue Castle, you’ll get to watch as Valancy finally flies free, and is able to become herself. Her family has never let her be herself. And through this, won’t she be able to find friendship and love, where she least expected it? And maybe, just maybe, the doctor made a mistake…
My other favorite individual story of Montgomery’s is Jane of Lantern Hill. I have never seen the movie, and don’t want to, so don’t tell me about it, if you have. The only reason I know it exists, is because I’ve seen the cover photo from the movie, on one of the books. This story also is about a character who’s never really been allowed to be herself. But in this case, it’s a young girl who lives with a mother that loves her dearly. They both live with Jane’s grandmother, who hates her, for the sake of her father.
Jane’s parents aren’t divorced, but she grew up believing that her father was dead. One day, she finds that he’s alive, and he wants her to come to Prince Edward Island for the summer. She doesn’t want to go at all, but she is sent anyway. And she discovers that P.E.I. is in her blood, and that was where she was born to live. With no terrible grandmother looking over her shoulder, she finds that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to. And the neighbors! I love the Snowbeams and the Jimmy Johns. And the cats, First and Second Peter. I also wish that I could live at Lantern Hill. The account of them house-hunting is just wonderful.
You get to see Jane for two summers at Lantern Hill, as well as the winter in between, and listen in, as she finally finds out what went wrong between her parents… and what she intends to do about it.
If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, I’d recommend reading the Emily trilogy, which is a marvelous set of books. I know at least one person who named their daughter Emily, because those books are her favorite. I love them, too, but I don’t have time to go over the details.
My favorite duology (is that a word?) are the Pat books. Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat follow Patricia Gardiner and her family, from the time she’s seven years old to when she’s in her early thirties. Pat, like Rilla, is not ambitious. The only thing she has ever wanted is to stay at Silver Bush and be with her family. Her family consists of some delightful siblings, her parents, and Judy Plum. If there’s a character that can beat any other Montgomery character all hollow, it’s Judy Plum.
Judy Plum has been a part of the family since she came over from Ireland, and though she cooks and looks after the house, she’s pretty much a third parent. She loves all the Gardiner children “within reason”, but loves Pat “out of reason”. So, you listen as she tells the children hair-raising stories, convinces young Pat that babies come from parsley beds, and takes a huge interest in the courting of all the Gardiner children.
As the years go by, you meet Pat’s dearest friends, Bets Wilcox and Jingle Gordon. With her friends and family at her side, Pat experiences infatuation and true love, the loss of loved ones, and watches as a sibling makes a bad choice in marriage. Divorce was not even considered, back then, so they did what they had to do… they made the best of it.
I’m not sure why I love Pat so much more than Emily. Emily’s family doings are so interesting, as she tries to fit into a family that didn’t want her, they only drew straws for her. But she fights her way to be able to write, and has a smidgen of the second sight, so there are some doings that are unexplainable, but fascinating. And yet, Pat’s a homebody, which I can empathize with. And I love Jingle Gordon, much better than I like Teddy Kent. And there’s always Judy Plum and Tillytuck, the hired man. Laughs are never far away, when Tillytuck is on the scene.
I know, I know, I’ve been going on for a while. But please, people, don’t forget the rest of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books, just because you’ve read Anne of Green Gables (or seen the movie). There’s so much more to life than that… and I didn’t mention The Story Girl! Life is too short, get started right now!
P.S. If you haven’t heard of the NINTH book in the Anne series, then please look up The Blythes are Quoted. Only published recently, it’s a bit different than the rest. Full of short stories, the Blythes aren’t the main characters, but they get mentioned a lot. Most of the short stories were published previously, but most of the Blythe mentions were edited out. When I read it, I was surprised to see how much was edited out, and it annoyed me. I think it got lost in the archives somewhere, which is why it’s only now been published. It also has poetry in it that’s supposed to be written by Anne and her son Walter, followed by dialogue from the family, after it’s been read aloud. A very different flavor from any of the rest of the books, but still a good read.