Monday, December 28, 2009

For Ana: Emily of New Moon

So the subject of this week's post comes courtesy of Ana, who may very well be my farthest-flung (furthest-flung?) reader, and who also sent me my very first fan email!  When she suggested back in October that I take a look at Lucy Maud Montgomery's Emily series, I was happy to oblige.  Here's the Unpro take on the trilogy's first book, Emily of New Moon.

When my pal Addie (also known as my Now and Then viewing buddy) and I were in middle school, we went through a major Montgomery phase.  As bookish, creative girls ourselves, we related to Lucy Maud's bookish, creative heroines, and Prince Edward Island, Canada just sounded soooo romantic.  And there were hot, sensitive love interests who appreciated independent women (Gilbert Blythe, what what?).  We started with Anne of Green Gables and its seven sequels, then moved on to Jane of Lantern Hill and eventually, the Emily books.

Because it's my middle name (thanks, Wuthering Heights-loving Mom!), I've always had a soft spot for Emilys real and fictional.  Not to stereotype, but most Emilys I've met may seem quiet at first, but have a hell of a strong will and artistic ability in spades.  And Lucy Maud Montgomery's Emily Byrd Starr fits this to a T.  (Well, maybe not the quiet part.)

Doing a Google Image search for this post, I found that Emily of New Moon was adapted into a television series that aired in Canada from 1998-2000.  Apparently it was on in the U.S. too, on something called WAM.  Cool!  (If anyone wants to get me a Christmas present, I would lurve these DVD's!)

A basic plot summary: Emily Byrd Starr is eleven years old and living poor but happy with her single dad in backwater Canada.  She loves her dad, her two cats, and writing, in that order.  However, when her father's death leaves her alone and penniless, Emily is reluctantly taken in at New Moon Farm by her two aunts, Elizabeth and Laura Murray, the sisters of her mother Juliet, who died when Emily was tiny.  Laura is sweet and understanding of Emily's many scrapes and outbursts, Elizabeth is of the "spare the rod and spoil the child" school.  However, thanks to the encouragement of her slightly-unbalanced-but-lovable Uncle Jimmy, Emily starts to cultivate her writing talent, while speaking her mind, having adventures, and solving a mystery along the way. 

Emily kind of rocks.  When I was young I always wanted to be friends with Montgomery's characters.  Sure, Ruby Gillis was kind of a ditz, but the rest of the girls were so smart, funny and most of all loyal (not easy to find in real life preteen girls).  At a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard, Emily respected her elders but wasn't afraid to speak up when she saw injustice.  Despite the ordeal of losing her father at age eleven, Emily has a pretty strong sense of self, not to mention real confidence in her writing (even when her spelling is not so great).  She does make the mistake of trusting Rhoda, her school's chief Mean Girl, but she more than makes up for it by being a good friend to wild child Ilse (I distinctly remember that the Emily books were the first time I heard the name Ilse, and I loved it), budding painter Teddy (future hottie alert!), and earnest hired boy Perry.  Basically, no matter how many times Emily stumbles, she scrambles right back to her feet and soldiers on.

There's really only one thing that bugs me about the Emily books.  His name is Dean Priestly, and we're going to have a bit of a chat.

Hi Dean.  I'd like you to meet a friend of mine:

Take a seat, Dean.  Right over there.

Okay.  I understand that this was a different era.  That in the olden days, it wasn't seen as skin-crawl-inducing that a thirty-six-year-old man would take an interest in a barely thirteen-year-old girl.  Even if you did save her life (and of course, I'm grateful to you for that), you bug me, dude.  I'm sure sorry that you have a hunchback and you got made fun of so much that you turned to books for comfort.  And yes, Emily's Uncle Jimmy is an older man who encourages her writing. But here's the difference between you and Uncle Jimmy, Dean:

Uncle Jimmy's not CREEPY.  He doesn't send Emily big, fat letters (wrong choice of words, dude, wrong choice of words).  In later books, he doesn't pressure her to marry him as soon as she's legal.  And he doesn't almost succeed.

Dean, even in middle school you made me squeamish.  Maybe Montgomery had an older-man-with-a-savior-complex fantasy, I don't know.  Either way, I wish young Emily knew how to quit you.  Because throughout the next two books, if I recall correctly, you just don't go away.

(Incidentally, Dean is not listed as a character in the Emily TV series.  Hmmm.)

Anyway, other than Dickhead Dean (who doesn't appear until late in the book), Emily of New Moon is a sweet, fast read.  I hope girls today still read Montgomery, because anyone who encourages imagination, loyalty, and inner strength in young women is A-OK with me.


  1. Hey, I really enjoyed reading your post. Glad to see another Montgomery fan on the web. However, it would be a real disservice if no one told you how awful that TV series is that you are so anxious to see. I'd recommend trying to get it from the library before you shell out for it. I LOVE the Emily books, more than the Anne books, and I HATED the TV show with an undying passion that makes me curse every time I see it playing in syndication here in Canada. Just a little heads up from one Maud fan to another :)

  2. I want the Chris Hansen poster! But whom would I use it on? Hmmm....

  3. Vanessa: thanks for commenting! That sucks about the Emily TV series, though--especially since I thought the Anne movies (the ones with Megan Follows, at least) were sooo good. I hate it when film/TV adaptations totally ruin the source material.

