of willows, poplars, & war…

I grew up reading all of L. M. Montgomery’s books, except for Anne of Green Gables (at first). For some reason, my mother’s copy of that book had been lost or damaged, so the only times I ever read it, I had borrowed it from the library. So, while some people idolize that book, and no other by Montgomery, it was the rest of the series, plus the non-Anne books that I read over and over. I think it’s given me a different view on Anne, amply aided by the movies, as well. But my heart belongs more to the adult Anne, her children, and the friends of her adulthood, rather than all of them in their schooldays.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Matthew Cuthbert, and my heart breaks when he dies, but it’s Marilla and Mrs. Lynde that stay with you, through most of the books. And for those of you that have never read any further, Anne’s youngest daughter was named after Anne’s mother and Marilla Cuthbert. Thus, she was Bertha Marilla, but Rilla, for short. Of course, Rilla always wished she had the “dignified” and “romantic” name of Bertha, while we modern-day people know better about that particular name.  : )

Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m going to try and avoid comparisons to the movies, as much as possible, but it can’t be completely avoided. I love the first two Anne movies, though it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen them. But, for the record, there is no way on God’s green earth that I will EVER watch the third one. Why, you say? I’m sure they made a decent film out of it, I admit it. But no movie about Gilbert going to war can ever live up to the reality, the heartbreak, and the sheer brilliance of Rilla of Ingleside.

In that book, Anne and Gilbert have to watch as their children, and their friends’ children all head to the Great War. The boys’ eyes are glowing with the excitement of battle, having no idea of the horror that they’re in for, right at the start of WWI. Rilla is forced to grow up quickly, as she, her mother, and sisters all throw themselves into helping the war effort. She watches the man she is growing to love go to war, and she watches one of her brothers wrestle with the fear of going to war, and the sheer ugliness of it all.

If you have never read about Anne’s son, Walter Blythe, you’ll never meet another such brilliant character on the page. Walter was born a poet, a visionary, and somehow, he seems to know that the Piper will call the boys of Canada to “follow him round the world”. But Walter sees clearly enough to know that even if they come back, they will never be the same again.

“Some day,” said Walter dreamily, looking afar into the sky, “the Pied Piper will come over the hill up there and down Rainbow Valley, piping merrily and sweetly. And I will follow him–follow him down to the shore–down to the sea–away from you all. I don’t think I’ll want to go–Jem will want to go–it will be such an adventure–but I won’t. Only I’ll HAVE to–the music will call and call and call me until I MUST follow.” –Rainbow Valley

And who will come back? The story of Dog Monday, howling all night long, as a warning of someone never returning home. This is the same faithful Dog Monday that goes to the train station, when Jem Blythe goes to war, and refuses to leave, until Jem comes home.

As I said, no movie about Gilbert going to war will ever compare to what really happened in the book. My heart still breaks, every time I read it, and the impact hasn’t become less, though I’ve been reading it for 15 years.

Yes, I’m already off track, but I’ll try and get back to where I meant to go. We visited the library, a few weeks ago, and Bea borrowed most of the Anne books, though I don’t know how many of them she got around to reading. I returned the books, and checked out Anne of Windy Willows, for myself. Because I had found out that this book is published as Anne of Windy Willows in the UK, Japan, and Australia, but everywhere else, it’s Anne of Windy Poplars. That’s the title I was raised on, of course.

From what I read online, there’s supposed to be more detail in Windy Willows, as they edited some of it out for us more sensitive North Americans, and they didn’t want to have us confusing the book with The Wind in the Willows. But what caught my attention was the idea that my own beloved copy of Windy Poplars may actually be considered “abridged”. How horrible.

So, I had to read the Aussie one, and see if I could recognize any differences. It’s been a long time since I read my copy, but I was fairly certain I would notice any big discrepancies.

If you’ve never read it, Anne of Windy Poplars/Willows follows Anne of Avonlea. Anne is now engaged to marry Gilbert Blythe, but he has to go through a few more years of medical school, so she has accepted the job of principal of Summerside High School. She comes to Summerside, looking for a place to board, and instead, she finds that the “royal family”, the Pringles, are raising the roof over her becoming principal. The Pringle clan wanted one of their relatives to get the position, so now there’s hell to pay.

The movie Anne of Avonlea has a number of stories taken straight from this book, so if you’ve seen it, you’ll remember Anne’s problems with the mischief-maker, Jen Pringle and the unkindness of her fellow teacher, Katherine Brooke. More on Katherine, later. The Pringles plan her downfall, when they put on a school play, requiring her to find a last-minute replacement, when Jen calls in sick. In the book, it is Sophy Sinclaire that comes to the rescue. I’ve forgotten the name of the girl in the movie, and how they somehow make her father part of the story. Oh, yes, that same father is the son of the pestiferous Mrs. Gibson, who makes Pauline’s life a misery. These stories take place in Summerside.

But how can you get by without getting to know Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty? Anne finds a place to board in Windy Willows (I’ll stick with that name, as I just read that version), which is home to the two widows. One is tall and stern, yet she had a happy marriage, and dearly misses her husband. Aunt Chatty talks excessively, has exquisitely tender feelings which are easily hurt, and hers was a very unhappy marriage. And the house would not be complete without Rebecca Dew (who they say really runs things), who has a unique look on life, from being housekeeper, cook, and friend to the widows and to Anne.

