CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 12 . . . .February 8, 2008
A book "based on the Kevin Sullivan film of Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic novel" immediately set off some alarm bells in this reviewer's mind – why mess with a classic? Indeed, why mess with arguably the classic Canadian novel of all time when the original is still so charming and wonderful even a hundred years after its publication?
Thankfully, Fiona McHugh's adaptation of the film and Montgomery's novel is a faithful précis of the original and has many charms of its own. Starting with Anne's miserable existence as a virtual slave to the Hammond family in Nova Scotia, then her mistaken adoption by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, it follows her infamous adventures and misadventures at Green Gables. McHugh effectively novelizes the screenplay with sparkling dialogue, loving depictions of a place and time now lost, and lively characterizations. Like the film, certain events are re-ordered and omitted, but this alteration does not detract from the story. The Storybook is a highly enjoyable read – a careful retelling of the original for younger readers that picks up all the humour and heart of the much-loved classic, without oversimplifying or condescending. What is missing are Montgomery's lyrical descriptions of Prince Edward Island's natural beauty, but it is a deficit justified by the character-driven screenplay and made up for by Sullivan's cinematography. The Storybook's one drawback is its awkward layout and ineffective use of stills from the film. Many of the pictures are quite grainy – an issue that could no doubt be remedied with today's digital technology. Moreover, the pictures are located only in the margins of the text and are quite small. A more engaging layout would ideally see the stills made larger and more centrally laid out - the focal point of the pages, rather than relegated to the sidelines. The pages are thus very text-heavy, and the author has chosen not to use chapters or even significant page breaks in order to make the story more manageable for children. With the pictures being so small and grainy, a more reader-friendly text layout would make the Storybook an even more inviting introduction to this iconic and beloved Canadian classic.
Elizabeth Walker had a traumatic Anne of Green Gables incident in Kindergarten and consequently avoided the novel for 20 years. Now a repentant and avowed Anne fan, Elizabeth is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at UBC.
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