Sunday, May 21, 2017

Spoiling a Classic

I finished watching the Netflix show Anne with an E. I liked it enormously--at first. It's a beautiful production, very well cast and beautifully filmed. As the episodes progressed, wading deeper into what Anne would have termed "the depths of despair," this heavy-handed perversion of the delightful classic Anne of Green Gables became too much for this Anne-fan to take.

Having read the classic L.M. Montgomery book (along with its many sequels) literally dozens of times, I've got a good handle on plot lines and characters. In fact, I have them memorized. I also have enough "scope for the imagination," to use an Anne-term, to enjoy embellishments on well-established events in the story. The depictions of her abuse while residing at earlier houses and the dreaded orphanage were new but interesting departures from the book. They offered a justifiable hook for her wildly vivid imagination and love of books--she was escaping her grim realities.

I also enjoyed the fleshing out of the Marilla Cuthbert/John Blythe romance so briefly alluded to in the books. That's taking the real story and running with it, and it worked.

Where the writer lost me was in the creation of completely new experiences entirely foreign to Anne's story, the Cuthberts, and the quaint town of Avonlea. **SPOILERS AHEAD** If you plan to watch the series, stop reading now.

Gilbert Blythe left an orphan? No, in the books John Blythe lived to see his grandchildren. If the writer had to linger on a tragedy, she should have focused on Ruby Gillis, who dies of consumption in the third book. Go ahead and move her demise to an earlier age. True fans wouldn't mind that credible adjustment.

But the ludicrous additions made up of whole cloth were totally off the grid. Marilla Cuthbert attending a progressive parenting meeting? Really? Um, don't think so. Anne treated like trash by almost all of the locals? In the book, the plot is quite to the contrary. We're talking 1908 genteel, rural Canada here, not exactly 2017 Facebook bully territory.  On the subject of 2017, of course Aunt Josephine Barry now needs to be a lesbian. OK, fine, maybe that's "realistic." But even if Miss Barry had been gay, she wouldn't be casually discussing it one-on-one with Anne--not in Avonlea over 100 years ago.

Anne being snippy and jealous towards Green Gables' young hired hand? Didn't happen, and it's a mortal sin against Anne's character to say it did. Anne Shirley was always positive, upbeat, borderline joyful--never mean-spirited or petty. That's why readers have loved her for over a century.

Speaking of distorting character--Matthew Cuthbert trying to commit suicide? Gentle writer, are you out of your mind? And tossing in a romance for him is ridiculous if you understand anything at all about this unique and cherished character. He was shy, silent, gentle, salt-of-the-earth good people, fully dedicated to his home and his land. He did not survive his heart attack near the end of the first book. To have him lingering on in weakness, self-pity and depression is a gratuitous desecration of the story and an intolerable betrayal of the beloved Matthew Cuthbert. The final episode, in its complete digression from the actual story line, left me totally disgusted. (Of course, one must remember that the writer also wrote Breaking Bad. I suppose I should be grateful that the last scene didn't show Anne cooking up crack in the Green Gables kitchen in order to save the farm.)

But going back to Matthew Cuthbert trying to kill himself, that was a bridge way too far for this Anne-fan. As a young reader, I loved his character so much that I saved up the name "Matthew" for my son. You just don't mess with my Matthew. If there is a renewal, I'll be skipping Season 2.