Adapt That apologizes for the radio science last Thursday. We experienced a spectacular computer crash involving green lines streaking across the screen until the power of sight was lost. The author considered for a moment that Lord Voldemort had attacked the ol’ Dell Inspiron in an attempt to make a horcrux, but as the author still generally regards life contentedly and harbors no negative feelings towards her roommates, she has decided this was not the case. Her computer just kicked the bucket. Adapt That has therefore decided to publish last week’s intended Throwback Thursday editorial in the place of Movie Mondays. Because we wish the green lines would have taken the subject of the editorial instead.
Anne of Green Gables hinges on three main relationships: Anne and Matthew, Anne and Marilla, and Anne and Gilbert. Arguably, most watch or read about Avonlea for the will they/won’t they of the latter. And where did that all begin?
One of the most quintessential Anne of Green Gables scenes, during which an insulted Anne smashes a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, “Carrots” demonstrates both the good and bad sides of the Anne Shirley character coin and introduces the great Blythe/Shirley feud of Avonlea. In short, this scene is not insignificant. A poor adaptation of the scene would therefore have catastrophic results on the adaptation as a whole. Alas, while we have an excellent example in the 1985 miniseries by Sullivan Entertainment, the more recent L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables did not perform so well. In examining the differences of focus between the two, the reasons why one resonates and the other sags become clear.
First, read the original text by L.M. Mongomery:
Gilbert Blythe wasn’t used to putting himself out to make a girl look at him and meeting with failure. She should look at him, that red-haired Shirley girl with the little pointed chin and the big eyes that weren’t like the eyes of any other girl in Avonlea school.
Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper:
Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!
She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.
“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”
And then—thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate, not head—clear across.
Avonlea school always enjoyed a scene. This was an especially enjoyable one. Everybody said “Oh” in horrified delight. Diana gasped. Ruby Gillis, who was inclined to be hysterical, began to cry. Tommy Sloane let his team of crickets escape him altogether while he stared open-mouthed at the tableau.
First of all, Montgomery tells this episode from Gilbert’s perspective, not Anne’s. The reader can insightfully see that, like many young boys, Gilbert does not know how to tell a girl he finds her interesting and decides acting like a twerp will best win him her attention.
He certainly succeeds.
We then experience Anne’s reaction along with hapless Gilbert. She didn’t just look at him with a vengeance. She looked at him with a vengeance punctuated by an exclamation point! This is no simmering anger. It is loud and passionate and quite visible—and immediate.
We retreat another layer to see the classroom’s reaction, because Anne of Green Gables is as much about Avonlea as it is about Anne. It is this third layer that completes the illusion of immersion in the scene with specific mentions of people other than Anne. These people have a stake in the action just as much as she does.
The 1985 miniseries mimics this personality. The audience feels like they are seated behind the rest of the children in the Avonlea school. In one short scene, we learn that Mr. Phillips enjoys strict discipline but holds a creepy (though reciprocated) liking for Prissy, that the boys mercilessly tease the girls, that Diana is sweet and Anne haughty.
With all these elements thrown together, we behold Anne Shirley, the Great and Terrible:
Vengeance? Yes, I believe so.
Note also how quickly the flame of anger rises in Anne’s face while Gilbert tugs her braid. Before she even rises from her seat fury has overtaken her. Absolutely irate, the only thing she can manage is to shriek “How dare you?” and jerk like a robot to pick up the first thing in reach to attack him with—a slate.
A volcano may as well have erupted. The class gasps, horrified, Gilbert apologizes, looking stunned, and Mr. Phillips furiously sends Anne to the blackboard to write lines. Anne marches to the front of the classroom in apparent shock, but still has enough pride to primly add an “e” to the end of Mr. Phillips’ misspelled “Ann.”
How much did we learn about Anne and the other schoolroom charactersin those two minutes? An incredible amount. She’s quick to anger, but recognizes the damage her temper can do, slow to forgive, but always holds her head high.
By contrast, rather than introducing her as a new character to experience, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables seems more preoccupied with reminding the audience why Anne is iconic already.
Anne makes melodramatic speeches and Marilla is exasperated? Check. The words “bosom friends” are said? Check. Puffed sleeves? Check. The screenwriter, who it is worth mentioning, is related to author L.M. Montgomery, allows each character to come into play long enough for them to get through their best-loved moment (or moments if that character is lucky or Martin Sheen), but doesn’t dally long enough for us to get to know them.
That sort of thinking results in this version of the scene:
“How dare you?” says this Anne, with attitude, not vengeance. Gilbert protests, “Hey, don’t go haywire!” (incidentally a word first used in 1929, 21 years after L.M. Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables), during which time Anne decides exactly what she will say. She proclaims that Gilbert is a mean and hateful boy who shall never be forgiven by the perfect Anne Shirley, then slowly turns and picks up the slate and deliberately brings it down over Gilbert’s head. This gives the impression that Anne is far more in control of her actions, so she therefore commits a far greater transgression.
And when Mr. Phillips asks (again, merely annoyed) what the disturbance is, we’re meant to feel as if she didn’t deserve his punishment. Anne doesn’t seem to understand that what she did was intrinsically wrong and is only worried about Mr. Phillips’ reaction. She asks to say something in her defense, because she clearly merits this, but is denied and told to write lines.
Poor Anne. All she did was dole out a potential concussion and he’s telling her to start acting like a “civilized human being?” After all, it’s clear Anne doesn’t really hate dear old Gil. Check out the smile after they make eye contact during “God Save the King.” I smell a secret crush not buried under layers of pride.
This unfortunate reversal occurs in most other scenes as well. Additional characters posses their trademark personality trait or spout the certain line expected of them, but other than that they remain firmly one-dimensional cut-outs designed to shine the light on Anne.
Anne, Anne, Anne.
Marilla asks Anne to apologize for losing her temper with Rachel Lynde, but Matthew convinces her to just do it for his sake, not because she really needs to. Rachel later shows up to give Anne her first taste of ice cream and beam at her when she enjoys it. Marilla spends the movie realizing she’s just an old conservative who really needed Anne to liven up her life. And finally, Gilbert calls her “Carrots” so he can smile admiringly at how Anne handles Mr. Phillips’ punishment.
But where is Anne’s vibrant passion? Did she trade her spunk for an incessant rosy smile? Does this version of Anne ever learn anything from another character or grow as a person for having known them? It does not seem that way. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables sends Anne to save Avonlea, rather than developing a relationship that benefits both the fictional town and the orphan girl.
They’ve Mary Sue’d Anne! Well, I shall verily sue them.
Perhaps one cannot expect L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables to be more than a made-for-television holiday special gooey with nostalgia when it was directed by John Kent Harrison, mostly known for making television movies. Perhaps one cannot expect better acting from child actors cast closer to their characters’ ages. Perhaps one cannot expect multiple nuanced characters when the entire runtime is only 90 minutes, compared to the miniseries’ eight episodes.
But if we cannot expect much, then why bother with it at all?