    EB: I crack up EVERY time I see any Chris Hansen pic or gif. The South Park lampooning him was brilliant.

  4. Ugh Dean gave me chills too. The Emily books were my absolute favorite, and I was super weepy about Teddy and Emily although now that I'm older I think she should be with Perry and that there's a little classism going on.

    And now I want to know where Ana's from!

  5. Gnatalby: I love Perry in this book! I haven't read the second and third in a very long time, but in this one he and Emily have more of an intellectual connection than Emily and Teddy. Plus, Perry always sticks up for Emily, which gives him major points.

    I'll give you a hint: Ana is from a place that makes me think of tulips and windmills!

  6. Ooooohhh. Sweet mercy I love Anne of Green Gables - she shaped me as much as any literary character can. Never read the Emily series, will have to seek it out for a good beachy read this summer, she sounds like a good strong female lead character. I loved the Road to Avonlea series which played on TV here - the woman who played Marilla seemed so perfect, and the young Sarah Polley was also wonderful. Ideal Sunday afternoon viewing. I did read an LM Montgomery book about a girl called Kilmeny, subsequently all my stories featured tragically beautiful girls called Kilmeny. LM clearly appreciated the dramatic value of a name :)

  7. I gotta say, this sounds WAY better than the other New Moon book.

  8. Laura: I highly recommend the Emily series. Not nearly as well-known as Anne (and not as many books), but still they're a fun read. I, too, LOVED Road to Avonlea--made me a lifelong fan of Sarah Polley, no matter how many crappy movies she makes (My Life Without Me? UGH). And yes, Colleen Dewhurst's Marilla was perfection.

    Bryn: Unfortunately, I have read the "other" New Moon book of which you speak. Trust me, this one is definitely better!

  9. Interesting to read this! The funny thing is that I really loved Dean Priest (and still do - I actually wish he had married Emily.) That's not to say that I don't find his interest in her creepy, though I was only about twelve/thirteen myself the first time I read the books and didn't realise that he liked her THAT way until the second book, when she's in her mid-teens so, whilst still a little worrying, it wasn't QUITE when she's twelve. Now of course, I do know EXACTLY what he means when he says "I'll wait for you" and talks about teaching her how to write love stories...yeeuch.
    I'm twenty, and I'd probably still feel kind of uncomfortable if a thirty-something was making a move on me and certainly if a guy ever said anything like that to any twelve-year-old of mine I would as a bare minimum get a restraining order pronto.
    That said - and I'm sorry for putting this next bit so distastefully - we know Aunt Elizabeth isn't ever going to walk in on Dean with his hand down Emily's frock. She IS safe with him. He isn't going to molest her. That's why he says that he'll wait for her - it doesn't occur to him to immediately make a move because she's too young. It's still pretty disturbing (what would LMM's readers have made of it?)and would be even if it wasn't until she was legal that he suddenly decided he loved her. So, a compromise - Dean Priest, a bit of a creep, certainly (albeit a fascinating and - to me - very likeable creep, much more interesting than boring old cardboard cut-out Teddy)but not, in the strict sense, actually a genuine bona fide paedophile?

    1. So I just bought the books, but I watched the show first. So I can't say it was bad because I haven't read the books yet. However in the show Dean doesn't look like a 30 something year old, creepy guy. He was actually really hot(around mid 20's), but for Emily he was still too old. But in the show his comments on if he helped her with Ilse's mother she had to promise to give him a chance felt more of joke then creepy advance on a child. Then again I haven't read the books...But in the shows case I like Dean!

  10. just give some time more to her career, and you will see the born of a new star, beloging to this new generation of actors, and the true is that we need new talents, the old and goods are above to leave us.

  11. I'm twenty, and I'd probably still feel kind of uncomfortable if a thirty-something was making a move on me and certainly if a guy ever said anything like that to any twelve-year-old of mine I would as a bare minimum get a restraining order pronto.

  12. I'm just rereading the Emily books as an adult and I want to confront Aunt Elizabeth and ask her why she lets Emily spend so much time alone with Dean! I think Montgomery knew exactly what she was doing and she has outlined the honeymoon phase of an abusive relationship. It's emotionally abusive the way Dean encourages and supports Emily when she's a child (and that bit where he tells the 11 year old daughter of his friend that he'll teach her love talk when she's older) and then does a complete switch when she's actually getting respect and approval from everyone else. Suddenly she's brainwashed into thinking that his opinion is the only one that matters because he was the one that supported her in the beginning. So he starts by boosting her confidence then he rips her down. And he almost destroys her career because he's jealous that something else matters to her.
    I think Montgomery mapped it all out very carefully over the three books and it is the cleverest part of the book (Emily's writing never really lived up to the fanfare) because he gradually becomes more and more sinister. Montgomery was very observant and a realist, in a time when men had more licence to be controlling over women, so she's probably recording something she's seen or experienced herself.