While making herself at home in the tower room at Windy Willows, Anne befriends “Little Elizabeth”, who lives in the cold mansion next door. This lovely bit of wistful imagination longs to be loved, but her grandmother and “That Woman” never give her any, while her father is far away in Paris, and she has never met him. The poor dear looks ever for her “Tomorrow”, where all will be happiness, and her father will be waiting to love her.

Ah, Rebecca Dew. This character is one-in-a-million, and I can’t forget how Cousin Geraldine, a regular wet blanket, comes to dinner, and tries to depress everyone. Geraldine LIVES on the wrong side of the bed, always seeing the downside, and Rebecca Dew would rather not sit down to dinner with her, though the widows wouldn’t mind. But unlike other houses, where the staff would work in silence, Rebecca can’t keep her opinion quiet. So, every time she comes in to deliver a new course or take plates away, she makes a remark or has a snappy comeback for Cousin Wet Blanket. Oh, it’s a riot.

As I read through the stories of these old friends of mine, I was still looking for differences between the UK and the US version. They were not as obvious as I thought they would be, and I’m still unsure about them. Windy Poplars will be the first thing I read through, when I get home. Or at least, the chapters that I’m suspicious about. The likely culprits are the graveyard chapter, the wedding story, and Tomgallon House.

Anne doesn’t mind graveyards, so she takes a wander into the neighboring one, expecting to have some time alone to read the inscriptions. Instead, she bumps into Miss Valentine Courtaloe, the town’s seamstress, who knows all the tales of every person and their ancestors. She leads Anne around, narrating the happiness and sorrows of all the people who had gone before. I think a likely story for abridgement would be the one of the man who was so bad, when he died, they couldn’t get his eyes to close, so he was buried with his eyes open. But Anne was more horrified over the story of a married couple that hated each other, from marriage to death, and were buried side by side.

Some of these stories, I don’t remember, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t read them before, it just means I skimmed a few of the tales. My other idea for an abridged chapter is the one about the wedding. Anne was a bridesmaid, and she was able to supply an ear, and maybe some comfort, to Nora, the sister of the bride. The only sister to remain single, she was not happy with her lot in life, as she had recently had a beau, but they had argued and not spoken since. With the bride bubbling over with joy, Nora only barely hides her bitterness. It doesn’t help that Aunt Mouser (who always “mouses” out the things people don’t want seen or said aloud) is there to make unseemly comments. And then one of the groomsmen teases Nora about being the last one standing, and she hauls off and slaps him. I enjoyed that part, but I sure can’t remember if it was in my copy of the book.

The original “royal family” of Summerside were the Tomgallons, of whom Minerva Tomgallon is the sole survivor. It seems that her family may have a curse on them, which causes them all to die suddenly or in dramatically horrific ways. I would say this chapter could be abridged, for the subject matter, but I remember a lot of it. So, I can’t be sure. Miss Tomgallon is a non-stop talker, only letting Anne get in a word or to, about once an hour. And then after hearing all the tales of horror, she gets to spend the night at Tomgallon House.

So, in the end, I am uncertain as to the differences between the Willows and the Poplars. I will have to do further research on the subject, and get back to you. I’ll just close with my final rant about the Anne movies. Again, remember, I love the movies, but there’s no rule that says I can’t have any issues with them.

The book does a beautiful job of showing how Anne finally reaches out to Katherine Brooke and befriends her. Katherine is the child of a couple that are like the graveyard couple that Anne was so horrified by. With no love in her life, she saw Anne as what she would have like to be, not knowing that Anne had a hard childhood, too.

But in the book, though she isn’t beautiful, Katherine Brooke is a handsome woman of about 28, who dresses badly enough to look like she’s in her thirties. Anne, herself, is in her early twenties. So, when you watch the movies, you see a woman playing Katherine who is actually in her thirties, but they make her look like she’s in her fifties. And Anne is played by a nineteen year old. My objection is that the book makes it clear that Katherine is still a girl, she only dresses badly, with lovely black hair, a beautiful singing voice, and a gift for elocution. Whenever I read this, it annoys me that the Katherine Brooke in the movie is made out to be an old woman, who is made a little more youthful by learning how to smile. And standing next to the young Megan Follows, she seems older still. This bugs me.

Well, thank you for joining me on another spiel meant to introduce others to the joy that are Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books. I will continue to inform people of this, for the rest of my life, and continue to be appalled that people will stop with Anne, or just watch the movies. Because as good as the first two movies are, they’re a compression and hodge-podge mix of four books. And if you insist on never looking beyond Anne, then you’ll never know the thrills that are still awaiting you.

One thought on “of willows, poplars, & war…

  1. Oh Rachel thank you for posting this! Windy Poplars, Anne of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside are by far my favourite books. It’s as if you were writing about some of my very dear friends that will always be close to my heart. That bit about Walter really made me cry all over again. And Rebecca Dew! Oh it just makes me smile with my whole self!
    I agree that those few instances may be the only discrepancies between the UK/Aus version and Poplars. This may just be the push I needed to re-read the series again this spring. It’s always spring when I start Anne. It seems fitting. 🙂
    Thank you for bringing back beautiful memories, because we know that they are no longer words on a page for us. These books contain our childhoods and our dreams for our futures. Our sadness and joy, the friends long passed, the meadows we once ran through, the children we sent to war, the beaux we once had. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s