It’s been almost a week since I’ve written about a book. It seems like a long time to me, but that’s probably just because the book I’m reading right now is taking longer than usual. Not having anything else exciting and new happening, I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about some old favorites of mine. The subject occurred to me, because I was just recommending this trilogy to a fellow writer friend. Anyone aspiring to be a published writer can empathize with the struggles of Emily Starr, in Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest, by L.M. Montgomery.
Yes, I’ve ranted about the fact that most people that love Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books have only ever read the Anne series. I will probably rant about this subject many more times, because as much as I love Anne Shirley Blythe, I love ALL the Anne series (especially Rilla of Ingleside), not just the first one, and there are many of Montgomery’s books that I love better.
In Emily of New Moon, we meet young Emily Starr, who is about to be orphaned. Her dreamy, artistic father is her idol, and the only person she knows and loves. Because of the bond between them and her father’s honesty, he tells her the truth, that he is going to have to leave her. She faces the bleak news, and has her last moments alone with him. Then, she says goodbye in private and turns a blank face to her cold, stern relatives, which leaves some of them with the impression that she’s unfeeling.
Her relatives did not approve of her father, because he had a runaway marriage with their beloved sister. Knowing that she will have to live with one of them, Emily hides under a table and listens to them as they discuss who will take her in. None of them truly want her, except those that have no say in the matter, so eventually, they draw straws. Emily will go to her aunts Elizabeth and Laura Murray of New Moon.
The story follows dreamy, magic-loving Emily, as she goes to live with the stern Elizabeth, the gentler Laura, and “simple” Cousin Jimmy Murray. The Murray ways are tough to live up to, so there are many battles between Emily and Elizabeth. Along the way, she begins to writer letters to her father, in heaven, which begins her on the road to the longing to be a writer.
Going to school brings her friendships, such as the artistic Teddy Kent, the harum-scarum Ilse Burnley, and the hired boy Perry Miller. Despite her orphaned state and stern family, Emily takes pride in being of New Moon, and finds that her friends have their own troubles. Teddy’s widowed mother is jealous of everyone and everything, believing people will steal her son’s love. It’s rumored that she even poisons his pets. Ilse is the daughter of the town doctor, but she might as well be an orphan. There’s a mystery involving the disappearance of her mother, that almost no one will talk about, if there are children present. As a result, Dr. Burnley lets his daughter run wild, not caring a straw about what she does. And Perry Miller may be a hired boy, but he has a mouth on him, and is stubborn and proud, planning to improve himself.
At school, Emily is eventually taught by Mr. Carpenter, a crusty curmudgeon that recognizes Emily’s actual writing talent, and critiques her work. I love this part of the book, because he makes her writhe over some of the things she’s written, but then points out that she has a few good things in there. Also, I marvel at L.M. Montgomery’s ability to write “fair” poetry, as well as “good” poetry, for this part of the story.
And what would a good story be without a little mystery? One of Emily’s ancestors were rumored to have the second sight, so perhaps Emily can perceive some things that others cannot? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Eventually, you’ll get to Emily Climbs, and follow Emily’s growing up years, as she begins to write more and attends Shrewsbury High School. Her family has never approved of her writing, so they give her an ultimatum. If she wants to go to school, she must give up her writing completely. Emily refuses. She can’t NOT write. She MUST write. Eventually, with Cousin Jimmy’s help, a compromise is reached, where Emily agrees that for her time at Shrewsbury, she will not write anything that isn’t true. So, now she must give up her fantasy tales, for a time, and concentrate on fact and character sketches. But she still has to put up with rooming with her Aunt Ruth, who is described as a cross between a dried-up prune and a bad spy. Aunt Ruth has always believed that Emily is sneaky and deceptive, never telling the truth, and says so to Emily’s face. But perhaps there’s something human buried in Aunt Ruth, somewhere.
Of course, as Emily, Teddy, Ilse, and Perry go to school, they run into the joys and pitfalls that surround school days and young love. What can you do when your friends are falling in love with you, your best friend is alternately raging and flirting, and the town gossips are determined to besmirch your reputation forever?
And finally, when you reach Emily’s Quest, you see Emily taking one step after another on the “Alpine Path”, as she endeavors to see her work put into print. Her friendship with the older Dean “Jarback” Priest blossoms into something more, while Emily realizes that Mr. Carpenter may be dying. Meanwhile, her other friends are far away at school. Emily finally writes a book, and asks Dean for his opinion of it. Jealous of her love for writing, and not willing to share her, he lies to her. And then something terrible comes of it.
Eventually, Emily begins to pull her life back together, but her heart was broken over her book and Dean’s opinion, so she gives up writing. Her closest friendships are still there, but oh so distant, as they set off for different schools and jobs. Will she ever write again? Will her misunderstandings with Teddy, Ilse, and Perry ever be resolved? And will Aunt Elizabeth ever admit that writing isn’t a bad thing after all?
I’ll leave you there, in the hopes that you will pick up these wonderful books. I’ve been reading them since I was a pre-teen, and it’s always fun to talk about some old favorites. And if you can tell that I love these books, then believe me when I say that there are other books by L.M. Montgomery that I love even more than these. So, again I say, if you overlook Montgomery, after only reading Anne of Green Gables (or wussing out and watching only the movies)… well, quite frankly, I’m sorry for you. Because you’ll never know what you’re missing.