Saturday, July 5, 2008

Before Green Gables

I'm generally not a fan of the -quels. You know, sequels and prequels and the ever-dreaded threequels. Sometimes they're done by the original creators, and sometimes they aren't. Some are fantastic and leave you drooling for more (ex: Uglies, Harry Potter, etc). Some, such as the Star Wars prequels, explain a lot, but aren't necessarily needed. Some, like National Treasure 2, are good, but pretty much just copies of the original. Some are just stupid and you wonder why on earth you wasted your time and energy watching/reading them.

So I had mixed feelings when I saw Before Green Gables: The Prequel to Anne of Green Gables on the shelf of the teen fiction section of my library. On the one hand, I love Anne almost as much as I love Jo, and was aching to learn more about her. I mean, caring for three sets of twins when she lived with the Hammonds? Heck, I couldn't do that! But on the other, more cynical hand, it wasn't written by LM Montgomery and published long before I was born. It was written by Budge Wilson and published this last February.

As it happened, there wasn't anything else worth reading in the aforementioned teen section (I feel like a body snatcher visiting an old graveyard for the hundredth time whenever I go there; very rarely do I come away with something worth taking back to Dr. Kisset.), so, in spite of my doubts, I checked it out.

The first couple (and by couple I mean twelve) chapters focus on Anne's parents, Walter and Bertha Shirley, in Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia, Canada. This takes up the first fifty pages of the novel. Unfortunately, it's easy to forget that this is about Anne Shirley at this point. It talks about Bertha; it talks about the unhappy state of affairs her neighbor is in; it talks about the cleaning lady, Mrs. Thomas, and how surprised she is that Bertha and Walter actually love each other. It's interesting, but not enthralling. The same goes for the next eight chapters because Anne cannot talk fluently yet, and everyone knows that a good part of Anne's charm is in her quaint word choice.

After those first few obstacles, one can whole-heartedly throw oneself into the story. Anne faces setback after setback after setback and still finds time to smile and to laugh and to dream. There's a touching moment where she's talking to Mr. Thomas (yes, Mrs. Thomas' "intoxicated husband" to whom Anne refers when she accidentally sets Diana drunk) and he asks her why the noise of his four very rowdy boys (and cranky wife) doesn't bother her. She explains her knack for pretending things and urges him to try it. It seems to work on the depressed soul for a while, but ends up in a drinking streak and the family has to move from Bolingbroke to Marysville.

It is in Marysville that Anne acquires her exquisite new vocabulary. Mr. Johnson, the Egg Man and resident tragic victim of romance gone awry, is enchanted by Anne and teaches her five new words each time she comes to fetch the eggs. He gives her such Anne-esque words and phrases as "imagination," "depths of despair," and "exquisite."

Alas, Mr. Thomas dies, and poor, plucky Anne is sent to live with the Hammonds. Until reading this, I'd always envisioned Mrs. Hammond as some old crank with eight children, neatly intersperced. Nope. She's only twenty-four (she married at nineteen) and has children every May "as regularly as clockwork." So when Anne gets there, there are already six children, all under the age of four. The spring after Anne arrives, another set of twins comes and adds to the pandemonium.

Anyway, to make a three-hundred-and-eighty-seven-page story short, Mr. Hammond dies as well, and Anne is shipped off to the orphanage where, of course, Mrs. Spencer comes and picks out an eleven year old girl for the Cuthberts.

I was so engrossed that I jumped right from Before Green Gables to the original Anne of Green Gables. It was a rather awkward leap, just because you've been in Anne's head so long that it's weird to be re-introduced to her through Marilla's eyes. But in all other aspects, it's very nearly perfect. My only complaint is that Mrs. Wilson didn't explain where Anne got "kindred spirits" from, but you can't have everything, I suppose.

However, it gets double deuce action from my thumbs. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Anne as much as I do. Or to anyone who's sick of perusing through "Bad Girls in Love" and "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen."

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